Subscribe to Inc. magazine
LEAD

The Deepest Source of Motivation

Forget the carrot and stick. Motivation and innovation come from a desire to help.
Advertisement

For decades, bosses have assumed that the best way to motivate workers is by promising financial gain and threatening financial loss. With one hand they dangle a carrot of more pay while brandishing in the other, the stick of "get to work or you're fired."

However, according to a recent article in the New York Times, research in organizational psychology strongly suggests that people are more innovative and more successful when motivated by a desire to help other people.

This is a vast departure from the management theories of the past which have assumed that success in business is "the survival of the fittest." Under this way of thinking, helping others is a waste of time and effort... except insofar as it's self-serving.

What Do You Like Best About Your Job?

Over the past 20 years, I've interviewed hundreds of successful people, mostly top executives and top salespeople. I start nearly every conversation with a simple question: "What do you like best about your job?"

In every case, these highly-successful individuals have responded to that question with some variation of: "I like helping people." When I probe, I usually discover that they're not just talking about customers. They want to help coworkers, too.

When I look at the different types of writing I've done in my life, there's no question that I've been happier, more productive, and more innovative in exact proportion to the likelihood that what I'm writing will help others be more successful.

I'll bet if you honestly review the jobs you've done in the past, and the job you're doing right now, you've accomplished more when you were certain that you were helping others than when you weren't quite sure.

The lesson here is simple: when you focus on helping others rather than helping yourself, you draw upon your deepest sources of motivation. It frees your creativity and energy while developing simultaneously developing both empathy and patience.

It's not a dog-eat-dog world out there. It's a "let's make this happen together" world.

Last updated: Apr 8, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: