Motivation Madness: Making Sense of It All

iStock 000019568042XSmallMotivation is one of the most interesting topics to people because it is at the root of our behavior, values, and personality.


It seems everybody has an opinion on motivation. Talk to any human resource generalist, business leader, or manager and you’ll find a person who has given a great deal of thought to this concept.


Whether elaborate or complex, people naturally look for what moves or drives others to action.


Couple this “arm-chair psychologist” phenomenon with the multitude of consultants that know there is a great deal of money to be made by helping companies increase employee motivation and you get a hodgepodge of information including books, articles, and training programs. We’ve reached a point of  motivation madness.


While there is nothing wrong with having many different perspectives and thoughts on the nature and application of motivation, the problem is that human resource and business leaders have a difficult time knowing what ideas and concepts really work.


Unfortunately, where we stand today is that the field of employee motivation and engagement is overwhelmed with information that is not backed by sound research and is speculation at best.


So the question remains. How can we cut through all the academic and popular culture motivation information to really know what motivates people?


First, we must start with determining what works based on solid scientific evidence. Scientific study helps us understand what works and what doesn’t. To truly understand what works consistently we have to use studies that utilize reliable and valid measures, that have been peer reviewed, replicated, and has consistency of environment and context for which we want to apply the principles.


A person can’t just say, I have a set of principles I created from my observations. There have been hundreds of books and articles written on the topic of motivation, leadership, management, and performance that rely on educated guesses. Over the years, we’ve found these observations to be misguided and some flat out wrong.


The motivation system I use is based on two contemporary theories that provides what I believe to be the clearest picture of the phenomenon of human motivation yet. These two theories have the sound research findings (including my dissertation research) and give solid insight into the two overarching factors that drive human motivation. First, the internal motives that each person is born with and that drive a person’s desire, values, and personality traits. Second, the external environment that will either support or hinder optimal energy and effort towards a person’s internal drives.


The two theories that I use are the Basic Desires theory created by the late Dr. Steven Reiss, a former professor at Ohio State University and Self-Determination Theory (SDT) created by professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at Rochester University. While these two theories have differences, I’ve gleaned the most applicable concepts of each to create a balanced and applicable system.


I’ll continue to talk more about these perspectives in future blog posts and explain how you can unleash your natural motivation and the motivation of the people you lead.

3 thoughts on “Motivation Madness: Making Sense of It All”

  1. There’s science behind motivation? I always thought that either you want to do something or you don’t. Like there’s stuff that interests you, and you’re motivated to do that, but at work motivation doesn’t come so easy, because it’s just not something that you want to do in the first place.

  2. I like that you have given some real thought to what motivates us from a scientific perspective. I feel that most motivational coaches rely too heavily on catch phrases, and other trendy motivators without really delving too deeply into what works to keep us motivated after the novelty of using these new affirmations wears off, and you’re back at square one.

    • Lots of money has been made from random motivation theory. There is now so much in pop culture that people are demanding to know what proof a speaker, trainer, or author has to support their perspective.

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