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Jim Owens: Motivation 1/1

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Previously I’ve mentioned Einstein’s amazing ability to explain very complicated issues in very simple terms. For example he once gave this definition of Relativity: “When a man sits with a petty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, then it will seem like more than an hour. This is relativity.”

Using Einstein’s explanation (incidentally, have you ever noticed that you can tell that a scientist is famous when they can be referred to just by their last name, when a female model is famous she can be referred to by her first name (e.g. Elle), and a famous pop singer can be referred to by a just a symbol!) we can see the sources of motivation can not only be diverse but they can even be opposite – the attraction of sitting with a pretty girl, or the impetus to avoid the hot stove – both forces opposite in nature, but both motivate us to act. The concept of opposite compelling forces can be seen elsewhere, even in simple stories such as Aesop’s fable (the sun and the wind), countless works of literature, and of course the various bibles and holy books (usually involving good and evil).

Intuitively the concept of motivation seems quite simple, “give me more money and I’ll work harder/better/smarter – or any way you want me to”. But what if you are a billionaire, would an increase in pay still motivate you? Well how about more status or more recognition? But we have all heard of people who work ceaselessly yet shun these things. Ok then, can we say that we are motivated by something that gives us a benefit? How then can we explain someone who gives up their life for someone else, or leaves a life of luxury to care for starving millions? Or what about the motivation of fear, and so on? So perhaps you are beginning to see that motivation is a very complex issue?

Let’s have a look at a dictionary definition.

Motivation (MS Encarta dictionary):

1. giving of reason to act: the act of giving somebody a reason or incentive to do something 2. enthusiasm: a feeling of enthusiasm, interest, or commitment that makes somebody want to do something, or something that causes such a feeling 3. reason: a reason for doing something or behaving in a particular way 4. psychology forces determining behavior: the biological, emotional, cognitive, or social forces that activate and direct behaviour

Meaning #4 is useful as it allows for motivation to not do something, or to stop doing something (a negative “action” if you like).

In project management, when we talk about motivation we are chiefly concerned with the forces that we can use to enable certain goals to be met. Goals are met (or not) by people – your team members and other stakeholders – so an understanding of the theories of motivation and how they apply to people can assist you in your project. Remember that a project manager can take around 90% of their project time, communicating? Well this is one area that you need to focus on.

Experts tell us that children need to be treated differently from each other; the classic example is were identical twins respond differently to the same treatment by the same parents (but “good twin/evil twin” scenarios only really exist in dubious novels where the author can’t come up with a plausible plot). Each child/team-member/stakeholder is a separate personality and needs separate treatment to perform at their peak. Of course there are certain limited generalities that we can apply, including culture, religion, gender, organisation and so on – but use these with caution. Of course you can ask people how they like to be treated but, surprisingly, many people don’t really know (and for those that do, not all of that stuff is legal, and “she/he was asking for it”, is seldom a good legal defence). So that’s where your abilities as a super PM come into play.

In simple terms we are trying to get people to do something that we want, by giving them something that they want in exchange (or by withholding something that they don’t want).

There are basically three types of motivation

1. Carrot. This comes from the practice of dangling a carrot on a string in front of a donkey, the donkey moves forward, and so does the carrot, so the donkey moves more, and so on. This little trick works for a while, but eventually the donkey realises that it’s not going to reach the carrot and so it stops. So you’ve got to let the donkey have some carrot occasionally – but if you let it have too much carrot, then the donkey stops being hungry and stops working. Of course you could use juicer, tastier carrots – but that’s just a temporary fix. I’m sure you can see the analogy with people and money etc. 2. Stick. OK the donkey’s full of carrots, but you still need it to pull the cart – so you can beat it with a stick every time it stops. This too will work for a while, but now you’ve got a donkey that hates its work (and hates you), and eventually it will get used to the beating and not work any harder. 3. Internal. This is the one that works the best – when someone “just wants to” do the work, you don’t need to do much at all, they just do the work. Of course sometimes people need a little help to “just want to”. But whatever, #3 is the holy grail of teambuilding. Another important concept is “stimulus”, this is what causes a response – you know when the doctor hits your knee with a little rubber hammer and your leg gives a jerk? So stimulus in the field of reward is what encourages all the jerks in your team to do some work.

Show me the money As we have seen. people have needs, and if we meet some of those needs (provide a stimulus), then those people will meet some of our needs.

There are four main types of stimuli
I’m pretty sure that “stimuluses” is not a word.
1. Forcing, 2. Material, 3. Influence, and 4. Self-actualization.

To be continued…

Jim Owens PMP

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