Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The critical factor called 'Motivation'

At the end of a few important tasks, I often wonder what led to its specific outcome. What are the factors which determined the outcome? Was it mainly my abilities or the people involved or the resources I had at my disposal or plain luck? Or was it a combination of multiple factors? If it was indeed a combination of multiple factors, which is most possibly the case, then what is the most dominant factor? As an exercise, take two different tasks – one which you executed with pride and tasted success and the other in which you failed, in spite of having the ability and resources to successfully take it to completion. Now, start analyzing the common denominator for both the outcomes. Personally, when I did this exercise, one thing was clear – it was ‘Motivation’ which turned out to be the decisive factor in impacting the outcome more than anything else. 

This led to the next obvious question – what is this motivation all about? We would have heard and discussed this topic a thousand times, but at times it sounds vague. It sounds all the more vague when people try to motivate me to get things done saying “common, show some motivation”!! One dictionary description I found for motivation is ‘The general desire or willingness of someone to do something’. If I have to describe it as per my understanding, motivation [in relation to pursuing any activity] is the answer to the question – why should I pursue that specific activity? It sounds very simple, but I have observed that it is often ignored. It is not uncommon to hear/say comments along the lines ‘this task is so simple, just takes a couple of minutes and I have no clue why you are not able to complete it’? At times like this, I wish I could just say ‘well, I know how to do it and also have more than a couple of minutes, but have not yet figured out why to do it’. This ‘why’ definitely varies from person to person, but we cannot deny that unless this ‘why’ is clear, the ‘how’ and ‘when’ will always remain a mystery. 

I have observed that once this ‘why’ is clear; the rest of the process becomes easier. I could easily figure out the ‘how’ and ‘when’. As long as the ‘why’ is answered, even if I lacked the required resources or abilities, have overcome them while answering ‘how’ and have found time to address ‘when’ . On the other hand, when the ‘why’ is not clear, have failed in spite of having the ability and the required time to complete the task. In fact, when we are overloaded and we are not sure on how to prioritize, it seems like the tasks which have a clear ‘why to do’ occupies the top of the ‘to do’ list. 

It is all fine till this point. But, on a daily basis, we again seem to ignore this. When we do a self analysis of our success or failure in any task, we tend to miss the importance of motivation or the lack of it. It is easy to get side tracked and miss this critical point. Similarly, when we assign tasks to others, it is quite tempting to jump to the ‘how’ segment and expect that the other person will automatically figure out the ‘why’ and get magically motivated. This is what most mediocre managers do against what an inspiring leader does. The inspiring leader will focus on the ‘why’ and trust that his men will figure out the ‘how’. This is best explained by this comic at Zen pencils.

So the next time I sit down to chart my to-do list, I should remind myself that it is actually the ‘why to-do’ list. Also, when I am required to inspire someone, I rather first focus on the ‘why’ before jumping to ‘how’.