The world is crazy! My job is crazy making! How do I get through this?! Should I end a sentence with three punctuation marks?!? The majority of workers deal with how to keep the work and the paychecks coming in a world where chaos is common. We’re transitioning from a society defined by corporations and salaries to a society based on clients and invoices. As travelers know, smooth and certain terrain makes for quicker and easier travel. The modern worker equivalent is something I see in the lives of me and many of my friends. We’re creating new rules while wondering when the rest of society will catch up.
Frequently I am asked why and how I write. The myth is that a writer writes then readers read which encourages the writer to write again. Hopefully the readers read again. That’s the model that may be best represented by the pre-video days of Hollywood. A movie would be made, shown, and never seen again. The reaction was immediate because viewers didn’t want to delay. Today, content is created, stored online, and eventually lost or found. Evergreen content lives a different life. Readers can happen anytime.
One of my posts was recently found by Toptal, a firm with the goal to; “connect the world’s top talent with the world’s top organizations.” They found a bit of synchronicity between my post Motivation In The Gig Economy, and one of their posts, Triggering Productive Behavior: Motivation Tips for Work. The overlap, as they see it is “motivation psychology can contribute to productivity.” I can see that. I’d probably use fewer syllables because I’m not a psychologist (though I do appreciate the work mine did for me.)
Economists concentrate on financial motivation: salaries and benefits. That’s frequently the language used to describe why people do what they do. Get a job. Pay those bills. Keep the job. Keep paying those bills. There’s more to life than that, and fewer of those motivations in the Gig Economy. If those motivations retreat, then what other motivations take their place?
Let me relay a story from the midst of time when I was a lead engineer for a team at Boeing. Boeing works and worries productivity to a great degree. One corporate initiative decided to focus on career growth instead of simply salary growth. To support that I was asked to ask each engineer what they wanted from their career: progress up the management ladder or progress up the technical ladder. Those were the two choices. For younger engineers, like I was at the time, the answers were one or the other or “I’m trying to decide.” The two oldest engineers effectively rolled their eyes, and gave me an answer I didn’t embrace sufficiently. They just wanted to get paid, and get raises that kept them ahead of inflation, and maybe a little bit more. They were experts in their fields and were self-motivated to do excellent work. Left to plot their careers alone they would’ve answered differently; but they were the breadwinners for families. Each had over a half-dozen children. Their days were busy enough that they were anti-motivated to have to manage yet one more thing that potentially could take them away from families they cared for.
Fast forward to today. Many of the members of the Gig Economy that I know have one primary motivation: pay those bills. They’re not aiming for grand mansions or exotic trips. They’re trying to keep the truck fueled and doors from falling off the hinges, literally. Every day is a work day. No opportunity is missed. Many gigs are chased but few are caught. There’s a powerful motivation, but it is by necessity, not by choice. And yet, necessity isn’t enough when the effort stretches to years or decades. To me, they are the stars of motivation because their goals aren’t luxuries that can be negotiated. Their goals are necessities.
And then, finally, or at least hopefully, they find a gig that delivers more than just money.
A couple of public examples came to mind as I considered motivation and productivity.
Do you know Bruce Campbell? He’s the author of If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. He’s arguably more than a B movie actor. By one definition, a B movie actor is someone whose face you recognize, but can’t remember their name; or whose name is familiar, but you can’t remember what they look like. Instead, think of movies like Evil Dead, or Bubba Ho-Tep. B movie actors don’t make much money. He wrote about someone who made even less, one of the workers on the movie set. This guy’s job was to shovel manure. It was a Western, evidently. I can’t recall the exact quote, but basically this guy figured that each shovel of smelly horse droppings bought him one more shingle for his eventual roof repair. Focus on that. Repeat. Fix a roof. Find other things to to occupy the mind. Want more examples? Try Mike Rowe’s reality TV show, Dirty Jobs. The people with the dirtiest jobs tend to have impressive self-defined motivations.
A song came to mind, too. Jimmy Buffett’s It’s My Job. I suggest listening to the entire song because it describes the motivations of a street sweeper, a banker, and a singer. But, here’s a piece I think about often;
“It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that’s enough reason to go for me”
Sometimes the motivation is simply to do a job well, and be better at it tomorrow.
The Greeks had a similar notion even before they considered themselves Greek. Paraphrasing massively on the notion of eudaimonia, I’ve heard a more modern interpretation. A life well lived is one where a person gets to use their skills and talents in a way they prefer, supplying something others need, and being properly compensated for their efforts. Whether that is truly eudaimonia, some other Greek idea, or something I came up with, I like it – and have experienced it a few times.
Finding something that you want to do, that others want you to do, and to then get better at it is gratifying, and can be enriching. There’s a similar concept I’ve experienced in my karate practice. Learn, improve, repeat, and ideally teach others to do the same. There’s an internal gratification for making improvements judged against your self (self-esteem) rather than others (ego.) Karate requires self-examination, which is not easy or trivial, but the long-term benefits are highly motivating. Just as an artist. They may follow a similar path.
One method that reinforces motivation also is evident in the martial arts. Only move when it is to your advantage to do so. Work for the sake of work can diminish motivation. Drudgery lives there, and many Gig Economy workers experience it. That’s an example of acting according to someone else’s plan. Moving to a personal advantage is necessarily more motivating, and if that’s reinforced externally, then the effect is multiplied.
Knowing when to move or act or not isn’t easy. Sun Tzu’s military manual, The Art of War, recognizes that by defining nine situations that require different actions. In some, move. In some, stand. In some, work with allies. In some, work alone. In all, move with your purpose, not someone else’s.
Our society is changing, and so are our institutions and choices. From what I can tell, firms like Toptal are matching motivations between workers and firms to not just get the work done, but to do so in a way that improves productivity. I don’t know how successful they are because I’m spending more time matching clients to properties, another area that requires understanding various motivations among the various people and organizations. (No surprise that buyers and sellers aren’t just negotiating price but also an important change in their lives.) (Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties on Whidbey Island.)
I don’t know if this thought stream helps Toptal in their pursuit of highlighting motivation and productivity; but I was motivated to produce this post out of appreciation of their work and recognition of mine, their inspiration for me to re-examine my prior thoughts, and because I think this is an important topic for people, their finances, and the necessity of finding ways to navigate our current changes. As for why this post is over 1,300 words, well, I guess I wasn’t motivated (or provided an incentive) to edit it down to something shorter. Besides, it is to my advantage to move to the next task: eating dinner.