The Art of Motivation

February 24, 2009Sparxoo

by David Capece, Managing Partner

In Super Bowl 42, the New York Giants were motivated to deny the New England Patriots their perfect season.  On paper the Patriots were the better team.  But on the field, the Giants rose to the occasion to deliver an astounding 17 – 14 victory.  To win the Super Bowl, the pinnacle of sports, players enthusiastically give it their all.  We’d love to harness that passion in the office, but the daily work routine doesn’t always compare to playing in the Super Bowl.

Our team has experienced and observed many motivational styles and we’ve uncovered some insights.  Before we get to the A+ material, let’s take a look at a motivational approach that we don’t endorse.

No surprise, our major offendor is Bobby Knight, who goes one step too far with an angry tirade full of explitives (this YouTube clip is rated R and for mature audiences only).  While a tirade may get attention and yield short-run results, we don’t believe that this is a sustainable approach to motivate a team.  After a while, the yelling and anger will be tuned out.

Motivating others can be complex.    Everyone responds differently so you’ll need to really understand your audience and customize your approach.  Do you lead with encouragement, empowerment, or human connection?  Or is it strictly about the money?  Studies have shown that managers overestimate the importance of money and that in fact, money alone isn’t the primary motivator.


Employees want to be part of a real team that is striving to achieve exciting goals.  As you rally around clear goals, give each team member a meaningful role.  Google takes this one step further by empowering small decentralized teams to freely pursue an agenda that is personally fulfilling and contributes to the company’s success.  This challenges each member to stretch how they can contribute, and to add their voice into the final outcome.

This idea of sharing your personal voice goes hand-in-hand with the importance of storytelling.  Take a look at this Stanford graduation speech from Steve Jobs, who ironically never graduated from college.  Jobs makes an emotional connection with audience, sharing his shortcomings, weaving through stories, and leaving a lasting impression on his audience.  As you listen to this speech it doesn’t even appear that Jobs is trying to be motivational, and it is this conversational, storytelling tone that is so effective.

Beyond storytelling, people like to pursue ambitious and groundbreaking projects.  So let them know what you’re up to and let them know about the challenges.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  Take a look at two advertising approaches that deal with motivation, failure, and success (one by Nike and another by Adidas).  Nike features Michael Jordan talking about failure.  “I’ve failed over and over again in my life…and that is why I succeed.”  Similarly, Adidas’ Impossible is Nothing campaign features David Beckham overcoming challenges.  “You will go through tough times.  It’s about coming through them.”  These spots show that failure is ok in the face of challenges.  We must use failures as the building blocks to success.

In today’s society, there is a growing trend that crisis equals opportunity.  If you haven’t heard the story of Kevin Carroll and his red ball, this YouTube clip is worth a look.  Recognizing and confronting challenges can be a great way to grow stronger and achieve more.  When you successfully reach milestones, have some fun and celebrate accomplishments.  You’d be surprised at how you can positively reinforce desired results.