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I know I promised to write more. And I haven’t. But I fall back on my previous promise to not spend as much time on the internet as my sole defense.

So there.

Speaking of wise uses of my time, I’ve been reading a few stellar books lately. Last fall, my interest was piqued on the topic of motivation and relatedly, of success, by a really superb TED Talk I happened upon. So piqued was I, in fact, that I decided to fork over nearly $25 for a newly released hard-cover copy of the speaker’s own book on the subject while I was on vacation. I then spent additional monies on another book I had been hearing a lot of buzz about, “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Both were excellent, informative reads and I would highly recommend both to anyone as intrigued by these subjects as I am.

In looking into all this, I was most interested in learning just what it is that seems to determine our success in life, specifically, is it more influenced by our own motivation/hard work/grit/determination/etc. (as we are all told growing up, i.e. The epitome of “The American Dream”) or more by the amount, or lack, of opportunities we are afforded? As a person who believes wholeheartedly in the practice of temperance/moderation, I know the argument can be made that a healthy balance of both will undoubtedly get you where you want to be in life. I think it’s a fair point, but I wanted to dive deeper.

In “Outliers” (which I read first), Gladwell talks mostly about the unique circumstances behind some of the most successful people we know of today. A few examples: Bill Gates. He was exposed at a very early age to one of the first commercially available computers. He had the opportunity to spend many, many hours working at it due to a combination of exceptional events. He also proved (many times over, actually) the infamous 10,000 hour rule, Which is said to be the threshold for obtaining mastery (the 2nd book discusses this concept further).

The Beatles also helped to prove the 10,000 hour rule. Before they hit it big, they spent several years playing seedy clubs around Hamburg, Germany. By Gladwell’s calculations, they played roughly 10,000 hours together as a group before their American invasion. These unique “practice” years undoubtedly honed their sound, their songwriting, and most would say greatly contributed to their success later on.

So with “Outliers”, the conclusion can be drawn that yes, success is determined by hard work and motivation to succeed, but without favorable opportunities to seize hold of, the hard work is essentially meaningless. We can scratch out a living, sure, but we can’t scratch out true success without a few “lucky” breaks first, i.e. no one truly pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps. We need a few little “nudges” to help us on our way.

Take that, ‘Merica.

Daniel pink’s “Drive” (the TED Talker’s book), expanded more on the idea of motivation and just what it is that actually drives us. He mainly pitted outdated notions of extrinsic motivators (i.e. “carrots & sticks”) against newer findings on intrinsic motivators (our own internal drives) and proposed that there is a mismatch between what science knows and what businesses actually do. Specifically, the science that he cites proves that we are much more likely to respond better to our own internal drives when encouraged properly then to external drives from bosses, supervisors, etc. He also posits that humans are needing “management” less and less to prosper in business today. Mostly because management is a man-made concept. It’s technology, not something that’s replicated in nature, so thus, it will eventually become outdated. And it may already be for most of today’s current job functions. It may have worked well in the 20th century for mostly left-brained, mechanical tasks but it doesn’t make sense when dealing with more 21st century, right-brained, out-of-the-box type problems.

He further breaks down our internal drive into the three things that all humans desire in life: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We all want to direct our own lives, we all want to be great at what we do and we all want to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. No-brainers, really. So why don’t our jobs and businesses play to these inherent motivators that we all already have? As pink states, if you want compliance, you manage, or dare I say, micro-manage. But if you want engagement, you encourage self-direction. We are our own greatest motivator.

But we already know this, don’t we? I think it’s innate in all of us. If you’re not so easily convinced, I would simply point to all those who dream of starting up their own businesses or who want to work for themselves someday. This is the land of entrepreneurship after all, isn’t it? So why aren’t companies adopting more of these ideas into how they approach their employees? It’s a fair question. The data proves that productivity and general employee well-being goes up and turnover goes down when they do. And as a result, many more companies are implementing some of the practices that pink discusses in this book. It’s the wave of the future.

And something worth pondering, that’s for sure.

Well, I was planning to get more into how these ideas were showing up in my life personally (or how frustrated I am that they’re not more of a reality in my life) but alas, this post has drug on long enough. I’ll divulge more at a later date, I promise…I hope.

Next up on my reading list:“Freakonomics”. Yeah, I’ve kind of turned into a geek for these sorts of books now. But this one was a Goodwill find. No more new release, hard-cover copies at full price, thank you very much.

And thank you very much for stopping by and reading this latest winding entry of mine. May the next post make its way to your screen much speedier than the last.


######Note: This was originally posted on an old Squarespace blog of mine. Most of the references, links and jokes are probably dead.

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Ryan Straits


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