The never ending struggle for motivation

Photo by Personal Development Blog

I just finished reading the epic fantasy novel The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. It is an amazing book by one of the best epic fantasy authors I know today. I am amazed by how many great quotes from this book I accumulated in my Kindle clippings file. I wanted to share one with you as I believe it resonates with the internal struggle each of us has every day:

Another stretch of silence, then Shivers turned to look at him. ‘You’re a decent man, aren’t you, Craw? Folk say so. Say you’re a straight edge. How d’you stick at it?’

Craw didn’t feel like he’d stuck at it too well at all. ‘Just try to do the right thing, I reckon. That’s all.’

‘Why? I tried it. Couldn’t make it root. Couldn’t see the profit in it.’

‘There’s your problem. Anything good I done, and the dead know there ain’t much, I done for its own sake. Got to do it because you want to.’

‘It ain’t no kind o’ sacrifice if you want to do it, though, is it? How does doing what you want make you a fucking hero? That’s just what I do.’

Craw could only shrug. ‘I haven’t got the answers. Wish I did.’

Shivers turned the ring on his little finger thoughtfully round and round, red stone glistening. ‘Guess it’s just about getting through each day.’

‘Those are the times.

‘You think other times’ll be any different?’

‘We can hope.’

I think I never read such a well written portraying of the never ending debate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

The profit or the right thing? Take the job that offers more money or the one that inspires you? Do something safe or something daring?

For some the answer is obvious. The internet is filled with authors who will tell you that you should always chose “the right thing”. I tend to agree.

And still… I find myself doubting… I find it hard to follow this advice. I know people around me find it hard to. I know that the fact that it is a hard means it is probably worth it.

And still…

The ingenuity of the quote above is that it recognizes this struggle. It recognizes that for some people the obvious answer is not that obvious. It’s about making a decision every day at a time. And it leaves us questioning what should we base our hopes upon?

How is your struggle going?


The rules of using and wielding power in management

Photo by Yoppy

A few weeks ago I finished reading the Jennifer Fallon’s third Epic Fantasy book from the Hythrun Chronicles Wolfblade Trilogy. One of the characters in the book is a deformed slave dwarf that has to survive using his wits. He finds himself in a position of power, responsible for the education of the royal family, teaching the children about using and wielding power. He has a set of rules that he makes the children learn by heart and they appear in different parts of the book. I finally found a list of all 30 of them online. I want to talk about three that I particularly liked while reading the book and that I think might apply to management.

1. Have a reason other than the pursuit of power, for pursuing it: you can substitute this with money or fame or whatever else you like. The wonderful and powerful concept of Obliquity. Of true purpose. This idea somehow resonated in the last few books I read (Good Business and Change to Strange) and in a philosophy course I am taking. The answer to the question – what are we here for? – must be convincing. If it is, the rest will come naturally.

2. Accept what you cannot change — change that which is unacceptable: When I first read the sentence I had to stop and re-read it. And then again. It describes wonderfully the balance of contradictions I talk about in my philosophy page:

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time”. Thus, don’t forget:

Good enough is not good enough. Beware of the fallacy of the average and the allure of mediocrity. Going safe is the riskiest thing you could do.

But, at the same time.

Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good. Be willing to fail miserably and then fail again. Fail better.

The more I read and think about issues like business, education and personal growth I come to the same conclusion. It is about balancing two extremes. Conformity on one side and uniqueness and rareness on the other side.  Or in other words, between accepting what you cannot change and changing what you cannot accept.

11. Do the unexpected – this seems banal and even cliché, however, it really connects to the last point. In order to do the unexpected you have to create expectations. In order for this advice to work well, you have to create expectations and then break them. How does this concept apply to business strategy or to employees’ motivation? Unexpectedness can be a powerful tool.

What do you think? Are these ideas implementable for managers?


There is more to being a manager than just…

Photo by respres

Jennifer Fallon writes in the Epic Fantasy novel Warlord:

Damian patted the lad on the shoulder and continued along his way, thinking he should have thought to ask the boy his name. Almodavar would have done that. Then again, he probably didn’t need to ask. Damian suspected Almodavar could address ever Raider in Krakander by name, and there were thousands of them. He probably knew the names of all their wives and children, too.

There’s more to being a good general than knowing how to win a battle, Almodavar had often told him when he was a lad. It’s about knowing your men. Knowing what drives them. And sometimes it’s knowing how to avoid a fight.

Isn’t this true for managers just as it is for generals? Look what happens when I take the second sentence and change it a bit:

There’s more to being a good manager than knowing how to make money, Almodavar had often told him when he was a lad. It’s about knowing your men. Knowing what drives them. And sometimes it’s knowing how to avoid the sale.

Are you able to do that? If not, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It just means you should probably refrain from trying to be a manager. Find someone who knows these things instinctively and let them do it. You should concentrate on your own comparative advantage, whatever that may be.


Are your employees afraid to embarrass themselves?

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I have a fascination with Epic Fantasy novels and I find many management lessons in them. Yesterday, it happened again. I am currently reading Terry Goodkind’s Soul of the Fire and came across between two characters. I need to set the stage. These are newlyweds (Richard and Kahlan) that are deeply in love. They also had a number of extraordinary experiences and learned to trust one another deeply. Now, check out this exchange between them.

‘Then… what?’

‘Joseph Ander was a wizard, and the wizards of his time were able to do things even Zedd would find astounding. Perhaps Joseph simply used this rock as a starting place’

‘What do you mean? How?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know as much about magic as you – maybe you could tell me. But what if he simply took a small rock from here for each Dominine Dirtch and then when he got to where they are today, made them big.’

‘Made them big?’

Richard opened his hands in a helpless gesture. ‘I don’t know. Used magic to make the rock grow…’

“I was thinking you were going to come up with something silly’ Kahlan said. ‘That actually makes sense, as far as I know about magic’

Richard was relieved not to have embarrassed himself.

If for a moment you ignore the fact that the conversation deals with magic, you will notice that this is a conversation that happens in every office around the world every day. Usually, the conversation is in our heads. The most important part of this exchange is actually the last line: “Richard was relieved not to have embarrassed himself”.

Here is a man, a leader of men, talking to the love of his life, who he shared life and death experiences with and learned to trust. And still, he is afraid to speak up his mind. He is afraid to be embarrassed.

I ask you this: how many times in your life did you want to speak up and haven’t because you felt afraid to be embarrassed. How many times does it happen to your peers or employees every day? More importantly, what are we missing because of this?

In the story, this conversation led to an important discovery. And if you substitute “Magic” with “Science”, “Marketing”, “Finance” or any other word, you can see the resemblance to the quote. To some people, these professions also seem like magic.

There is a term in the research of teams called psychological safety developed greatly by Harvard researcher Amy C. Edmondson. It deals with how safe do team members feel in voicing their opinions, talking against the accepted norms and how generally confident are they that when they will speak up, they wouldn’t be ridiculed and their thoughts will be accepted positively even if they are wrong.

There is a lot of talk about diversity in the workforce and its importance.  But in order to enjoy the benefits of diverse opinions, viewpoints and thoughts, managers must take action and make sure their people feel safe to speak up.

Yesterday, in his wonderful daily newsletter, Hugh MacLeod wrote:

We all like to make fun of the folks who we think are a bit deluded. But, given that much of success in life is gained through dogged determination and no taking “no” for an answer, being deluded is highly underrated. When it comes to work, career, love, a touch of delusion is probably a very useful device.

Great ideas and inventions come from the Iconoclasters, people who go against the established dogma or conventions. Deluded people. But if we want to enjoy their wisdom, we need to let them speak, and more importantly, feel safe to speak.



The “If – Then” bias

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One of the everlasting impressions I was left with after reading Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Usis the importance of the difference between “If – Then” rewards and “Now-That” rewards. While the first type creates a type of agreement thus making the reward contingent on the action (and some would say the other way around), the second type is a method to reinforce a behavior that was done not out of the hope to get a reward, but out of intrinsic motivation.

I was reminded of this difference while reading Terry Goodkind’s epic fantasy novel Soul of the Fire, where he writes:

Dalton Campbell leaned back to fish something from a pocket. “This is for you.” He flipped it through the air.

Fitch caught it and stared dumbly at the silver sovereign in his palm. He expected that most rich folk didn’t even carry such a huge sum about.

“But, sir, I haven’t worked the month, yet.”

“This is not your messenger’s wage. You get your wage at the end of every month.” Dalton Campbell lifted an eyebrow. “This is to show my appreciation for the job you did last night.”

Claudine Winthrop. That was what he meant – scaring Claudine Winthrop into keeping quiet.

Fitch laid the silver coin on the desk. With a finger, he reluctantly slid the coin a few inches toward Dalton Campbell.

“Master Campbell, you owe me nothing for that. You never promised me anything for it. I did it because I wanted to help you, and to protect the future Sovereign, not for a reward. I can’t take money I’m not owed.”

I love this part of the story for two reasons:

First, it captures the idea of the difference between “If – Then” and “Now-That” rewards wonderfully. The character described by the author, Fitch, says it clearly. I did not do what I did for a reward. I did it because I wanted to. Intrinsic motivation.

Second, more than that, it actually shows that people, both those that hand out rewards and those who receive it have a bias towards “If – Then” rewards. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink claims that there is an incongruity between what science knows about motivation and what business (and people in general) does about it.  Goodkind’s description of Fitch accurately deals with the paradox. Fitch does not understand. You get a reward only if you are promised beforehand. Who gives somebody a reward after the fact?

As Pink claims in his book, the science in this area is not open to debate. In the long run, “Now-That” rewards are much more effective. And I ask you this: are you, your organization or those around you suffering from the “If – Then” bias?



Shorts: Brandon Sanderson on people


A few days ago I finished reading Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. An inspiring Epic Fantasy book. I found some parts of it so insightful about people, that I decided to quote some of them here.


What I’m trying to say is that you don’t understand a man until you understand what makes him do what he does. Everyman is a hero in his own story, princess. Murderers don’t believe that they’re to blame for what they do. Thieves, they thing they deserve the money they take. Dictators, they believe they have the right – for the safety of their people and the good of the nation – to do whatever they wish.

About our judgment of other people

She’d been wrong about him. She was almost certain of that now. She had to stop judjing people. But was that possible? Wasn’t interaction based, in part, on judgments? A person’s background and attitudes influenced how she responded to them. Her answer, then, wasn’t to stop judging. It was to hold those judgments as mutable.


But Hallandren had repeatedly proved that she was flawed. And now that she’d tried and failed so often, she found it hard to act. By choosing to act, she might fail – and that was so daunting that doing nothing seemed preferable.

You want to be competent? She thought. You want to learn to be in control of what goes on around you, rather than just being pushed around? They you’ll have to learn to deal with failure.


Authenticity, Passion and Presentations


I was attending a webinar held by Ethos3 Communications today which was given by Scott Schwertly and titled: “Presenting Yourself, Your Business and Your Cause in 15 Minutes or Less”. I have been following Scott and Ethos3 work for a while now, so while I did not learn anything new, I enjoyed reinforcing some of the great principles they use to make amazing presentations for their clients. I especially like the unparalleled use of the concept and power of stories as the backbone of great presentations.

One thing Scott said in the seminar especially resonated with me:

“Presenting yourself is about finding your authentic voice”

I feel this statement is true in many levels. The most interesting of them is demonstrated in this quote from the book Elantris by Brandon Sanderson that I am currently reading:

He disobeyed all the rules of public speaking. He didn’t vary the loudness of his voice, nor did he look members of the audience in the eyes. He didn’t maintain a stately, upright posture to appear in control; instead he hopped across the podium energetically, gesturing wildly. His face was covered with sweat; his eyes were wide and hunting.

And they listened.

They listened more acutely than they to Hrathen. They followed Dilaf’s insane jumps with their eyes, transfixed by his very unorthodox motion… Dilaf’s passion worked like a catalyst, like a mold that spread uncontrollably once it found a dank place to grow. Soon the entire audience shared in his loathing, and they screamed along with his denunciations.

A while ago I encountered this retweet:

The public speaking biz is about risk aversion. Conference folks don’t want screw ups. Speakers need to deliver consistency!

And this was my reply:

Maybe public speaking biz is about risk aversion. But when you go in and break all the rules, they love it!

I believe in passion. I believe in both respecting and breaking the rules. More than everything I believe you need to be authentic. True to yourself . To the fire in your soul. To your audience. To your message. The rest is just props.


Earning not winning

Photo: Dave Bullock (eecue)

I am a regular reader of the Incentive Intelligence blog and enjoy it very much. Today, I read a really interesting post about the negative use of the word “but” titled: Incentives AND Recognition – Forbes Article AND Some Thoughts. You should read it. I was distracted by one sentence in the post, representing an idea Paul writes about in his blog a lot:

Incentive programs are NOT contests and awards are earned NOT won

The last part of the sentence is so important and so powerful I get blown away by it every time I read it. Some might say this only semantics. But semantics have power. I wrote this in my e-book:

In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success“, Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, describes a study she and her colleagues conducted with adolescences. They gave a few hundred students a non verbal IQ test. When the students finished the test, they praised them for their results. Some students were praised for their ability: “Wow, that is a really good score, you must be really smart“. Other students were praised for their effort: “Wow, that is a really good score, you must have worked really hard“. Both groups had equal scores to begin with, but after the praise the groups began to differ.

Students who were praised for their ability were not inclined to taking on new tasks. They did not want to expose their flaws. They wanted to keep their smart appearances. In contrast, the group that was praised for their effort showed a different behavior, they actually asked for new challenging tasks to handle!

After interviewing the groups, the researchers gave a new test, much harder this time. The ability group reported feelings of failure. Most of them, when asked to describe their feelings of failure, said: “We are not so smart after all”. More importantly, the ability group, who reported enjoyment of the first test, told the researchers they did not enjoy the second one. In contrast to the ability group’s reaction to the second difficult test, the effort group did not see their lesser results at the second test as failure. When confronted with their failure in the second test they mostly said: “we will just need to put in more effort in order to succeed”. More importantly, they reported enjoyment from both tests. Even the one they failed!

Later, both groups were given an easy test again. The ability group performed worse than it did in the first test. They lost their faith in their ability. The effort group actually performed better than it had done in the first test. They used the harder test to enhance their skill. Not only did they enjoy the ride, in the long run, it improved their outputs.

We need to acknowledge, everyday, the results are not a windfall. They do not just happen. They come out of hard work. And it is the hard work that we want to incentivize. Not every type of hard work of course, but hard work that leads, in the long term, to desired results.

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between decisions and outcomes. And while I believe in outcome management I am also a big believer in the idea of processes. Not standardized processes that confine people in bureaucratic prisons. Individualized processes that are the product of experience, thinking and the understanding of our own uniqueness. And the only way to do that is focus on the effort and the work we put in the created the desired results.

Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. And the effort is the important part of gaining it. As usual, my epic fantasy readings give me another perspective. In Best Served Cold Joe Abercrombie writes:

…It was what you gave out that made a man, not what you got back…


Lessons on teamwork from “Mistborn”


Photo by Wikipedia

I mentioned in the past that I am a keen Epic Fantasy reader. I am constantly amazed by how accurately the authors of some of these books describe the complex concepts of leadership and management. I was reading the fascinating “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson and came across these few lines:

“All right, let’s talk. We’ve got something of a task ahead of ourselves, and the sooner we begin outlining a plan, the better”.

“I thought you had a plan,” Yeden said uncomfortably.

“I have a framework,” Kelsier said. “I know what needs to happen, and I have a few ideas on how to do it. But, you don’t gather a group like this and just tell them what to do. We need to work this out together, beginning with the list of problems we need to deal with if we want the plan to work”.

What are the lessons I see in these lines?

  • Outcome management – this is a concept I wrote about a few times before. Good managers give a framework and desired outcomes and don’t tell their team how to do the work. The teammates usually know better.
  • Respect your team – no matter who you are working with, they are people, they have abilities, ideas and personality. And they are unique. As one of my Professors once said: “there is no one person who is as smart as two people”. Trying to tell your teammates what to do, not only is disrespectful to them, it also kills good ideas.
  • Transparency leads to cooperation – if people are a part of the process, they understand the big picture, their role in it and how it relates to the roles of others. It not only creates physiological buy in, but it also improves the efficiency of the process.


Do you treat you employees like kings?


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Sometimes, inspiration comes from the strangest of places. I am, among other things, a keen reader of epic fantasy. These days I am reading the wonderful book two of “The First Law” Trilogy by Joe Ahercrombie, called: “Before they are hanged“.

Here is a quote that is becoming of current days:

Anyone can face ease and success with confidence. It is the way we face trouble and misfortune that defines us. Self-pity goes with selfishness, and there is nothing more to be deplored in a leader than that. Selfishness belongs to children, and to halfwits. A great leader puts others before himself. You would be surprised how acting so makes it easier to bear one’s own troubles. In order to act like a king, one need only treat everyone else like one.

As usual, I think this confuses managers with leaders, because they have different roles. I think you should change to word leader in the quote to manager and then you will have a great manager‘s quote. But the questions remains notwithstanding: do you treat you employees like kings?