Motivation versus Inspiration (Part I)

Seth Godin adopts the school of thought of new business thinkers like Daniel Pink, Simon Sinek, Chip Conley and others who teach the power of intrinsic motivation. Seth says in his blog that:

"...the world is more and more aligned in favor of those who find motivation inside, who would do what they do even if it wasn't their job."

Chip Conley attributes this thinking to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maslow shows that once people's basic needs for physical security are taken care of, they strive for higher meaning, self-actualization and purpose. Maslow was the first to challenge F.W.Taylor's assertions that workers are nothing more than human "oxen" who should be trained and motivated with carrots and sticks the way one might train circus animals. Daniel Pink astutely shows in Drive how despite research that proves the ineffectiveness of financial incentive as the prime motivator of human productivity, most corporations still manage their employees with monetary "carrots and sticks." However, the father of true intrinsic motivation and the true power of purpose was not Maslow (1908-1970), but his intellectual antagonist (in many ways),Viktor Frankl (1905-1997).

There are subtle but important differences between Maslow's work and Frankl's. Maslow sees higher purpose as something that people strive for only after they have achieved material security. He emphasizes the importance of physical and material security before any consideration can be given to higher purpose and spiritual meaning. Pink echoes this when he makes the point that the old management system was appropriate for the past century but no longer for today's knowledge workers. Frankl on the other hand, argues that meaning is a basic human need and is as fundamental to all people's wellbeing as is physical security. In fact, he suggests, that human beings find physical security through their pursuit of meaning and higher purpose not before it. In Frankl's worldview, the pursuit of purpose is key to the motivation of all people no matter what their work or what their economic level. This worldview is also a foundation of our Lead By Greatness methodology.

I was introduced to the work of Viktor Frankl as a young student and met with him thirty years ago. The intrinsic, purpose-driven, leadership technology that we at Lapin International have been implementing in client companies around the world for over 20 years, is based on Frankl's thinking. As I describe in Lead By Greatness, these companies' growth and financial results have been phenomenal.

Recognizing the universality of intrinsic, purpose-driven, leadership technology we used it to address the abysmally low productivity levels of workers on South African gold mines in the early '90s during the apartheid years. At that time workers, mostly illiterate, were struggling for economic survival. Maslow would have argued that their physical needs required satisfaction before they would be interested in higher purpose; yet all conventional means of incentive failed to inspire them. We believed that finding higher purpose in their work, despite their economic struggles and limited education, would improve their productivity and provide them with more sustainable security. And it did. When we accessed the "souls" of the corporations they worked for, designed and articulated a higher purpose for these organizations and linked them in to the spiritual cravings of all employees, productivity surged and costs reduced.

But intrinsic motivation is not enough. As much as I am a proponent of intrinsic motivation, or rather inspirationextrinsic motivation is as important as inspiration -- not only to people's material needs but to their spiritual needs too. I will develop this idea further in Part II of this blog post.

Share this post