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What Super Mario Bros teaches us about motivation

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

People who were around during the moon landings often tell me what it was like that day. I don’t really have a moon landing story. But I can tell you about the time I was a kid and I first witnessed the launch of the video game, Super Mario Bros, on my friend’s television.

There were the obstacles, jumps, magic mushrooms and endless falls down bottomless pits. Quirky sounds triumphantly proclaimed growth, progress and victory. Goals were signalled with flags and celebrated with fireworks.

Enemies came from below and above. Each one had its own personality. You could jump on the head of one enemy and squash it but the next one would be covered in spikes. Another would duck its head in its shell, which would then ricochet off a wall and return to knock you over.

Kids all over the world were hurling their controllers around the room desperately trying to get this tiny little Mario sprite to reach the goal of rescuing the princess. Nobody really cared who the princess was or why she was even captured in the first place.

There was no genuine reward other than the pure satisfaction of getting to the end. Forget all the textbooks on motivation. Nintendo had captured it in a bottle, like lightning.

 

Gamification…not that gimmick again!

Let’s jump forward say, 20 years or so. The term ‘gamification’ took hold and spawned some innovative ‘game-based’ problem-solving approaches as well as setting millions of eyes rolling. It was gimmicky, like a typical management fad and seemed to trivialise our important day-to-day jobs.

My eyes weren’t rolling, though. The eight-year-old in me was grinning. I suspect I wasn’t the only one. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood—whenever that transition is finalised—we all shift from embracing fun to becoming very serious about work. Work isn’t a video game. It’s business. And business is a serious affair, Dr Duck.

For those of you unfamiliar with gamification, the idea was to use the elements that make a video game so engaging and apply them to the way we go about work. The best gamification has already been applied without you realising it. There are the subtle movements and sounds your phone makes when you activate it. The various apps you use have adopted gamification principles, like including avatars, scores and rating systems.

Fortunately, gamification doesn’t have to be a management fad in my line of work. As a psychologist, I became curious as to the underlying mechanisms that make video games so engaging. Here are a few observations:

 

Meaningless scores and progress

Video games are addictive because they provide an ongoing sense of progress. I remember adults observing Super Mario when I was a child. They seemed to link the objective of the game to the score in the corner.

The score, however, was never the goal. Unlike earlier video games, like Space Invaders, where high scores were presented on a screen, in Super Mario Bros the score was never compared to other users. It was the mere feeling of progress that was motivating.

Adults filtered the goal of the game with their own orderly logic. There had to be some reward in reaching the end. However, like any good job, the work in of itself was the reward.

 

Power mushroom sounds

In a recent job I was informed by the IT professionals that office computers shouldn’t have sounds as they are distracting. No doubt this was correct but I grieved the lost possibility of using sound as subtle motivator.

Think about how often sound enriches our experience. There’s the sound of unwrapping a present, the crunch of fresh popcorn at the cinema, the satisfying click of the mouse, the music the pumps through your headphones on the train or when you go for a run.

Think of how much less impact a film like Star Wars would have without the blaring themes of John Williams or Darth Vader’s creepy breathing.

Super Mario Bros was known for its joyful tune as well as little blasts of sound effects for everything you did. Grab a mushroom and the game makes a satisfying sound signifying augmentation. Get hit by a bad guy and the music makes noise representing sorrow and misfortune.

The sounds are like a commentary on the drama and reinforce positive performance.

 

The bottomless pit learning curves

Super Mario teaches us a lot about learning too. When you first play the game, you die…a lot. It’s annoying but with every new try, you make it a little bit further and there are milestones that help you on the way. Doesn’t that sound like how a workplace should function?

Unfortunately, with most workplaces, we hire ‘qualified’ and ‘competent’ people so we don’t have to go through all that. Human beings are sometimes treated like assets that are installed and then simply operate as per specification.

Imagine what our environments would be like if they were designed to allow people to make lots of mistakes so they could upskill and learn? Think about how you really learn. It’s usually through experimentation, trial and error and asking people. How many workplaces embrace, let alone tolerate, errors?

 

Nintendo Controller Simplicity

It’s often assumed that when we introduce a new system or procedure, we need to train people and give them documents. This, to me, is a sign we probably haven’t designed the new solution to be as simple as it needs to be.

I recently overheard a conversation in a workplace where someone said, ‘I feel like we are designing everything around human error and that’s just not right.’ I resisted the urge to butt in and say, ‘Yes it is!’ Design is everything.

When I played Super Mario for the first time it was simple. The controller had a few buttons, clearly labelled and designed for your thumbs. You pressed start and off you went, learning along the way.

When was the last time you used a workplace system that worked as well? It was probably your Smart Phone, which was designed with the same mentality as a video game.

This frustrated employee didn’t like the idea of continually designing the system to work around the quirks and limitations of people. People needed to work around the system.

But that’s why video games are so much fun. You aren’t spending all your time trying to work out how to play. Someone’s already spent the time working that out for you. You just start playing.

 

‘Your princess is in another castle’ humour

What makes something funny? It’s when we expect an outcome but are surprised by an alternative. Video games are often surprising and have a good sense of humour.

Super Mario has various castles to conquer and when you reach the end, you are informed, ‘The princess is in another castle.’ The anti-climax is amusing and triggered many kids to scream and laugh at the television with frustration. Get to the end of the entire game and the princess says ‘…but our princess is in another castle…just kidding.’The developers had fun making this and have designed it so you will have fun too.

In workplaces, we are careful to strip out the jokes and humour from the products and solutions we develop. Sure, we make jokes along the way and have fun. But why do we want to sanitise our documents, systems and surroundings from good old fashioned fun? When was the last time you read a communication from an executive or CEO that wasn’t carefully crafted and devoid of any humour?

Gamification re-introduced some of these ‘fun’ elements to work. When it is done well, the fun and gaming elements are integrated seamlessly. When it’s done badly, it results in gimmicky trophies, medals and scores being slapped on a dashboard. As with any workplace initiative, gamification also needs a lot of attention and effort to make it work. Humour can be a part of a solution. It just needs to be done well.

 

Pokemon Go…back to work

I’ve never really liked the term work-life balance. It implies work is something we have to do so we can enjoy our real lives.

People like to quarantine fun and work. Video games are fun and need to be limited. Growing up, we had time limits on how long we could play a game. After all, the game was robbing my time that could have been better spent on more important stuff like exercise and school. Who would have thought that as an adult I would be able to use and apply all those wasted hours on Super Mario?

Today, I’ve noticed the same fear of smart phones and tablets. There was the probably the same fear of television and no doubt radios and story books. Recently, there was world-wide enthusiasm as well as condemnation of Pokemon Go. Although I didn’t jump on either bandwagon my only thought on it was the eight-year-old in me—‘That looks like fun.’

Meanwhile, I watch as my daughters learn from YouTube and effortlessly navigate their Ipad. They’ve learned to create incredible playdough, beautiful artwork and craft from the online media.

Like video games, I’m not so fearful that they are wasting their time. I am more curious as to how all of these amazing technologies will be further integrated into our lives in the future. My eldest has already started to ask me to show her how to create drawings using the computer.

The technology isn’t a distraction. It’s progress.

Thank you for reading this blog but my insights are in another castle…just kidding.

Seven Dwarf leadership styles. Which one are you?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

My first job ended with a triumphant walk out. I threw my Safeway name badge on the ground and never returned (except to buy things later).

This was not to be a trend in my career nor was it a sign of my immature youth. It was in response to a manager who lost his temper and decided to grab me by the arm, drag me across the store and berate me in front of customers. Let’s call him Grumpy.

Grumpy had an up and down personality. He was volatile one day and gregarious the next. Research suggests that an unpredictable personality is worse than someone who’s just difficult or unfair all the time. Uncertainty is the best friend of anxiety and worry. At least with a bad tempered person, you know you’ll be unhappy.

On this particular occasion, he was grumpy because someone had been stealing all the painkillers from Aisle One. When I approached him, he was standing in the corner of the aisle on a covert operation to catch the thief red handed.

Apparently, when I interrupted the critical mission, he thought it was appropriate to drag me across the store and give me a dressing down in front of the customers. I walked away, a little shook-up and a bit angry and proceeded to go back to work.

Grumpy wandered by a few minutes later with a jovial smile. ‘False alarm’, he said.

It was only when a younger colleague joked about the incident and Grumpy’s temper, that all the lightbulbs in Aisle four went off. ‘That wasn’t right!’, said a young pre-doctor/pre-psychologist (i.e. me). The badge fell to the ground and I only ever returned to stock up on bread and milk.

Then the phone calls came through. Grumpy was terrified I’d report him to Safeway management because he was under probation for sexually harassing a female colleague at another store.

In retrospect, it may have been appropriate to report him but, like most people, you just want to move on to something new and forget the past.

The only benefit of being man handled and embarrassed was Grumpy gave me a glowing recommendation when I applied for my next job.

It would be easy to think that Grumpy was the exception. With all the managers—senior and otherwise—across the globe, true leadership is a pretty important but is hard to find. Here are a few leadership styles that I’ve observed.

Sleepy

Sleepy leaders are those that are essentially asleep at the wheel as the workplace and world around them changes. They are personified by the worst kind of decision—indecision. Ideas are brought to them to improve their business and they fail to see the potential. Poor performers pass under their radar and may even be promoted. The sleepy leader is uninvolved and inspires apathy from their followers.

Sneezy

Sneezy represents the distracted leader who becomes so preoccupied with their immediate circumstances they are as effective as someone having a sneezing fit. I remember one leader who just couldn’t sit still in a meeting to hear a briefing. He’d wander around the room, interrupt you with side stories and even massage your shoulders. I used to liken it to trying to have a discussion whilst someone is juggling and swallowing swords in front of you.

Bashful

The bashful leader is simply lacking self-confidence and steel. I worked with a colleague who felt deeply uncomfortable when their manager confided in them about how they didn’t feel like they could lead. This manager would worry, feel ineffective when they made decisions and were concerned that their team didn’t respect them. Every leader has doubts, nerves, and fears. A leader should be self-aware and honest but, let’s face it, we don’t want to work for someone who doubts themselves all the time.

Dopey

The dopey leader simply makes poor decisions or does not have the subject matter expertise to have an educated opinion. I recall a manager who was facilitating a workshop after a major safety incident. The manager commanded the room and started writing a list of punitive and ineffective actions on the whiteboard. They were commanding from a place of ignorance. A sensible leader needs to defer to the experts and facilitate. A dopey leader makes the decisions from a place of complete ignorance.

Happy

Everyone loves the happy leader who inspires laughter and fun in the workplace. At best, these leaders can help motivate and promote a positive culture. At worst, however, they may not always be realistic and can even side-step issues that drain their energy levels. When I worked in the public service, I observed many a happy leader worn down over time by their worried, more conservative colleagues who wanted to tackle the difficult issues. They would sometimes joke or make light of a situation as their concerned counterpart was more interested in getting an outcome than feeling good about it.

Doc

Then there’s Doc, the natural leader. They don’t necessarily have any particular characteristics that stand out other than the fact that everyone listens and follows them. Workplace psychologists have long studied the various traits, styles, motivations, and thinking that goes into a ‘Doc’.

Docs don’t worry too much but worry just enough. They’re happy enough but happiness isn’t their priority. They’ve got the smarts but rely on their peers as well. They take action and have the guts to do the job without being too overconfident.

Oh, and they usually don’t man handle their employees.

Leadership styles may predict who will win the Game of Thrones

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Uncategorised/Work Psychology by

Game-of-ThronesLast year I blogged about the different leadership styles portrayed on Game of Thrones. Here’s an update for Season 6 now several leaders have been eliminated. Warning, spoilers ahead.

Who’s ultimately going to win the Game of Thrones? Using Goleman and colleagues’ leadership styles, this infographic displays the leadership characteristics of the Game of Thrones characters. It also shows their liklihood of winning the iron throne.

These leadership styles are adopted by most of us from time to time. We can also use more than one style depending on the circumstances. Here’s a summary of the different styles:

The Coach

Coaches build teams and make use of their strengths. They work on developing others, such as when Ned Stark arranges for his daughter, Arya Stark, to have swordplay lessons. Adopters of the coaching style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow

Democratic

Democratic leaders seek and represent the views and opinions of others. For example, Jon Snow demonstrates this style when he protects the views of a perceived enemy–the Wildlings. Adopters of the demographic style: Jon Snow, Doran Martell, Lord Varys (possible misdirection).

The Pace-setter

The pace-setter takes the bull by the horns and leads the way. They show his or her followers how to achieve their goals. The pace-setter is represents a hands style of leadership. For example, when Ned Stark insists on personally delivering executions with his trusty sword. Adopters of the pace-setter style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow, Robert Baratheon (in his prime), Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark

Affiliative

Affiliative leaders influence by building relationships. They are motivated to unite people to achieve their goals, such as when Robert Baratheon reunites with Ned Stark to merge their families. Adopters of the affiliative style are: Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenarys Targaryen, Tommen Baratheon

Commanding

In Westeros, all leaders need to adopt some level of command to control the chaos. Commanding leaders set directives and demand compliance. When it’s not present, such as with Tommen Baratheon, other characters manipulate and take advantage. When it’s too excessive, such as with Joffrey Baratheon, other characters plot their downfall. Adopters of the commanding style are: Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister (as Hand of the King), Cercei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys Targaryen, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy

Visionary

Visionary leaders align people by setting an inspiring goal for the future. Daenerys Targaryen aligns the people with the prospect of freedom from slavery. Brandon Stark drives support with his prophetic visions of the ‘black crow’.Top adopters of the commanding style:

Daenarys Targaryen, Brandon Stark, Lord Varys (has a vision but is unclear), Littlefinger (perhaps), Tywin Lannister (the Lannister legacy drives him)

Failed leadership styles

Failed leaders largely adopted more commanding styles of leadership. Many of them, such as Ned and Rob Stark not only commanded but led from the front as coaches. Nevertheless, these styles appear to have short lived success in the world of Westeros where the politics demand a focus on relationships.

It is likely that top adopters of the commanding style, such as Cercei Lannister, and Ramsay Bolton will not persevere based on the trajectory of their characters on the show. Their one dimensional approach makes them powerful but unpopular.

Successful leaders in Game of Thrones

Top contenders of the iron throne are affiliative and visionary. For example,Tyrion Lannister tempers a commanding and forthright style with a warm and kind heart. Daenerys drives leadership through vision, compassion and a firm hand. Jon Snow balances his command with his relationships and willingness to get involved, like his brother and father.

Outside Chances

However, Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, likes to surprise us. Some outside chances for success come in the form of true visionaries like Varys, Littlefinger and Brandon Stark. These characters are not traditional leaders. They work in the shadows and behind the scenes. But they operate as meta-players, seeing the game for what it is and adopting a longer term strategy.

Brandon is now viewing Westeros through the eyes of the trees. Littlefinger is manipulating entire families to feud so that he can use the chaos to his advantage. Varys appears to be preparing Westeros for a new leader from abroad.

‘Winner’ of the Iron Throne?

Jon Snow is the most rounded of the characters. He is democratic, affiliative, commanding, pace-setting, and coaching. My prediction is that now he is reborn, he will become more of a visionary, and lead the charge forward to secure the iron throne or remove it entirely.

If your life was a story, what kind of story would it be?

in Work Psychology by

We are all stars in our own story. The early days were misadventures. That career was a series of triumphs. In some cases the story takes sharp turns in unexpected directions. Other times we hit obstacles and tragedies.These stories are referred to as our narrative identities and they help us to make sense of our past and anticipate our possible future.

Many of the stories we use to construct our narrative identities are reinforced by our upbringing, society and culture. Cultural stories are one way we pass on wisdom. Research also shows that the narratives we adopt to describe our lives can predict how well we subsequently respond to significant life events.Do any of the following stories ring true for you?

The Redeemer

My life is about learning from all the hardships and mistakes

Redemption narratives involve overcoming significant hardships, leading to greater awareness and appreciation. They involve life lessons and challenges that helped shape the person today.

The Connector

I learned to lean on others 

Communion narratives underscore building social connections and relating more to those around them as a means of overcoming difficulties. For example, a disconnected workaholic may learn to lean on family and friends when his or her life turns upside down and realises that social connections are more meaningful than money.

The Fighter

I saw the challenges in front of me and dived straight in

Agency narratives involve the individual taking full control of their destiny through sheer force and determination. They may, for example, persevere and overcome injustice and fight their way to the top in an organisation or triumph over a major physical obstacle, like climbing a mountain.

The Unlucky

The good days are behind me

A contamination identity follows the opposite path to the first three themes. The person who has a contamination narrative starts their story in a good state but is plagued by misfortune. They may, for example, keep seeing opportunities pass them by at work, struggle with endless physical complaints. The good days are well and truly behind them.

Narrative Identity and Resilience

These four themes were examined by researchers to work out whether they helped individuals navigate through hardships. Researchers identified individuals who adopted one of these four themes and then traced the trajectory of their lives at six month intervals over two years. They were also interested in whether the narrative identities would help them better respond to a negative significant life event. So they recorded any instances where participants experienced a significant physical illness.

Those who viewed their life through a contamination lens, were less resilient when confronted by this illness. The illness was just yet another misfortune on the journey toward degradation.In contrast, the other three identities seemed to improve resilience. That is, individuals who viewed their lives through the lens of redemption, communion or agency were better able to cope with the hardships of the physical illness, both mentally and physically.

Using this information, we could possibly re-write our life stories to have a more meaningful and positive journey.

Leaders could motivate others during times of significant change and upheaval by anchoring the changes to a story that resonates. Perhaps the difficulties will form part of learning (redemption narrative) or an opportunity to lean on colleagues and build their connections (communion narrative)?

Game of Thrones Leadership Styles

in Film & TV Psychology by

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Who’s ultimately going to win the Game of Thrones? Using Goleman and colleagues’ leadership styles, I’ve mapped the various leadership characteristics of the Game of Thrones characters.These leadership styles are adopted by most of us from time to time. We can also use more than one style depending on the circumstances.

The Coach

Coaches build teams, making use of their strengths and working on developing their weaknesses, such as when Ned Stark arranges for his daughter, Arya Stark, to have the swordplay lessons she requires.Top adopters of the coaching style: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow

Democratic

Democratic leaders focus on getting and representing the views and opinions of others, such as when Jon Snow attempts to understand and protect the views of the perceived enemy–the Wildlings.Top adopters of the demographic style: Jon Snow, Doran Martell (see next season), Lord Varys (possible misdirection).

The Pace-setter

The pace-setter takes the bull by the horns and leads the way, showing his or her followers how to achieve their goals. The pace-setter is represented by more hands styles of leadership, such as when Ned Stark insists on personally delivering executions with his trusty sword.Top adopters of the pace-setter style: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow, Robert Baratheon (in his prime), Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark

Affiliative

Affiliative leaders influence by building relationships. They are motivated to bring people together to achieve their goals, such as when Robert Baratheon reunites with Ned Stark to merge their families to align and secure both their futures.Top adopters of the affiliative style: Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenarys Targaryen, Tommen Baratheon

Commanding

In Westeros, all leaders need to adopt some level of command to control the chaos. Commanding leaders set directives and demand the compliance of their followers. When it’s not present, such as with Tommen Baratheon, other characters manipulate and take advantage. When it’s too excessive, such as with Joffrey Baratheon, other characters plot their downfall.Top adopters of the commanding style: Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister (as Hand of the King), Cercei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys Targaryen, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy

Visionary

Visionary leaders align people by setting an inspiring goal for the future. Daenerys Targaryen aligns the people with the prospect of freedom from slavery. Brandon Stark drives support with his prophetic visions of the ‘black crow’.Top adopters of the commanding style:

Daenarys Targaryen, Brandon Stark, Lord Varys (has a vision but is unclear), Littlefinger (perhaps), Tywin Lannister (the Lannister legacy drives him)

Great leaders feel guilty

in Work Psychology by

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Ok, so now you’re reading a blog when you really should be doing some real work. Aren’t people waiting for you? Don’t you have some deliverables to finalise? Deadlines?Go on, off you go.Still here? Maybe you aren’t much of a leader. According to research, leaders are especially prone to feelings of guilt.

In an interesting study, participants engaged in a group activity where they were asked to pretend they had crash-landed on a desert island. Together they had to develop a strategy to escape and prioritise the key items from the plane for survival.Of course the exercise was just a cover for the real study. Participants also rated how guilty they normally feel—their proneness to guilt—and rated the leadership qualities of other members of the group during the activity.Before I continue, I really must reinforce my initial message. Don’t you feel guilty that you are wasting time reading about hypothetical desert islands? Starting to feel guilty? Maybe there’s leadership potential in you after all…

Where was I? Participants who were more prone to feeling guilty were also rated by their peers as better leaders!

It is argued that guilt makes leaders feel more responsible for others and more dedicated to their commitments.

What commitments have you put off to read this? Feeling guilty?

 

It was an honest mistake…

in Work Psychology by

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When Captain Francesco Schettino was accused of abandoning the luxury liner Costa Concordia he protested that he did not willingly leave his doomed ship. He had simply fallen into a lifeboat.

Prosecutors disagreed, arguing that he intentionally abandoned the ship and his
passengers to save his own life. Unfortunately for the captain the court preferred the prosecution’s version and he now faces 16 years in jail.

Regardless of what really happened, how we respond to these incidents flushes out
our beliefs about people.

There’s a popular model used in safety–the James Reason Human Error Model–which
explains why this distinction between intentional and unintentional behaviour is

critical. An unintended behaviour, like accidentally–and conveniently–falling into
a lifeboat, suggests there was no error in judgment or motivation. When judgment
and motivation are intertwined in the action, it’s easier to blame people.

In contrast, actions that are driven by motivation to deviate from prescribed rules and laws, are considered ‘violations’ or, as one of my colleagues once called them, ‘decision errors’.

What’s interesting is that every single human makes errors and mistakes, and
commits violations.  Most people accept this notion as being human as much as
breathing and sleeping. Yet, when one of these errors leads to a terrible outcome we are quick to find any reason to blame and punish.

In a workshop discussing the James Reason model I watched on with interest as one half of the room argued that an honest error should never result in dismissal. ‘If it was unintentional, how can you blame them?’ Those on the other side of the room were swayed by an emotive example: ‘But if your child lost their life due to someone’s honest mistake, you’d want them to pay!’

What seems to underpin these scenarios is that we blend the actions with the
consequences. If you run a red light and are caught you get a fine. If the same action results in a fatal crash it is immediately escalated to the courts and jail becomes more than a possibility. The consequence changes our perception of the same action.

Perhaps Captain Schettino was both incompetent and cowardly. Imagine if we
accepted his actions as human and tried to understand them? It’s not satisfying. It’s
not exactly ‘justice’. But it might help further our understanding about humans to prevent the same, terrible scenarios in future.

Does your job give you goosebumps?

in Work Psychology by

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Can you think of the last time you had goosebumps? Was it the experience of walking down a dark and spooky street or the time you listened to a moving piece of music? 

When was the last time it happened at work?

Research from the journal Motivation and Emotion suggests that goosebumps generally occur when we experience the emotion awe. Does that give you goosebumps, eh? No?

Perhaps I should tell you a bit more about awe. Awe is a positive emotion that makes us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. It promotes a sense of connection with other people, makes us more open to learning and changing our minds, and makes us better decision-makers. Any goosebumps yet?

According to research, awe makes us feel that our existing views of the world are inadequate. The emotion inspires us to adapt and grow.

The research implies that leaders who inspire awe, by highlighting the vastness, complexity and ambition of a goal, might also be promoting cooperation, open thinking and learning.

For example, people who work in project environments, where they are working on something highly complex and ambitious, often appear to experience this emotion. Perhaps this explains the lure for some individuals of working on large scale projects.

So if you are in a position to lead a group toward a goal you might be better off inspiring your people rather than reinforcing actions, compliance, and deadlines. You might just give them goosebumps.

One thing to motivate employees…

in Work Psychology by

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My old man told me his boss reckoned he needed only one thing to motivate employees: a four by two (a timber club). Fortunately, an intriguing theory suggests that we can achieve this without the four by two.

According to this theory, developed by Dr Simon Moss, all you have to do is give people a sense of purpose and meaning.

Called the Model of Sustained Strivings (MOSS – get it), this theory explains that all the positive changes we want to see in employees–such as increased motivation, open and creative thinking, improved decision-making, self-awareness and resilience–occur naturally when our jobs and lives are meaningful.

But how do you actually give someone meaning?

It’s more like four things you need to do…

Dr Moss suggests it might not actually be as simple as doing one thing. Instead, it is as simple as doing four things.

First, you need to create a stable and predictable workplace, providing a sense of control. Humans are instinctively cautious, closed-off, and unimaginative when their immediate environment is unpredictable. Think of how creative you would get if you were wondering around the jungle with a tiger lurking in the undergrowth!

In the workplace, creating clear, unambiguous expectations goes a long way to creating a stable workplace, for example when we clarify policies, procedures and rules.

The second determinant of meaning is working in a supportive and cooperative environment. Think about the last time you worked with people who didn’t really help you or possibly even undermined your efforts. When you are not supported, you tend to work just to survive not to improve.

We are also in this mindset when our workplace keeps changing and the future is uncertain. The third determinant of meaning implies that we want to have some continuity and consistency to know that what we are working on today will be valued in the future, otherwise it feels like a meaningless exercise.

Lastly, being allowed to be different and unique is essential to demonstrate our capability. This determinant of meaning boosts our self-esteem and motivates us to keep trying to improve.

Ok, so now you have the four things required to motivate and improve? Presumably, all you have to do is implement programs to address these four areas?

Unfortunately, according to Dr Moss, the research shows us that each determinant can directly contradict the other. So, capability impedes cooperation. Cooperation impedes consistency, and so on.

For example, while you are promoting ‘one culture’ and a unified team, you may also be undermining a person’s need to stand out and be different. Similarly, you tend to learn more and develop your unique capabilities in different, therefore uncertain, workplaces but these workplaces also make us feel insecure and undermine meaning.

Ok, maybe six things you need to do…

Fortunately, you can resolve these issues. All you have to do is six things (are you seeing a pattern here?).

How might you might reconcile the need for certainty and need to develop in novel and uncertain environments? Dr Moss suggests that when people feel stressed learning in novel environments, they could learn to associate these feelings with excitement in recognition of the opportunity to develop. By doing so, you can boost your capability and perceive the change as a challenge rather than something to fear.

To resolve the contradiction between feeling unique and unifying your teams, you could rotate the responsibilities of leaders. That is, you promote leadership on some tasks, allowing people to learn and develop but ensure they are subordinates on other tasks, to help encourage trust and cooperation.

But, to get all these things to work, you need to just do these 28 things…

Just kidding.

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