Getting a blog started is pretty easy from a technical perspective. All you have to do is ask your webmaster, Renaissance man, brother-in-law to set up your website and ta-da – you have it. But there is so much more to it – at least there was in my case. And all of that “so much more” took place between my two ears, that is, in my head. Do I have anything to say that’s worth reading? Will I be able to keep up with the work? Is it worth the effort? Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t actually hear voices. But it was my own questions that tampered my desire. So it is just a little bit ironic that I decided to begin with a series on motivation. What is even more ironic is that the same brother-in-law provided me with a perfect lesson in motivation to share with you.
For his 40th birthday, Ken Kinard decided to throw a creativity party. No gifts were allowed. Instead, everyone was invited to bring a creative expression. Some of us experienced a moment of dread as we read the invitation. Others were downright giddy with excitement. But none of us were surprised. After all, the man is a gifted musician, writes wonderfully entertaining stories, blends the oddest ingredients into delicious cookies and operates a business whose motto is “where creativity means business.” Who can keep up with that? As it turns out, a lot of people can and did. Let me share with you just a bit of what turned out to be a remarkable evening.
- One person spent over 16 hours creating an architectural schematic of a house for Ken. It didn’t include Barbie, but it did boast three levels, a conservatory, an entertainment room, and images of two iPhones sitting side-by-side on a table in front of an iMac. We all watched with our mouths agape as he gave us a virtual tour of Ken-world by rotating the Computer-aided design (CAD) 90 degrees left, right, up, and down. Oh yeah, did I mention that the designer was Ken’s eight-year-old son? What did your child give you for your birthday?
- Another person, who has a history of delivering exciting tales in the genre of children’s historical Christian fantasy horror, tried to write down and share the newest episode in an epic story. But he didn’t get it all on paper in time for the party and found himself reading what was written and making up the rest on the fly. The audience was too polite not to yawn while he read, but tuned-in when he put down the paper and winged it. The extemporaneous piece was a hit, but the prepared piece wasn’t. (Lesson learned: I might continue writing the stories, but I will never read one again!)
- Jeff and Jen, a couple with two young children, nonchalantly displayed their artwork – an enchanting watercolor of a bunny floating in space amidst swirly blue clouds and a stunning portrait of Ken’s two oldest boys done in pencil. Jeff is an artist and illustrator for children’s books, so we were not so much surprised by his talent as by the beauty of the painting. (Still, even he was impressed with this watercolor and confessed that part of him would like to keep it for himself.) But who knew that Jen’s talent rivaled his? And just where did they find the time and energy to create these pieces?
- Jack, a landscape architect, pulled an all-nighter to compile an iTunes playlist of his favorite music. I think he said it would get anyone through a 15-hour road trip. Most of the music came from the sixth and seventh decades of the 2Oth century, so you know it wasn’t adolescent zeal that kept him up all night.
Other people made tantalizing treats too pretty to eat and too tempting not to eat, and another guest enlisted the crowd to sing some of Ken’s favorite music. One friend roped the birthday boy into playing a duet of “My Funny Valentine.” Ken’s wife, Jennifer, delivered a moving poem she wrote that captured their life and favorite literature together in one piece. Wow, what an evening! Virtually all of us departed late that night with high spirits, light hearts, and energy to spare.
In official parlance, the term “motivation” refers to the initiation and sustenance of effort over time. It was clear to everyone present that people worked long, hard, and passionately in preparation for the party. What’s more, everyone shared in the enjoyment and celebrated the work done by others. The curiosity for me is just how this happened. What motivated people to respond in this way, and how can we bring this kind of response into the workplace? Isn’t that what every business owner, every leader, and every employee would like to see in the people around them?
I believe that this can and does happen in the workplace every day…but not enough and not everywhere. This party revealed a lot about motivation and how business leaders can and should engage the talents and passion of people to accomplish important things.
Volumes of research have been conducted on the topic of motivation, but little of it seems to be applied in the business setting. I am not alone in this observation. In 2003, the Harvard Business Review republished Frederick Herzberg’s 1968 article entitled, “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” In 2009, Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us unveiled few surprises to people who are familiar with the topic. Like these much more astute men, I hope to help leaders understand and use the principles of motivation in their workplaces.
Over the next several weeks, I will explore how leaders can use the lessons learned from Ken’s party and from the decades of research to engage their people and renew passion, purpose and productivity in the workplace.
I hope you will join me in this discussion so we can all learn together.