Category Archives: Motivation
By all means, let a motivational speaker convince you to follow your dreams. Quit that day job! Climb that mountain! That gold medal winning, mountain-climbing, obstacle-overcoming speaker followed their dreams and they’re here today to tell you, nay – SHOW you, that they are the embodiment of all the evidence you need that following your dreams will lead you down the path to the success you desire. Indeed, it is the only path.
This article is about a particular kind of bias but, first, I need to declare another bias of my own. I do sometimes tag myself as a #motivationalspeaker. Part of what I do in helping people change and develop themselves requires me to speak, and that speaking business existed way before I did. That business and its buyers have some labels that I need to adhere to in order to get found. I would prefer not to use ‘motivational speaker’ to describe myself. I do think I help others choose to change for the better. Two of my five books are heavily centered around leaders motivating others. But, I’m as prone to ‘imposter syndrome’ as anyone else. When I think of motivational speakers, I think of the big names with massive crowds. I’d name names but who knows in the near future how many famous names end up being people you don’t want to cite in an article or be photographed next to? It’s a new form of Russian Roulette. #NeverMetTheGuy
My point is that being motivational is like being tall: If someone has to tell you they’re tall, they’re not.
So, that’s my bias. The main bias I’m addressing in this article though is ‘Survivor Bias’.
If you want to find out how successful businesses became succesful, you’d think it sensible to talk with and study businesses that are already successful. Do what they do and you’ll get what they get, right? This is literally what many business speakers say. Many others imply it. There’s bias in there that will stunt your findings and inject randomness into the results of your efforts following their advice. As usual, a big part of the answer is asking yourself and others more and better questions earlier. What about those same successful business people who left and did the same things yet failed? What about those same successful business people who did the same things previously yet failed? What about failed business people who were doing the same things at the same time? By all means, take some learning from the winners at winning time but factor in luck and hubris. Those learnings become optional tools in your potential success toolkit not a recipe for success.
There’s a great study looking at real life expert investment advisors compared to monkeys throwing darts at a list of investment options (ie random luck). Over time, who wins? Hey hey, it’s the monkeys. Focusing solely on winners at the point they’re winning leaves out a whole bunch of vital info you need to know if you still want to follow your dreams.
I first encountered the concept of survivor bias in a museum tour. We got to a preserved log cabin they’d transported from its original wild location. The guide initially praised it and said how it had survived 400+ years and how the ‘technology’ of its construction could be used today etc. Then, she pointed out how many people had died in exactly the same types of cabins. They had the only cabin that survived 400 years. 99 point whatever percent did not. Yet we’d be quite happy to base our opinions of log cabins on the one successful one we encountered.
It’s your life. Follow your dreams if you choose to. You’ll definitely regret it if you don’t try. Listen to that Oscar winner’s speech about leaving their small town and trudging to so many auditions, then getting a break and making it big. But maybe take a vacation to Hollywood first and talk to some waiting staff to balance out your info on the experience and your actual odds. Dreams are not real and making them real requires, beyond luck for a minority, being realistic. Get info. Make plan. Take action.
Those great actors did leave their towns. Those mountain climbers did risk their lives. The great inventors did whatever they did. And, society as a whole, moves forwards thanks to their followed, and luckily fulfilled, dreams. You are not society. You are one person. Roll your dice and take your chances but please do so knowingly, not with your eyes closed. By definition, you have to close your eyes to dream but to achieve those dreams, you need to open your eyes.
I’m not a Grinch (most days). I have dreams and I’m following, and have followed, some but not all of them. Got some but not all of them. Following your dreams is not the path to success. It is the second step on any one of a number of paths to success. The first step is having a bunch of dreams from which to choose, investigate and trial. Any speaker, motivational or otherwise, advising you to follow your dreams can do so with my blessing (not that they or you require it). But, they had better have a bunch of practical action steps after that or they are not just useless but dangerous.
Good luck and please feel under no obligation to thank me in your Oscar or Nobel speech. Or both.
You’ve only got so much self control; Don’t waste it!
This article in ‘Psychology Today’ by Susan Krauss reports on Roy Baumeister’s work about how our self control can be sapped through overuse.
Personally, I’ve always had a mental model of willpower / self discipline / self control as a muscle that you could exercise and get to grow stronger. It turns out to actually be a tank that gets emptied but can be refilled and we can rely on random chance to do it for us, or be proactive and consciously and deliberately take actions that refill our willpower tank.
Oddly, the only thing proven to do so is consumption of small amounts of actual sugar. As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as rational creatures who, through strength of character, can be better people, maybe our natural level of self control is set through natural random chemical chance? It’s like those old Donald Duck cartoons where he’s in a dilemma and on one shoulder a little duck angel appears and on his other shoulder appears a little duck devil who argue it out into each of his ears. This ‘strength’ or ‘ego depletion’ theory implies that the angel gets weary and the devil gets his way until the angel rests up. And the best advice is to slip the angel a barley sugar or a powerade like it’s on a triathalon.
Krauss argues, and I agree, that if the model is that of a muscle that gets tired, then maybe the same progressive development can be applied to our willpower muscle that bodybuilders apply to their actual muscles. Keep working it out and it’ll get stronger over time but you need to keep increasing the weight / temptation to build it up. No pain; no gain.
No weight trainer or body builder says, “I’m going to curl this 20kg with my bicep forever,” yet you’re supposed to say, “I’m never going to have chocolate cake ever again.” That seems unrealistic, demoralising and potentially counterproductive. Weight trainers say, “I’m going to curl this 20kg weight 8-12 times or until I can’t, then rest, then do that set two more times. After time, that’ll get easier and I’ll increase the weight.” I don’t know what the cake equivalent is but it isn’t, “None ever again.” Work up to it.
Employers probably aren’t directly interested in employees’ cake avoidance or body building abilities but willpower / self control is likely a contributor to perseverance and grit which, as I write about frequently, are the most common precursors to success at work (or anywhere else for that matter.) So, if you’re leading someone at work who gives up, can’t focus for long enough or is constantly engaging in temptations that are distracting them from activities that should be adding value to their work and their lives, what can you do?
Well, if we’re stick to our weight training metaphor, you become their personal trainer. Not one of those old school cliche ‘Drill Sergeant’ types who shout, “You’re worthless and weak!! Give me twenty!!” Set challenging but realistic micro-goals that progressively build towards the desired target. Each success builds on itself, they’re more likely to buy-in to it and participate and, ultimately, you and they are more likely to achieve the end goal. But even the fluffiest of personal trainers aren’t pushovers. They don’t accept excuses and they demand honesty and effort.
And the irony is, given that sugar refuels our willpower tank, even if you do eat the cake, you may regret it but you’re less likely to eat more cake. So, in a tenuous way, you can have your cake and eat it too. Try a handful of dried cranberries. They’re the supposed ‘Superfruit.’ You never hear of ‘Supercake.’ (If you have heard of ‘Supercake’, please do let me know…)
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More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
You know how you walk in a room and you get a whole bunch of things done and then, just as you’re about to leave the room, you realise that you didn’t do the main thing that you actually went into that room to do? Now think about that, but instead of a room, it’s your life.
What do you reckon the top 10 complaints from a survey of over two million employees of over 2000 organisations might be? This post lists that top ten. If ‘top’ is the right adjective.
The guts of much of the writing behind employee engagement rests on the primary motivational drivers of employee engagement being intangible, intrinsic people-things like personal development, a sense of purpose, a sense of control or influence over what gets done. Everyone usually downplays money. Where do money-related issues fall in this list of the top ten employee complaints?
1. Higher salaries – pay is the number one area in which employees seek change.
2. Internal pay equity, particularly having concerns with “pay compression” (the differential in pay between new and more tenured employees).
3. Benefits programs, particularly health/dental, retirement, and Paid Time Off/vacation days. Specifically, many employees feel that their health insurance costs too much, especially prescription drug programs.
4. “Over-management” (A common phrase seen in employee comments is “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians”).
5. Pay increase guidelines should place greater emphasis on merit.
6. The Human Resource department needs to be more responsive to their questions and/or concerns.
8. Improved communication and availability (both from their supervisors and upper management).
9. Workloads are too heavy and/or departments are understaffed.
10. Facility cleanliness.
Before I swallow this as complete, representative and accurate, I’d have to go and check out the survey and the methodology and the motivations of those doing the surveys – both the company, the employees and the researchers. I’d be really loathe to give much credence to a check-box list of pre-drafted items from which respondents could select or rank. It’s more effort than I’m prepared to apply as no one is paying me to do it. The post only provides a link to the website of the research company not to the research itself. It doesn’t even date it, implying that it’s recent.
Completely subjectively, people have a job to make money and pay the rent / mortgage. Some of my friends are professional comedians. They do what they love with a skill they’ve developed. There’s is both an artistic pursuit for its own sake and a business they own. I never hear any of them complaining about their ‘job.’ I doubt many of them believe what they do is a job how they define it. It’s not particular to comedy. I know a diverse range of business people with similar mindsets. That said, when they do complain, they complain about money.
That said, there’s a world of difference between things that drive behaviour and things that cause complaints. I’m too lazy to go read my own book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ right now. There’s a section in there citing some classic research. (I would go look it up but no one is paying me to.) Roughly from memory, it seems people would rather be paid less in total, as long as they were being paid relatively more than those around them. There’s another piece of research that found that the 2 types of people most opposed to rises in the minimum wage were the very very wealthy and… the people just above the minimum wage…
This is a great post in Forbes by Josh Bersin. I’m always flapping my gums about the futility of ‘tick-box’ engagement efforts like annual culture surveys and such. He’s actually distilled into a useful and succinct summary some practical holistic strategies.
I especially like and agree with his thinking on building an engaging environment.
On survey efforts etc, he writes:
“While this is a good thing to do, most companies now tell us that this process is not keeping up. It’s not detailed enough, it isn’t real-time, and it doesn’t consider all the work related issues which drive employee commitment. A new breed of engagement tools vendors, models, books, and workshops has emerged – all focused on building what we call today’s ‘Irresistible Organization.’ “
There’s some links to interesting new research on how the old axiom that ‘people leave bosses, not organisations’ may no longer be the case.
Survey results can be misleading. And funny:
- The apocalypse – favoured by 4 out of 5 horsemen.
- Research shows six out of seven dwarves aren’t Happy.
A recent study conducted by Macquarie Graduate School of Management showed that Corporate volunteering improves employee satisfaction, retention and engagement.
Corporate volunteers were very satisfied with their volunteering experience (83% satisfied), very likely to continue (87%), and very likely to recommend it to their friends (75%). The most common barriers were ‘not being asked’ (38%), ‘being too busy (36%), preferring to volunteer privately (31%), and preferring to donate money than to volunteer (21%).
I presume “I don’t care” and “I can’t be bothered” weren’t provided as options. Therein lies yet another failing of surveys and prompted responses.
No potential superstar employee is going to reject the trappings of success you offer but will the free petrol, subsidised healthcare or at-desk massages actually improve their engagement and performance. Some perks do and some perks don’t and it depends. This post citing some recent Gallup research is revealing.
“Gallup found that access to flexible work time, which is considered a more mainstream workplace perk, is related to increased employee engagement.”
“…remote workers are slightly more engaged than onsite workers…”
One of the usual drivers of motivation and engagement is autonomy – a sense of control or, at least influence, over if not what we do, at least how we do it. That’s tough to create or allow in many jobs, especially routine or entry-level ones but if you can generate it to a degree, it can positively influence engagement and thus drive the associated productivity benefits. Something like flexi-time is a good compromise, where it is do-able, in generating this sense of influence / autonomy. Gallup does warn though of the “diminishing returns” which is worthy of note.
“…an engaged management team and a positive work environment are more beneficial than housecleaning and bowling alleys.”
Don’t deny already engaged employees their perks if you wish to provide them and it makes you feel good but clearly many are not drivers of engagement or motivators. Far more effective are the low-cost but disturbingly rare ‘perks’ of positive feedback and non-tolerance of poor performance. Perks, by definition, are extras and these two I just mentioned shouldn’t be extras, yet the behaviour of many workplace leaders makes it seem like they are. It’s easier to throw trinkets but far less effective.
Although, if the trinket you’re throwing is a bowling ball in the company lanes, that’s almost certainly a health and safety issue.