Business: Prime Motivation: The Drive to Succeed

According to the research of Dr. Anders Ericsson, motivation is the most significant predictor of success. In simple terms, Dr. Ericsson found that experts in many walks of life, whether sport, music, chess, dance, or business, had put in the most hours at their craft. He coined the phrase, “It takes 10 years and 10,000 hours to become an expert.” Other research has show that the longer someone is in a career, the less important innate ability (i.e., intelligence) is and the more important motivation becomes. In other words, the most successful people just keep plugging away longer than others. Why is the relationship between motivation and success so robust? Because high motivation will ensure total preparation which will, in turn, ensure maximum performance and results.

Defining Motivation

Let’s first consider what motivation is in very practical terms. Motivation can be defined in the following ways:

  • An internal or external drive that prompts a person to action
  • The ability to initiate and persist at a task
  • Putting 100% of your time, effort, energy, and focus into your work
  • Being able to work hard in the face of obstacles, boredom, fatigue, stress, and the desire to do other things
  • Motivation means doing everything you can to be as productive as you can.

Impact of Motivation

But it’s one thing to saying you are motivated to achieve your goals; it’s another entirely different thing to have that motivation translate into actual action toward those goals. Motivation is so important because it impacts every aspect of your business efforts:

  • Preparation
  • Persistence
  • Physical health
  • Lifestyle
  • Outcome

Motivation Matrix

For every businessperson, there is a different motivation that drives them toward their goals. The Motivation Matrix breaks down motivation along two dimensions: Internal vs. external and positive vs. negative. The resulting four quadrants can each provide motivation, but will produce very different experiences and outcomes.

  • Internal-positive: Challenge, desire, passion, satisfaction, self-validation (outcome: successful, fulfilled, happy).
  • External-positive: Recognition and appreciation from boss and co-workers, financial rewards, stable life (outcome: some success, mostly fulfilled, dependent on others for continued success and good feelings).
  • Internal-negative: Threat, fear of failure, inadequacy, insecurity (outcome: considerable success, high rate of burnout, unhappiness).
  • External-negative: Fear of loss of job, insufficient respect from boss and co-workers, financial pressure, pressure from significant others, unstable life (some success, anxiety-ridden, unhappy).

Obviously, the ideal type of motivation is internal-positive because the motivation is coming from a place of strength and comfort. At the same time, there has been research that has shown that many successful business executives are driven by insecurity, suggesting that an internal-negative or external-negative motivation can lead to success (though rarely happiness). Which quadrant do you think you belong to? If you are not in the internal-positive quadrant, you might want to reevaluate your motivations and work toward that place in the matrix.

Effort vs. Goals

It’s really quite simple. All else being equal, whatever you put into your work efforts is what you will get out of them. Also, if you are among a group of equally capable colleagues or companies, the one who puts in the most time and effort is the one who is going to be most successful. A problem I see among many people in the business world these days is a disconnect between their efforts and their goals. When I speak to groups of young businesspeople, I always ask how many have big goals, like moving up to senior management or starting their own company. Just about everyone raises their hand. I then ask how many are doing everything they possibly can to achieve their goals. Only a few tentative hands go up. What this tells me is that there is often a gap between the goals they have and the effort they are putting into those goals. It’s easy to say that you want to be a successful businessperson. It is much more difficult to actually make that happen. If you have this kind of disconnect, you have two choices. You can either lower goals to match your effort or you can raise your effort to match your goals. There is no right choice. But if you’re truly motivated to be successful, you better make sure you’re doing the work necessary to achieve your goals.

The Grind

The demanding nature of the business world means that you will likely be doing work that will take you far beyond the point at which it is fun and exciting. This junction is what I call The Grind, which starts when it gets stressful, tiring, and tedious. The Grind is also the point at which it really counts. The Grind is what separates successful businesspeople from those who are less successful. Many businesspeople when they reach this point either ease up or give up because it’s just too darned hard. But truly motivated businesspeople reach The Grind and keep on going.

Many corporate psychologists will say that you have to love The Grind. I say that, except for a very few hyper-motivated businesspeople, love isn’t in the cards because there’s not much to love in The Grind. But how you respond to The Grind lies along a continuum. Loving the Grind is rare. At the other end of the continuum is “I hate The Grind.” If you feel this way, you are not likely to stay motivated. I suggest that you neither love nor hate The Grind; you simply accept it as part of the deal in striving toward success. The Grind may not feel very good, but what does feel good is seeing your hard work pay off with success.

Prime Motivation

Prime motivation means working hard consistently under the most challenging conditions. It involves doing everything possible to achieve your professional goals.

Prime motivation begins with what I call the three D’s. The first D stands for direction. Before you can attain prime motivation, you must first consider the different directions you can go in your work. You really have three choices: stop completely and find a new line of work, continue at your current level, or strive to be the best businessperson you can be.

The second D represents decision. With these three choices of direction, you must decide on one direction in which to go. None of these directions are necessarily right or wrong, better or worse, they’re simply your options. Your choice will dictate the amount of time and effort you will put into your work and how successful a businessperson you will ultimately become.

The third D stands for dedication. Once you’ve made your decision, you must dedicate yourself to it. If your decision is to become a truly successful businessperson, then this last step, dedication, will determine whether you have prime motivation. Your decision to be your best and your dedication to your work will then become a top priority. Only by being completely dedicated to your direction and decision will you ensure that you have the prime motivation you will need to achieve your professional goals.



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“I have had the pleasure of hearing Jim Taylor lecture a group of CEO’s and Presidents, of speaking with him one-on-one and of reading several of his works. He provides a unique window into the head, heart and soul of top performers at their field. His perspective is special in that it combines performing at one’s best...”

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