Connect with us

Self Development

Fool-Proof Motivation

There’s science behind feeling good about work.

Tracy Lee Nicol




If you think people do good work based on how much money you give them, you’re in for a surprise. But if you think making the office a place of butterflies, joy and rainbows will do the trick, you’re in for another surprise.

Experiments by Dan Ariely, behavioural economist, show that humans get up to all kinds of strange behaviour and that there are other things that motivate us to work; you just have to know how to work them. Check out these experiments.

Lego fruits of labour

Ariely gave experiment participants a pile of Lego and an instruction guide to build a robot. He’d pay them $3 for the task. The completed robot was then hidden under a table, and they were asked to build the same robot again for $2,70. This repeat assemble/price reduction continued until some reached the ‘meaningful condition’: “No more. It’s not worth it for me.”

For the next group, the cyclical task was made more demotivating: The Lego robot was built with the same cash rewards offered but, instead of hiding it away, the experimenters disassembled the robot in front of the participant.

The result? Hidden robot participants repeated the cycle 11 times, while disassembled robot participants only completed seven. And it’s not because some participants love Lego and therefore get more joy out of the activity than others. The act of breaking the Lego took the meaning out of the activity.

Switching Lego for paper-pushing

In a revised experiment, Ariely asked participants to find matching pairs of letters on a sheet of paper. The price was 30c per sheet, and it reduced with each repetition of the cycle. But this time there were three conditions.

Group one wrote their name, completed the task and showed it to the experimenter who scanned the page, said “uh huh” and put it in a pile next to them. Group two didn’t write their name, gave it to the experimenter who simply put it to one side. For the third group, the experimenter was handed the paper and put it straight into a shredder.

Related: Fool Yourself Into Becoming a Morning Person

Taking it to big business

So what, it’s Lego and paper. What happens in business when you have to cancel mergers or presentations that staff have been working their butts off for? Ariely consulted a big software company in Seattle where 200 engineers had just been unapologetically told by the CEO that their big project was cancelled.

They’d effectively been through the same experiment, except now they started arriving at work later, leaving earlier, and had started abusing company expenses. While projects can fail, acknowledging effort is critical to keeping staff motivated.

Stats don’t lie

The graph shows that when the work was acknowledged, people worked all the way down to 15c for their efforts. Interestingly, the shredded group gave up very quickly, even though no one was checking and they could get paid for doing very little.

Then the ignored group. Turns out ignoring effort is very similar to shredding. The good news is that just by looking at something, scanning and saying “uh huh” was enough to dramatically improve motivation.

Related: We Give You the Secret To Your Productivity

Ponder this: Big thinkers square up

If experiments aren’t enough to convince you that acknowledging effort is paramount to motivating staff, take notes from a big thinker showdown: Moral philosopher Adam Smith versus father of socialism Karl Marx.


Adam Smith

Using the example of a pin factory, and a pin taking 12 steps for completion, Smith suggested the following about efficiency. If one person completed all 12 steps, production would be low but if 12 people completed one step each, productivity would increase – it’s the foundation of the Industrial Revolution. Marx on the other hand was against alienation of labour, believing a connection to your work made you care about it more.

While Smith was correct and relevant for the Industrial Revolution, in today’s knowledge-based economy where people have to decide for themselves how much effort, attention, caring and connection to the work they feel, Marx now has a lot more things to say.


Karl Marx

In short

Payment and motivation are not the same thing. Having meaning, creativity, challenges, ownership, identity and pride connected to the task at hand is as important as money. As a business leader, if you add these components to management and integrate them into business culture, employees won’t only be happier, they’ll be more productive.

Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.

Self Development

The 5 Gut-Check Questions Confronting Entrepreneurs Every Day

The day you forget why you began is the day you’re done.



Entrepreneurs make an astounding number of decisions daily. They are faced with choosing which opportunities to move on and must solve problems big and small.

By setting up a framework of questions to ask yourself daily, you’ll give yourself some markers to help guide you through these difficult situations. Knowing where you stand on these questions will empower you to make good choices that ultimately lead you to your desired outcome. It will give you a deeper understanding of your motivations and your feelings about your business, and can help you clarify future plans.

Here are five powerful questions all entrepreneurs should ask themselves daily to ensure they are consistently moving toward their goals and making the best decisions for themselves and their business. Ask yourself these questions with an honest and open mind, and see where they take you.

1. Why are you doing this?

What makes this one little question so powerful is that it forces you to examine your desires and impulses, and helps you chart how those motivations change over time. It forces you to look at things from a different perspective. Asking yourself this question every day reaffirms your ambitions and the mindset behind why you are doing what you’re doing. If you don’t know why, you’re in trouble!

Related: Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

Asking this question opens the door to a plethora of other questions that will give you food for thought. What is the reason for launching your business? Why are you passionate about doing this? Are you the right person to run this business? These answers may change over time. At first it may seem difficult to truly nail down the “why” behind your motivations. Maybe there are competing interests that are driving you. But when you really think about it and drill down into this question, there’s probably a simple answer. Just be sure you’re being truthful with yourself.

Why you do something also gives rise to the question: what do you hope to achieve? You need to know what your end game looks like, and what success means to you. Is it about attaining a certain level of wealth? Is it about being the top in your market? Is it about earning respect? Are you looking to rule the world (or at least a niche market), or are you simply hoping to earn a living doing something you love?

Start your day by asking yourself this question and see where your answer takes you. By spending a few minutes pondering this, you’ll gain clarity that will help you steer your career in the direction you want it to go.

2. What is your company’s purpose?

purposeSee if you can answer this question in a single sentence. A good place to start is with your mission statement: what are the formal aims, goals and values of your company or organisation? This should be clear and concise – it should get to the heart of what your business is about.

Your company’s purpose is the foundation that all else is built on. It should have enough flexibility to grow and allow for change, but be specific enough to be meaningful and relevant. Ultimately, this question should help you understand what the heck you’re really doing here.

This question should be at the forefront of your mind when making important decisions. Ask yourself whether this new venture or idea would reinforce or logically contribute to your company’s overall purpose. Are you staying true to your calling?

That’s not to say that your purpose can’t change over time. However, if it does, the change should be purposeful and executed with care. Thinking about this will help you identify your long-term business goals and may lead to bigger questions, such as: What do you want your company to mean to your customers, what is your company’s place in world and what is its ideal market?

3. Where is your business at right now?

The goal with this question is to take both an analytical and emotional assessment of your business. This is a chance for you to take a hard look at where your company sits. Is it on the right track? What seems amiss? What is going right and how can that be reproduced throughout your business?

It’s also important to acknowledge your emotions and to be mindful of how you are feeling about your business. What is your gut instinct saying? Are you feeling anxious or excited about the business? Whether you are having negative emotions or positive ones, it’s important to recognise what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way.

This will give you a chance to better understand your mental state and how that may be influencing your decision making. It’s also about understanding what kind of vibe you are putting out. Are you feeling clear-minded and balanced? Or are you feeling off-kilter and out of sorts?

Being in tune with your emotions and having a clear view of what’s going on with your business will ensure you’re on an even keel. It will help you avoid overreacting or under-reacting to situations.

Related: Attention Black Entrepreneurs: Start-Up Funding From Government Grants & Funds

4. What lessons are you learning?

Every entrepreneur faces an uphill battle to achieve success. Every day you should be learning and growing, and the best way to do this is through a great deal of reflection on the lessons that present themselves each day.

Ask yourself whether you’re learning from your mistakes. Failure is a part of every entrepreneur’s journey. The question is, will your mistakes allow you to learn and grow? If not, you’re liable to fall into the same pitfalls and missteps. Conversely, are you learning when to jump at an opportunity and when to let it go? This is the ultimate lesson every entrepreneur is trying to learn, and it’s never an easy one.

The next time you’re weighing whether or not to take a risk, try asking yourself: “When I’m 80, will I feel sorry if I hadn’t gone for it?” Jeff Bezos does this as a way to crystallise whether he will regret not taking action on something. In the big picture, it’s often what we fail to do that we see as our biggest mistakes in life.

5. What’s next?

If you ask yourself one question every day, this should be it. As an entrepreneur, you always need to be anticipating what’s next. You need to anticipate what’s coming down the road and formulate a plan to take it on. This is the question that forces you to look up from that pile of work on your desk and think about the big picture and next steps for your business.

What strategies will you need as you keep pushing your business into the future? What trends or shifting interests are coming up that may affect your business? How will new technology impact the way you manage the company?

Disruption will happen in every market because change is inevitable. Businesses that survive see that wave coming and start making adjustments early on. So, in a way, change is predictable because it will always come. Innovation and ingenuity will always be the key to success – and those who seize opportunity will ride the crest of the next wave.

So when you ask yourself “What’s next?” make sure you have your blinders off and are looking at things with a curious and open mind. Make sure you’re staying open to new ideas and embracing creative solutions. Keeping looking for the “wow” factor.

This article was originally posted here on

Continue Reading

Self Development

5 Inspiring Quotes From Madiba To Stir You Into Action On Mandela Day

In honour of Mandela Day, here are 5 of Nelson Mandela’s most inspiring quotes.

Casandra Visser



Prev1 of 5

Bouncing Back


“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Prev1 of 5

Continue Reading

Self Development

25 Bad Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior

If the harshest thing you have to say about someone is partly true, say the other part.

John Rampton



Prev1 of 26


Did you know that in every language, there are more negative words than positive ones? It seems we need lots of words to describe our negative feelings, but we’re content with a handful of positive ones.

For instance, researchers have found that most cultures have words for seven basic emotions: Joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and guilt.

That’s one positive emotion, and six negative

It’s no wonder so many of us have a hard time keeping our negative comments in check. Over the past six months I’ve been working on the verbal language that I’ve been using that I don’t even realize hurts others and in some cases makes them feel inferior. I even noticed that I’ve used a couple on my personal and business website. This is a “no-no” that I needed to fix.

This post will list 25 negative words you should avoid…so that you stop hurting, belittling and intimidating those around you!

Prev1 of 26

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.