What is motivation?

The general desire or willingness to do something. lists over 50,000 titles on the topic of “Motivation” with 366 new titles “coming soon”. One might conclude that a topic with tens of thousands of literary discussions must be pretty darn complicated. But really, “motivation” is just a fancy word for “wanting” and “wanting” is a pretty simple concept. So why is there such an enormous demand for books on “wanting” AKA “motivation”? Given that motivation will impact a person’s health, choice of career, job satisfaction, and even marital happiness I think it’s safe to say that this simple concept deserves some attention.

Motivation dissected

Motivation is a broad term that encompasses many different types of motivators (also referred to as “rewards”). These motivators can be loosely grouped into two categories, Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

Extrinsic rewards are often financial in nature including salary, commissions and bonuses, benefits, incentive trips, and vacation time. But extrinsic motivators can also include things like fame, public recognition and praise. The fact that so many extrinsic motivators are financial is not a coincidence since these motivators work very much like a financial transaction.  Offer a handyman $50 to fix your ceiling fan, if he believes that $50 is a reasonable reward, he will agree to fix your ceiling fan. Remove the $50 payment and you are not getting your ceiling fan fixed. Pretty simple.

Offer the extrinsic motivator, get the desired behavior.  Extrinsic rewards are tangible in that they can be seen or heard. They are not directly related to the work itself.  Our handyman would be just as happy to fix a sink assuming the payment is attractive. Extrinsic rewards are not controlled by the person receiving them. When dealing with extrinsic rewards, the reward giver usually tries to offer the lowest possible reward that will still get the job done (“will the handyman accept only $45?”). In practical terms, let’s think of these as “the what” of motivation. “What’s it gonna take to satisfy you?”

Intrinsic rewards on the other hand are directly connected to the work and are generated internally by the person doing the work. Rather than “the what” of motivation, these rewards are generally “the why” of motivation.  Why are you motivated to do what you do?  Intrinsic motivators include:

In an upcoming series of blogs, we will walk through how to use both of types of motivators to get your teams more productive.

Seth Preus is an advisor to Mivation, and the creator of both Racing Snail and Leaderboard Legends.  As a thought leader, he uses his 25 years of experience in sales, software development and business ownership to change the equation from “How can I get my team to perform?” to “How can I get my team to WANT to perform.”