The Motivation Triangle

When I talk to people (at work), I like to dig into their motivations. I like to I break it down into a simple framework that helps dig into their expectations what what will make them naturally happy in the long run. Each person is motivated by something different, and it’s something that they should understand about themselves as they hire people, or look for a job.

In general, people are motivated by 3 things (in different proportions, and in no particular order):

A. Compensation

This is usually the easiest one to talk about because it’s directly related to a transaction–your time and intellectual property for money. But compensation can also be other parts of the package like working remotely, equity, perks (ie. catered food), paid time off, bonuses, etc. People who are 100% motivated by compensation are always a red flag to me because they will move on to another company if they can find more pay elsewhere. In addition, it’s not that inspiring and they will attract/hire others that are most attracted by compensation as well. All is not to say they won’t do good work–it’s just that work is viewed mostly as a transaction.

B. Team

An amazing team is like wanting to be part of an NFL team with the top talent surrounding you. When you stand among them, you are elevated to their status. In addition, they will challenge you to do better work and sharpen your craft. Sometimes a good “team” is honestly just one person that really attracts you to work for their company, like Elon Musk. Some people would be willing to work for him with little to no compensation… they just want the opportunity.

C. Project

Projects are typically tied to purpose, which makes them very seductive when they’re associated with something personal. There are big tech challenges out there like AI, energy, environmental sustainability, transportation, health, etc. These are the types of projects that could take decades of not centuries to solve, which makes them perfect to dedicate your life to. Not all projects are made equal, but the ones that really motivate and strike the strings of our heart, are the ones that can get us work for no pay and work with whatever resources are available.

You can learn a lot about someone by using this framework and asking them what motivates them. What particular mixture is the most attractive. Then you can decide if you naturally align.

I know personally that I am most motivated by team, followed by compensation, followed by project. For me, the team is the most important… and if it’s not good, then the compensation and project has to make up for it.

What does your mixture look like today? and what would you like it to be in the future?