The Three Drivers of Contentment & Motivation at Work

What motivates us to perform and drives contentment at work? Most entrepreneurs struggle with this question. You want success, want to have drive and yet rely too heavily on fear-based or external motivators which often leave a negative residue. The research shows that the most effective motivators are intrinsic and positive.

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.
~ Pat Riley, six-time NBA championship coach (Lakers/Heat)

This post comes from the first part of a lunch & learn session I recently did at one of my former portfolio companies, Graphiq.

What truly motivates us? Three words: Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, reviewed the sea of research around motivation at work. While factors like money, prestige, punishment or fear can drive us, these pale in comparison to MAP. This video does a great job expanding on this work (worth the 10 min watch):

Mastery: the urge to improve, to have a sense of forward progress. In my Flow framework, this is at the heart of “thriving in the entrepreneurial journey”…defining the core elements of your identity (and focus) and then applying the habits and discipline to master the key skills critical to them. For example, in a work context, this could be “becoming the best salesperson possible” and developing the skills around prospecting, objection handling, relationship management and negotiations. On a personal level, it can be self-mastery and developing a greater sense of equanimity & patience in your daily interactions, better self-care practices (sleep, working out) and becoming less reactive to ups and downs of daily life. As you get better at something, the more rewarding it becomes.

Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives. As we master our core responsibilities, everyone in the organization or those around us feel more confident in giving us more freedom: when we work, how we work, what we work on, who we work with. Said another way, we experience less micro-management and enjoy more degrees of freedom.

Purpose: The service to something larger than ourselves. When we do something for our own gain, it can motivate us but it is short-lived and often requires another hit (like an addict). Service can be defined in a host of different ways ranging from providing superior care to customers to mentoring junior reports to helping those less fortunate to being a role model for others. The key is that it is not focused on your own gain.

So, to reiterate…three words: Mastery, Autonomy & Purpose.

That said, none of us want to win the battle and lose the war.  Too often, we drive ourselves hard only to feel empty or drained at the end. Contentment comes from when we progress towards something better/greater versus escaping from our fears and inadequacies. Let me repeat this as IT IS CORE…focus on motivation around progressing Towards something versus the anxietal default approach of motivation through Escaping our Fears & inadequacies (e.g. the inner voice that says “look asshole, if you don’t do this right, you’ll be a failure or you’ll get fired or you’ll be embarrassed or…).

In Which Wolf Do You Feed?, I discussed the importance of Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivations.  In his book, Pink argues that effective human motivation is largely intrinsic around mastery, autonomy and purpose. He argues against old models of motivation driven by rewards and fear of punishment, dominated by extrinsic factors such as money.

My challenge: see how you can integrate more positive, intrinsic motivators into your daily work. Define your core role at the firm, laying out the key responsibilities and outputs for this and then commit to building the skills and obtaining the knowledge to be your highest version of this (vs just getting by). Focus on the input(s) versus the output. Start with just one area or skill and go from there. Additionally, write down 2-3 ways in which your work is in service to others. Put these out where you can see them. Focus your motivation on this versus simply gaining recognition or earning more money/bonus.

Resilience In The Storm

(Originally published 2006 in VC Confidential) Resilience is a key theme you will hear about time and time again in the entrepreneurial world. The ability to persevere and bounce back from adversity is part of the DNA of a successful entrepreneur (and VC Sith Lord). During the 1999-2002 period, nearly everyone in the venture and entrepreneurial world went through an historic resilience test. No business model seemed to work, corporations and consumers weren’t buying and Darwin was taking company after company into the grave. While I hope we never see times like these again, I do believe that we will have a downturn in the next two years. With many companies relying on advertising models to support their firms, they will learn how quickly a recession can dent this model.

I remember this period all too well. I remember seriously questioning what I was doing in the venture business where all I seemed to be doing was going to board meetings to discuss why our companies were missing budget, yet again, and how many staff could we lay off. I was working long hours, thinking that if I spent enough time at it, things had to get better…right? I lost 15 pounds from stress and lack of sleep.

During this period, I read a great article by Roger McNamee, one of the awesome investors in the business (he is currently partnered with Bono and the former CEO of EA on a media fund, Elevation Partners).  He said that in times of massive macro change, there is little you can do as an individual to change your environment. You can respond by, like Homer, lashing yourself to the mast, and screaming at the on-coming storm. Or, you can use the time to truly understand what is important in your life…family and friends. In fact, he advocated that you will have limited influence on outcomes during macro setbacks, and that these are prime times to increase the amount of time you spend with your spouse and kids.

In short, his framework seemed to be: there are things that you have limited control over and that are fleeting (success at work, social standing, etc) and there are things you have considerable control over (your friendships, your relationships with your kids and wife, etc). Which do you want to tie your image of self and your happiness to? What do you want to look back at and remember that you did?

My response was to start having weekly lunches with my son at his elementary school and taking my daughter to school in the morning. I signed up to coach baseball with them. I spent more effort trying to have dinner with my family and to keep in touch with my friends. Not only did it significantly increase my resilience, but it instilled a different set of operating principles that I still use today. So, my advice to all entrepreneurs is to figure out what is your core foundation, that which is essential to you and which you have some degree of control over. Once you have, connect with it, protect it and use it to keep the rest of your life in perspective. Unleash the mast…