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The surprising truth about what motivates us

Friday, 10 June 2011 | By Michael Fox
This 10-minute video provides some fantastic insights into what motivates us as human beings and how this applies to the workplace.

If you don't have 10 minutes to watch it, here’s a brief summary:

Premise: Money is a motivator as far as people need to be paid enough that they're not worrying about the issue of money. Beyond that, it's a poor motivator.


So what motivates people?


1. Autonomy

Let people direct their own lives and work, get out of their way. The video gives the example of Atlassian who once a month, let all their developers work on whatever they want with whoever they want ­– and so many awesome ideas have come out of that. Google do a similar thing, offering 20% free time to their software engineers.

2. Mastery

Why do people play musical instruments? Very few get paid for it, it doesn't make sense economically. They do it because it's fun and the more they do it, the better they get at it. 

3. Purpose

People want a sense of purpose, to feel that they're contributing to something great. Why do people contribute to building Linux or adding and editing articles to Wikipedia? They do it because they're mastering something new, together with the sense that they're contributing to something important.


I felt this sense of purpose when I was working at Google. I loved the company's mission: “To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”. And I loved the informal motto: “Don't be evil”. That motivated me and was a key reason I applied to work there in the first place.

Applying this to Shoes of Prey:


1. Autonomy

I think we do a reasonable job regarding autonomy, we're certainly a long way from being micro-managers. We're very much about empowering our team to find better ways of doing things. We want our team to feel empowered to make decisions, if they feel they'll be more productive on occasions in another environment then we want them to do that. All of our software engineering team are part-time at the moment, so that makes 20% time or Atlassian style days a little more challenging, but we'll aim to do this as we hire full-time software engineers.

2. Mastery

This is an interesting one and something I'd not considered in detail before. A topic we've been discussing internally lately is how do we make customer service a career role? It's something we've not found an answer to yet.


I think one of the main issues with many top performers not wanting to work in customer service as a career role is this issue of mastery – once you've mastered customer service the tasks become quite repetitive and your rate of learning drops. We'll need to brainstorm some ways we might be able to change this.

3. Purpose

What's our purpose for existing at Shoes of Prey? We believe that women want to be creative, unique, confident and inspired by what they wear. Our goal is to empower women to harness their own creativity to create unique products they can wear.

In some ways we're a hybrid between an entertainment company and a fashion company, but essentially we want to offer women the opportunity to enjoy designing their own shoes, and provide them the sense of confidence and excitement that comes with wearing something you've designed yourself.

Making people happy and feeling confident is a purpose that certainly inspires me every day.