The video below, “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” featuring author Daniel Pink, is a fascinating explanation of motivation. The major takeway for me is: humans are motivated at work when we have autonomy, mastery (working to become competent at something), and purpose.
If Pink’s conclusion is correct, it can be used to help us know if a niche/client/project will motivate us over a long period of time.
It’s Better Than Nothing
Let’s first take a look at situations where only one of the motivating forces is present:
• Autonomy only. This is work that gives you freedom to make decisions but doesn’t challenge your skills or serve a greater purpose.
• Mastery only. This is work that stretches your skills but is performed under rigid guidelines/specs and does nothing for the greater good.
• Purpose only. This is work that’s done for a fine cause, but little else about it excites you.
Keep in mind that these descriptions are an oversimplification, because we can have varying degrees of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in our work.
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, At All
Now let’s consider situations where two of the three motivators are present:
• Autonomy and mastery (A&M in the illustration below). There isn’t much social good in this work, but you’re self-directed and the work helps you improve your skills. For me, a golf website that I created and later sold, GolfSwingGallery.com, fit this category; I was self-directed, and growing the website raised my skills. But alas, GolfSwingGallery.com wasn’t going to change the world.
• Autonomy and purpose (A&P in the illustration). A lot of great gigs reside in this realm. It’s work that makes the world better, it’s work you’re very good at doing, and it’s work where you’re empowered to make decisions.
• Mastery and purpose (M&P in the illustration). This can be really cool work, too. You don’t control the mission or the strategy, but the work is for a great cause and you’re honing your skills. An example from my business: last year I edited a book for an organization that does youth-advocacy work.
Nirvana at Work
And then there’s the sweet spot, where autonomy, mastery, and purpose overlap. When you’re working in this realm, you’re self-directed, your work advances your skills, and you’re doing work that really matters.
Where do I sign up?
I was probably the most motivated while in my second post-college job, working as a writer/reporter for The N’West Iowa Review newspaper in Sheldon, Iowa.
The mastery element for me was very strong at The Review. Ever since I was in junior high, I wanted to be a journalist, and this job was an opportunity to work at my craft and get paid to do it! The purpose element was present, because the heart of the newspaper’s mission was to improve the community and the region. There was a lot of autonomy, too. The writers/reporters, of course, were required to produce a certain number of articles per week, but within that expectation we had a lot of freedom to develop and then carry out our own story ideas. That freedom resulted in award-winning work and made The Review the most-honored small newspaper in America.
TheSolopreneurLife.com is in the sweet spot for me, too.
Have you ever been in the sweet spot? Are you there now? If not, what do you need to change?
Not Easy For Solopreneurs
It should be easy for solopreneurs to find work that puts us at the intersection of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Right? No, it’s not easy.
I’ve had periods as a solopreneur where authority, mastery, and purpose were very low in my work. It’s not a fun place to be.
My experience tells me you’re more likely to have sustainble motivation when you start with a clear vision and mission, and when you have a solid business plan and marketing plan in place.
And I believe the autonomy/mastery/purpose model can be another tool to use when deciding what kind of work to do.
What do you think?