Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Cath Duncan from Creative Grief Studio and Remembering For Good.
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?
Srinivas Rao says
This is an incredibly insightful post and I could write almost write a blog post in response (maybe I will :)). I recently heard an interview that Dan Pink did with David Garland at The Rise To The Top and he talked quite a bit about the intrinsic motivation ideas that you’ve outlined here.
First I wanted to address the issues of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. As the graduate of an MBA program, I’m beginning to realize that MBA students are not prepared to be movers and shakers, but to fit in. Or at least they buy into the herd mentality: “GEt a job at Google, Nike, or fill in the blank Fortune 500.” But never once did we talk about autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Fortunately for me, 8 months of unemployment gave me all three of those things. I really thought I wanted to work at some large company. But now that I’m getting autonomy at my current job since it allows me to blend what I do on the side with my actual work, I find I’m at the top of my game for the first time in my career. Since I get to work on my personal projects so much, I also feel like I have a sense of purpose.
As far as connections go, I’m a big fan of understanding how connectors work. If you read Malcom Gladwell’s book the The Tipping Point, then you are really familiar with how he defines connectors. When I think about the quality of connections, I keep that idea in mind. I realize that we can almost socially engineer becoming a connector of people. I’ve been fortunate that I’m a natural connector of people. But if I were to look at ways to improve this, I’d give the following advice:
1) Volunteer for an organization or at a networking event
2) Take a leadership role in an organization such as the Chamber of commerce or the American Marketing Society
3) Take a leadership role in the social media club in your city
By placing ourselves at the top of the various organizations we put ourselves in a position to increase our connections by default. From there, the sky is no limit.
Cath Duncan says
Glad you found it useful, Srinivas, and thanks for your considered response. Sounds like you’ve tested out the theory and are enjoying the benefits of autonomy. Fantastic! I’m familiar with malcolm Gladwell’s work too and I think being a connector must be one of the easiest and most effective ways to add value (while developing your own network at the same time). A small, but important distinction I’d make is that I think that for creatives, the motivating drive of connection comes more from the quality of the connection than the quantity of connections. Those are great tips you gave for increasing your quantity of connections, and I think there’s even more motivation potential if you then focus on developing a few really high quality connections (by quality I mean deeper relationships, more trust, more cross-pollination, collaboration and co-creation) within your network. Make sense?
Archan Mehta says
Nice post. Thanks to Charlie for sponsoring you on his blog. Wise decision, to be sure. I appreciate your input and look forward to reading more of your work too.
I agree, but will have to play the devil’s advocate here. This is not to rain on your parade, mind well, but rather to philosophize on what you have omitted to mention. What follows is written in a friendly tone–and objectively. (Cheers!).
Obviously, the target audience you have in mind is, in a word, elite. In other words, those with access to education and other things we take for granted.
The fact is, however, that most of the world lives on less than two dollars a day; they are the ones in a majority, and they don’t have access to computers. For them, daily life is a fight for the basic necessaries of life: food, clothing, shelter.
Philanthropists like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, among others, are trying to make a positive difference. And there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel, but we clearly have a long way to go.
I think the “information age” depends on knowledge of English, access to computers, technology, and memberships to networks and organizations.
Again, the vast majority of the human race falls short of such requirements. In other words, you are writing for a very select club of individuals. The reality of life in our world is harsh and ugly: “nasty, brutish and short” to quote an intellectual.
Unless we address these larger and deeper issues, utopia is a pipe dream and fool’s paradise. Having said that, your post does address the needs of this elite club quite well (obviously, I too am a part of that club). However, we need to look beyond our cubby holes and comfort zones in order to view the whole, cosmic reality.
Cath Duncan says
Hey Archan, I love your focus on the big picture of the world we live in and your desire to see the whole world make progress and live quality lives. This is about the sense of purpose that Daniel pink talks about and I suspect this would be a very motivating driver for you. Can you feel how motivating that is?
You’re right that it’s the “elite” who have the greatest autonomy and are most empowered to do work they love and to set their lives up in a way that allow them to do their most creative, genius work, and to quickly and easily build a following around that. This is partly because they have more information that lets them know that this is possible for them, as a result of being highly connected through the internet, exposed to tertiary education, being well-traveled and so on.
I’m South African and our internet is possibly the most expensive in the world – last year I was paying about $160 for the same kind of internet connection and data bundle that I’m now paying $20 for in Canada. In my view, the best thing that South Africa could do for its economy (and the poorest of the poor) would be to make internet accessible or even free. Can you imagine what potential that would open up?!
Sure, there’s a complex mess of oppression and under-development that needs to be addressed and this requires working from many angles, deep therapeutic work to help people recover from trauma, lots of changing work to change perspectives and beliefs. Computers and the internet won’t solve everything, but I think there’s no denying that access to the internet for everyone would be a powerful accelerator of change. Access to the internet would also be a powerful way to prevent the most awful types of abuse and under-development from ever happening again. Do you think Apartheid could have thrived the way it did if we’d had the internet over the past 50 years? I don’t think so.
You say, “Philanthropists like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, among others, are trying to make a positive difference.” Talk about an elite group! My sense is that the “elite” you were talking about in the rest of the post is the everyday person like you and me who has a decent income, a decent home, and an internet connection. As I said in my post, this kind of person (like you and me) is much more empowered than ever before, to be able to choose as individuals (autonomy. We don’t have to wait for an organization or government to give us permission or lead us) to do work that is purposeful (and makes the kind of positive difference for the whole world that you speak of), involves mastery (and takes on high quality problems like the global problems you speak of) and gives us opportunities to develop intimate, meaningful relationships (connections that go beyond socio-economic status).
So Archan, where to from here? What’s your vision for leading the elites to “address these larger and deeper issues” and to “look beyond our cubby holes and comfort zones”?
Thanks for the post; I found it insightful and motivating. I agree with the points you made regarding connections being as important as the other 3 types of drives. My only quibble would be this-instead of “connections” I would label it as “community.” What we’re seeing in this shift in business is that your network-the number of people you’re connected to on Linkedin, for example-is less important than the vibrant, deep connections you have with people. This means colleagues, mentors, family members, and anyone else that you have a link to that goes beyond surface connections. Community goes beyond the transactional nature of traditional networks. Community members know you, they know how you tick, and most importantly, there’s a certain level of trust and respect that’s been developed between members. It’s this community that will define how resilient and successful freelancers and other solo practitioners will be.
Thanks again for the great post!
Cath Duncan says
“…the number of people you’re connected to on Linkedin, for example-is less important than the vibrant, deep connections you have with people.”
I totally agree, Victorio. It’s the QUALITY of the connections that’s motivating and raises the level of the work we create, not the quantity of the connections. So the word, “community” better captures that distinction for you?
Absolutely-community, for me, is a more meaningful term for the deep changes that are occurring in society. Communities are better enabled to connect its members to deeper purpose. Successful for-profit companies can imitate this, either through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) position or, in the case of truly visionary companies, by offering a vision that goes beyond increasing shareholder value. Let’s face it though; this isn’t the case with most organizations. Therefore, individuals will need to satisfy their need for meaning through communities of their own design.
As more and more individuals weaken their connections to corporations, they will choose to extend those connections to those of similar interests. This is one of the ways people will survive and thrive in the new state of things.
I think what you say has value. The problem is its presentation is way too wordy: getting at the kernel saps my motivation and encourages me to click away.
Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says
This is great stuff. We need to find connections otherwise we end up floundering, looking for a direction. The way that I help build connections is always asking myself “who will this help”. If I answer only “me” then I usually put it aside. By doing work that will help other as well as myself I find my motivation is much higher and the work is more enjoyable.
Cath Duncan says
“Who will this help?” That’s a great anchor question, Karl. There’s something incredibly motivating about doing work that you know will have an impact/ importance/ meaning for other people, isn’t there?
Archan Mehta says
I am due for a second innings here, because Srini’s comment is right on the money.
Let me add a few ideas of my own. Hope these suggestions help. (Cheers!).
In any organization, many employees frequently complain that the “boss attends too many parties.” To some extent, this is valid, but not to a great extent, and let me tell you why.
If you want to be a true leader, actually it is a good idea to attend as many parties, get-togethers, potlucks, etc. as you can. I am not suggesting: go overboard–please don’t, otherwise, you neglect the day-to-day operations of managing your work-life. However, don’t sink into the quicksand of “detail complexity” either.
By contrast, one of the roles you need to assume as a leader–in any position or role or function in your work-life–is that of a “boundary-spanner.” Not enough people seem to realize the value, because it wear a cloak of mystique. However, there is no mystery about it. Actually, it is more like common sense.
Boundary-spanners work effectively at the edge of any organization. This peripheral function enables them to have meaningful conversations at social events. You would be surprised how many multi-million dollar deals have been struck across a table feasting on a gourmet meal with wine or champagne.
It is also human nature. People who are relaxed and well-fed (and just a wee bit inebriated) tend to be in a more receptive frame of mind to talk business in a more laid-back setting. So, make sure you carry your business cards with you at such ‘socials.’
Some critics have called this superfical or shallow, but, hey, that’s just the way business is conducted these days. A good businessperson knows the value of a handshake, a smile, and a dinner invitation: it is all about good PR and playing your cards right. It is all about maintaining good personal relationships.
Gotta know when to hold em and know when to fold em, just like the old song. And it can help to offer to write articles for newsletters and trade publications at the Chamber of Commerce and other institutions and organizations. Again, this is good PR and likely will lead to a good ROI. Thanks for jogging my memory.
Cath Duncan says
Yes, Archan, this is the other side of the link between connection and motivation. Quality connections are as motivating for other people as they are for you. And taking care to develop quality connections with other people will motivate them to do better quality work as much as it’ll motivate you to do better quality work. And it’ll have the added advantage that they’ll probably want to do their better quality work WITH YOU… which probably makes you a leader then, huh?
Very insightful post Cath: you inspired some Meta-level thinking about my website work (which is what I definitely need to do more of). ESPECIALLY THE FIRST FEW PARAGRAPHS ON CONNECTIONS….
Cath Duncan says
Glad you found it useful, Bryan!
Jason Edleman says
I am very new to blogging and one of the most obvious aspects I see is the networking going on with certain group of bloggers. It is really inspiring to see the collective energy and creativity that develops as writers feed off of one another. I can only hope that I can tap into this source as I continue on in my posting. Together we can move mountains, right?
Thanks for this post.
Adrian Swinscoe says
Hugely insightful post and a great addition of connection/community to autonomy,mastery and purpose.
One of the things that I find that holds people back when going down the solopreneur route is the mastery element…ie. they feel like they need to master everything before getting started rather than enjoying the journey. Do you think connections/community can help with this?
Millinerium - Ginger Strand says
Cath, this is a great post! I recently connected with other local milliners (hat makers) and every time we’re together it boosts my energy, my motivation, gives me feedback on my creations, and allows me to share my passion for millinery with others who feel the same way. (It also deflects a lot of my hat chatter away from my husband who now has a very low threshold for the subject matter. Ha!)
The main reason I stopped producing art after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (in painting, sculpture, and ceramics) was because my studio was too isolated. There were other artist studios in the same building but they were all older and retired, and I was working at night after my day job. I missed the camaraderie, feedback, and fun of being around other artists.
Connecting to people – whether in your chosen field or not – is so important, especially when you work from home and don’t have much social interaction. Even going to a coffee shop to do your work for a few hours can be a great pick-me-up. Obviously, true personal connections are even better and can grow business.
I think your insights here just go to show what a social creature humans really are. We can’t deny our nature as a “herd animal” without floundering!