Creative folks figured out a long time ago that traditional carrot-and-stick motivation and productivity strategies don’t work for us, and the rest of the world is starting to catch on to this truth now, too.
In his latest book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Daniel Pink says that the carrot-and-stick motivation strategies that used to work so well in the Factory Age where we were doing mostly left-brain-directed, linear, predictable tasks aren’t relevant or effective in what he calls “The Conceptual Age” where creating, empathizing, telling stories, leading, connecting, inventing and solving heuristic problems has become such a big part of the work we do. Given the important shift in the way we work, we need to find motivation strategies that enable us to perform well when we’re doing this kind of non-linear, creative thinking, relating, and making.
Pink identifies three core drives – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – that you’ll need to support in your workplace if you want to enjoy optimum motivation levels as a creator and problem-solver in the Conceptual Age. Autonomy is about having the ability to choose how you work, when you work, where you work and even with whom you work. Mastery is about structuring your work so that you’re learning and growing and improving your skills and your art everyday, always pushing at the edge of your ability. And purpose is about connecting your work to a bigger picture that’s personally important to you.
We’ll come back to these drives in a moment, but first, there’s another way in which the world of work has changed that’s important for us to consider, and it’s related to autonomy.
A world of empowered, autonomous creative individuals
We used to be live in a very hierarchical, structured world where a few people were granted the power to lead and control, and you needed a large organization and extensive capital and resources to be able to create, invent and lead. But now, as individuals, we’re empowered with the information and inexpensive tools and systems to be able to invent, create and lead. You don’t have to be wedded to a large organization in order to create and lead, and as folks like Charlie, Chris Guillebeau, Pam Slim have proven. You can make a huge difference in the world as a solopreneur or small creative business.
It’s great when we can realize how powerful and creative we all are, and step out to make a real, valuable contribution as individuals, but in our excitement and pursuit of personal mastery have we become too autonomous?
How many of you are solopreneurs who have a love-hate relationship with your new-found powerfulness, the vast options available to you, and the freedom (and responsibility!) to think for yourself and decide everything about how, what, where and with whom you work? How many of you find yourself getting bogged down in your own over-thinking and self-talk as you work individually on your creative projects and long for a team to bash out your ideas with, co-create with or delegate parts of the project to?
Pink’s take in Drive is incredibly well-researched and coherent. I’m using his model of creating structures and ways of working that support autonomy, mastery and purpose and it’s definitely having a positive impact on motivation for both me and my clients. But over the past few months I’ve been experiencing a fourth motivational drive for myself that seems to have a major impact on my motivation… an area that Pink didn’t give much attention to in Drive.
The motivational power of connection
Pink briefly talked about connection when he talked about autonomy and the ability the choose who you work with. And he made reference to connection again when we talked about purpose, because often we find purpose and meaning in being able to connect with and serve others. But I’ve come to think of connection as a fourth powerful motivational drive that deserves to stand in it’s own right and receive as much attention as autonomy, mastery and purpose.
If you’re a creative entrepreneur, you’re probably going to say that you’re increasing your connections everyday, as you market yourself. I’m not talking about quantity of connections because the motivational impact of connection doesn’t come from quantity of connections, and having too many connections can probably have the opposite effect of stressing you out and decreasing your motivation and creativity.
Motivation comes from the quality of your connections. The type of connection that motivates us as creatives is when we experience an honest, intimate interaction with someone – the kind of interaction where you both feel seen and heard. It’s the experience of enjoying comfortable give and take, shaping your offering in response to other people’s ideas, desires, needs and feedback, feeling that your interaction is meaningful and knowing that you’re both being changed by your interaction with each other.
What the studies say: the impact of connection on motivation, learning and performance
As a creative solo-entrepreneur, I’m guessing that you’ve already experienced the motivating impact of connection and the de-motivating impact of isolation. You’ve had your fair share of days of feeling afraid and lonely and overwhelmed with the call to lead and create, and you’ve experienced the downward spiral of decreased motivation and increased fear, resistance, stuckness and confusion that leadership and creativity often triggers but, so that you can be assured that you’re not a weirdo, here’s what the studies show about the motivating impact of connection…
Besides higher achievement and greater retention, cooperation tends to result in more of the following results when compared to competitive or individualistic efforts: (reference: Johnson & Johnson, 1989)
- Willingness to take on difficult tasks and persist, despite difficulties, in working toward goal accomplishment. In addition, there is intrinsic motivation, high expectations for success, high incentive to achieve based on mutual benefit, high epistemic curiosity and continuing interest in learning, and high commitment to achieve.
- Long-term retention of what is learned.
- Higher-level reasoning, critical thinking, and meta-cognitive thought. Cooperative learning promotes a greater use of higher level reasoning strategies, moral reasoning strategies, insight and critical thinking than do competitive or individualistic learning strategies.
- Creative thinking. In cooperative groups, members more frequently generate new ideas, strategies, and solutions that they would think of on their own.
- Transfer of learning from one situation to another (group to individual transfer). Group-to-individual transfer occurs when individuals who learned within a cooperative group demonstrate mastery on a subsequent test taken individually. What individuals learn in a group today, they are able to do alone tomorrow.
- Positive attitudes toward the tasks being completed. Cooperative efforts result in more positive attitudes toward the tasks being completed and greater continuing motivation to complete them. The positive attitudes extend to the work experience and the organization as a whole.
- Time on task. Members of cooperative learning groups do seem to spend considerably more time on task than do students working competitively or individualistically.
One of the most common objections to working collaboratively and co-creating is that it takes longer, and as the final point shows, this is probably true. Connection and co-creation increases motivation and creativity and gets better results in the end, but it does take more time. This isn’t a problem if you’re focusing on doing what matters most, rather than trying to do everything, so using the co-creation model relies even more on being able to prioritize your projects.
Enrich your connections; enrich your work
Charlie’s spoken about the importance of connecting as one of three core elements of your business development, along with consuming and creating. Connecting is one of the fastest and most effective ways to grow your business. Perhaps more importantly though, connecting is core to your sustained intrinsic motivation, your learning, the quality of your thinking, your creativity, your positive mood and your overall performance as a creative entrepreneur.
So how connected are you? And how could you improve the quality of your connections so that you can improve your motivation, mood, creativity, thinking and performance?