What drives you?

The other weekend, I kicked a piece of the railing on our back deck and it disintegrated; I was compelled to fix it. It took me all weekend, and I had to buy a new mitre saw, and learn how to properly cut the balusters and railings and how to nail them to keep them from spinning in place.

I worked all day Saturday and then half the day Sunday until it was finished. I had to go back to the hardware store three times (as it always is). But I pressed on and finished.


It wasn't particularly important. It was just a deck. At another time I might have ignored it or tried to kludge a quick repair. But it was clear it needed replacing, and it had to be done. That's all there was to it.

Motivation can so often go one way or the other. It's probably the most impactful influence on productivity, quality, success, and so many other positive factors that we so often ignore in the workplace and in life.

There are so many factors that tip the balance: a sense of autonomy and control. Fun. Feeling valued. The people around you. Care, respect, and kindness. Rewards. Meaningfulness. Physiology. Context. Aesthetics. Beauty. Wonder. Art.

And as many on the other end: a sense of being controlled. Monotony. The people around you. Mundanity. Physiology. Lack of context. Absence of reward. Punishment. Lack of respect, kindness, care.

It's so easy to float through life and work looking only at the surface level of this critical driving force. The empty phrase "self-motivated" is so telling—it isolates the whole concept to the individual, ignoring the deeper causes that impact us. In some sense it acknowledges those impacts as being something one needs their own power reserve to buffer against. It rewards being able to ignore them.

I truly don't believe those who are impacted by the world around them are less valuable—in fact I think they're more attuned to the realities of life, work, and the world—which are complex, systemic, and intertwined—and in that way, they are orders of magnitude more valuable in this modern world.

That's why it's so important to look deeper.

Where does motivation come from? What's the world where people feel the wind gently push them forward, as the path ahead of them clears? How can we make that—for ourselves, for others, for good?

Tristan Harward

Tristan Harward