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March 2009


Murder is certainly a strange thing and I am sure we want less of it.

I was walking down Bournemouth beach on Sunday, heading for the town centre with my wife. It was a beautiful, almost summer day, although it was in fact only early spring. The sky was blue, the sun was bright, and crowds of people were milling around one way or another.

Why I do not know, but I suddenly recalled the Winnenden killings in a German school last week. How horrible – how sick. And then I thought about Bournemouth beach and all the beaches in the world: how many mass killings or shootings had occurred? Actually, I could not recollect one. There may be many, but I could not recall one.

On the contrary, I could recall the school killings in Britain at Dunblane and Hungerford, and I could recall famous school killings in the USA. But not one on a beach.

It seemed an inconsequential point to reflect on. I remembered that Tim Kretschmer had warned on a chat room that he was going to show people what he was worth. And perhaps that was the clue to the motivation of the murderer – the murderers. You would hardly bother showing ‘nature’ what you were worth, would you?

I mean nature – the beach – accepts you simply for who you are; you don’t need to prove anything. On the contrary schools can develop you, educate you, and also, unfortunately, humiliate you. It is that humiliation, that sense of ‘injured merit’, of being passed over in the recognition stakes, that seems to lie at the root of the motivation to kill. The killers return to the source of their hurt and wreak their damage there.

More nature, then, would be a good thing; more beauty – this is not an incidental aspect of education but a profound part of it. As simplistic as it sounds, if we could encourage young people, all people, to enjoy the beauty of nature more, then perhaps there would be less motivation to get even.

Bournemouth Beach, after all, is just a wonderful place to be – please, you don’t need to prove anything.




We certainly don’t need lessons on how to de-motivate people; too many people are great at this already. But sometimes an example arises that is too good to be left untold – a true story of how to create reverse motivation.

My friend Keith Selby told me a great story recently about John, the labourer, who is working on the foundations of a new house Keith is having built. John is recently back in the UK. He has spent two years in Mexico with his girlfriend. In fact John  likes to work and then live abroad.

Over two years ago, whilst working in the UK, and just finishing a job, he told his boss, the business owner, Phil, “That’s it – I have had enough – I am not going to do this job any more – I am going to Mexico and I am going to stay there.”

With that, he took off his work jacket and threw it in the skip; took off his boots and threw them in the skip as well. Then John left. Phil said nothing, just watched. Once John had gone he quietly took the jacket and boots out of the skip; then he turned and said to the other guys: “He’ll be back”. He kept John's boots and jackets on and by their usual peg.

And lo! Two years on, John is back – needing money – and phones Phil. Does Phil have any work for him? Yes, come down – he can start tomorrow.

John turns up in the morning. Phil smiles. Points to the peg where John's jacket and boots are.

“There,” he says, “I kept them for you”. So far so good – a thoughtful kind of guy? And then adds, “John, you’re back where you f*g started”.

Great – thanks Phil – that was so helpful.

Make sure when you welcome people back you avoid the ‘Phil effect’!



Motivation is fully one third of the performance mix: if we want to know how to perform better, we need to review our strategy, our knowledge/skill set, and – yes –our motivational levels. In fact motivation is virtually synonymous with our energy levels as we approach any task or activity.

Then, if that is the case, why is it so, relatively speaking, ignored by management? Organizations spend a fortune on strategy and marketing; and another mint on training; and the general assumption is – well, if training is going on, then the motivation will take care of itself.

This of course is a dangerous and false assumption. The truth is that motivation won’t take of itself. Motivation is like a muscle – it must be exercised. Use it or lose it. It is management’s responsibilities to address its issues.

But there is one compelling, and generally overlooked, reason why management does not like to ‘look’ too closely at motivation. Management likes to manage, and motivation unfortunately does not make that process easy. Why?

There are four basic pillars – or quadrants - that uphold a business, or the functioning of any organization. They are: the finance, the marketing and sales, the operations, and finally the people. If we review each one of them in turn we find the core reason why motivation is best avoided – and perhaps will go away.

Think about it: the finance is about the balance sheet, the profit and loss, and cash flow – and other financial information which all comes down to a spread sheet and a One-Zero situation: either we have it, or we don’t. The same is true of marketing and sales: we spend X, get Y leads, convert Z prospects into sales. One-Zero. And again: the operations – product or service – the factory produces Q widgets, or our charge rate is P per hour, or whatever.

The point I am getting at is: Finance, Marketing and Sales, Operations are all measurable and therefore certain. Managers like certainty, like dealing with certainty – how comforting to see the spreadsheet with the numbers on – so good to be able to manipulate them, work on them, and finally master them.

How unlike the fourth quadrant: the people. We try to put systems in place, we try to be objective about performance, but despite our best efforts people, and their motivation, remains ambiguous. We hate ambiguity, so like an ostrich we bury our head and pretend everything is being taken care of.

In other words most managers are psychologically pre-disposed to avoid dealing with the motivation issue. This, as we know, is a pity – and a huge waste.