Friday, December 13, 2013

Best Advice #2--Don't Coast

As I was growing up, my father owned a grocery store in South Memphis, Tennessee. The store came first in Dad’s book. For example, long before we had a home with air conditioning, Dad had the store air-conditioned. Memphis is hot in the summertime—really hot and humid. So on hot summer Sundays, when the store was closed to business, we would pack up our comic books, toys, or projects and camp out in the aisles of the store.

You are probably asking, “What about TV?”  Well, I know it is hard to believe, but TV had not arrived yet, at least not in most homes. The first TV (black and white, I might add) I saw was at a neighbor’s house in 1948. The democratic convention for the nomination of Harry Truman was broadcasting. It was several years later before we were lucky enough to get a TV at our home.

Dad was a butcher by trade. Even though he owned the store, he spent his time in the meat department. That is where I often worked to earn a little spending money—cutting up chickens, grinding and mixing ground beef, making minute steaks, raking the sawdust, and scraping the meat blocks. One bit of advice from dad was, “You can always find something to do.” He said, “If you really can’t think of anything that needs doing, then at least run around in circles, but LOOK busy!” Dad did not believe in standing around waiting to be told what to do. That probably was not the best advice. It was much later in life before I learned that sometimes thinking is more important than doing—and there are times when you need to conserve your energy for what is really important.

There was another piece of advice, however, that has served me particularly well. It is advice I have passed on to my children and their children. It is advice that I have given in many meetings when talking to a critically important project team. Dad used a driving analogy to pass on his important message. He said, "Son, when you’re almost to the top of a hill, don’t take
your foot off the gas pedal!" If Mother had been giving the advice, it might have come out, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

The point of Dad’s advice is, when you think you’ve got it made, drive it home, put it in the bank. Don’t relax! Don’t try to coast to the finish line. It is the story of the hare and the tortoise. Perseverance and follow-through count. There are zillions of people who can say, “I could have been a contender.” Those that made it, never took their foot off the gas.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologists often talk about motivation in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In recent times, the first half of the hierarchy has been largely replaced by the attachment theory. The top of the hierarchy, however, is still relevant for us. When we talk about motivation, we are talking about Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. These are the needs that when pursued involve achievement, problem solving, and creativity.

The question is how does Maslow’s hierarchy fit with the assertion in the Language of Excellence that motivation is not externally created—it comes from within. You can hire motivated people, and you can extinguish or discourage motivation (at least temporarily), but you cannot create it in people. While there could be exceptions, they are so rare as to validate the conclusion that in business you cannot change the person. You can, however, change people on your team.

As it turns out, Maslow’s research studied only the healthiest 1% of college students. He also studied what he called exemplary people—people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass. In other words, Maslow’s pyramid reflects the motivational drivers among level -A people. Like it or not, there are other people who are fully satisfied by fulfilling needs expressed by the lower half of the pyramid.

Since I am not a psychologist I cannot explain why, but I can point to generations of dependence as a common factor among many of the people who are unmotivated to travel into the upper half of the pyramid of needs. There are exceptions, however. There are those who are driven by Self-Actualization needs no matter what their environment. Nevertheless, those living under Communist rule for generations tend to shut the door between the two halves of Maslow’s hierarchy. Likewise, generations of dependence on government welfare seems to extinguish the desire to aspire to levels above satisfying Security and Relationship needs.

The extraordinary thing about some of those who operate at the higher levels is that they appear never to be satisfied with their achievement. They never relax to enjoy their past achievements. These are the true A-level people. Why do some people do what they do? What drives adventurers to start planning their next climb during their decent from a mountain just conquered? What makes the winner at the roulette table risk his or her winnings on the next spin of the wheel? Why would the successful entrepreneur cancel retirement plans to start a new venture? Why did the programmers who created Pong, the first widely successful computer game, sign up for the next project? They are driven to achieve (to win), just to have the opportunity to do it again. They play to play again.