Motive Spectrum

The motive spectrum is a framework that organizes the various reasons why people work. These reasons are their “motives.”

There are six motives in the spectrum. The first three (playpurpose, and potential) are the “direct” motives as they are directly connected to the work itself. The last three (emotional pressureeconomic pressure, and inertia) are the “indirect” motives as they are no longer connected to the work itself.

 

MOTIVE SPECTRUM IN THE WILD

The direct motives consistently lead to better adaptive performance, while the indirect motives consistently lead to worse performance. Moreover, the closer the motive is to the work itself, the more it drives performance.


Total Motivation

Adaptive performance is hard to measure. But total motivation is not.

Total motivation is the psychological driver of adaptive performance. More simply, it’s a way to measure the reasons people work. The reasons you work predict how well you work.

Total motivation is calculated by adding how much a person feels direct motives (playpurpose, and potential) and subtracting how much a person feels indirect motives (emotional pressureeconomic pressure, and inertia).

 

TOTAL MOTIVATION IN THE WILD

Total motivation predicts adaptive performance across a variety of human endeavors. It has been proven to predict creativity, grit, customer experience, citizenship, student achievement, and even marital happiness.

To measure your own total motivation, take the total motivation survey.


Play

Play is the strongest of the direct motives in the motive spectrum. The more play you feel, the higher your performance. You feel play when the work itself is the reason you work.

Play is a stronger influence on your performance relative to both purpose and potential.

 

PLAY IN THE WILD

A teacher who works because he enjoys the actual art of curriculum planning is working because of play. He works because the work itself is enjoyable to him.


Purpose

Purpose is the second strongest of the direct motives in the motive spectrum. The more purpose you feel, the higher your performance. You feel purpose when you believe in a first order outcome of your work.

Purpose is not as strong as play, but is stronger than potential.

 

PURPOSE IN THE WILD

Example: A teacher who works because she believes in making a difference in her students' lives. Perhaps she doesn't love the work itself (e.g., curriculum planning), and therefore doesn't feel play, but believes in the greater mission of the work. She would feel purpose.


Potential

Potential is the weakest of the direct motives in the motive spectrum, but contributes positively towards your performance. The more potential you feel, the higher your performance. You feel potential when you are working for a second order outcome of the work, e.g., to learn new skills, or to advance your career.

Potential is weaker than both purpose and play.

 

POTENTIAL IN THE WILD

A teacher who works because she wants to become a principal or administrator works because of potential. She works in order to develop her skills or gain experience that will be needed later in her career.


Emotional Pressure

Emotional pressure is the weakest of the indirect motives in the motive spectrum, and contributes negatively towards your performance. The more emotional pressure you feel, the lower your performance. You feel emotional pressure when you are working because you would feel guilty or ashamed if you didn't.

Emotional pressure is weaker than both economic pressure and inertia.

 

EMOTIONAL PRESSURE IN THE WILD

A young musician plays the piano because she feels like she will disappoint her mother if she doesn’t. She plays the piano because of emotional pressure.


Economic Pressure

Economic pressure is the second strongest of the indirect motives in the motive spectrum, and contributes negatively towards your performance. The more economic pressure you feel, the lower your performance. You feel economic pressure when you are working to gain a reward or to avoid a punishment.

Economic pressure is weaker than inertia, and stronger than emotional pressure.

 

ECONOMIC PRESSURE IN THE WILD

Two boy scouts are learning to play chess. One boy scout is learning to play chess because he loves to learn, and enjoys the challenge of the game. He is working because of play. The other boy scout is learning to play chess to receive the badge. He is working because of economic pressure. All other things being equal, the boy scout working for play will become a better chess player.


Inertia

Inertia is the strongest of the indirect motives in the motive spectrum, and contributes negatively towards your performance. The more inertia you feel, the lower your performance. You feel inertia when the reason you work, and the work itself, are infinitely removed. In other words, you aren’t even sure of the reason you work.

Inertia is stronger than emotional pressure and economic pressure.

 

INERTIA IN THE WILD

A seasoned professional shows up to her job every day because she showed up yesterday. She is continuing in her career and isn’t even sure why. A young high school graduate goes to college because college is simply the next step on the path. He isn’t even sure why he is going to college.