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September 2015

Motivation, Performance and Proof

I sometimes get asked what the evidence is for various statements or ideas that Motivational Maps believes or asserts. Usually I reply that the best evidence is the outcome or results we get when we use the Maps; in other words, they work! But that is not enough for some people, a very small number; they press further with a request not for evidence, which clearly working in the real world is, or testimonials are, but ‘proof’, yes, proof, by which they invariably mean academic proof. Somebody somewhere needs to have written a university level ‘paper’ on the topic, or conducted some research, that ‘proves’ that what we maintain as part of our intellectual currency is true, is tenable, is credible. This over-reliance on academics is understandable if somewhat wearisome. 

The best example of this is the case of motivation and performance and the link (ah! But is there, academically speaking?) between them. Motivational Maps asserts as a matter of plain fact that motivation and performance are intimately connected and that one, motivation, is a major contributory factor to the other, performance. Further, we have a formula that links them. But what is the proof of this? At best it may seem academically dubious?

My view is that this is a completely inappropriate and wrong-headed question. Why? Because the link between motivation and performance does not require proof, in fact cannot be proved because it is axiomatic! Now there’s a great word. Axioms are principles or values which have to be assumed before a proof can be made, and this is true of science as well as mathematics. Much of the modern world seems so hypnotized by ‘proofs’ of science and mathematics that they forget that they also depend on axioms or assumptions that themselves cannot be proved.

To take the most famous example (over two thousand years old) might be Euclid; his famous geometric theorems depended upon assumptions (or axioms and postulates) that could not themselves be proved; they were self-evident. So, for example, his first axiom is: “Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another”. This is a very important principle and it clearly shows that not everything can be proved, but something has to be assumed first.

Now in the case of motivation and performance we have a strong reason for thinking axiomatically that they are connected, and the best way of putting this is by expressing it through the terms of how we define them. If, for example, we think of motivation as being ‘energy seeking an outlet of fulfilment’, which whilst not being an elegant definition certainly conveys what I believe to be the gist of motivation, and we consider performance as ‘energy effectively deployed to produce outcome’, then it clearly suggests, as ‘energy’ is innate to both definitions, that they are two forms of the same thing: motivation being the invisible energy whilst becomes the manifest and visible, behavourial, aspect of that same energy. The analogy is not exact, of course, as few analogies are, but what I am saying here is that as one thing partially defines and is implicated in the existence of another, then there can be no ‘proof’ here as the definitions too mean it is axiomatic that they are connected.

This accounts for why so few people have a problem accepting or understanding the theories of motivation and performance that Motivational Maps habitually presents to thousands of people in all kinds of organizations and businesses. Because it is axiomatic, they sense that it is right, and so scarcely ever, at a live event for example, request ‘proof’. And if we take Euclid’s first axiom - “Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another”- and express it symbolically, we find that we also no longer want Euclid or anybody else to prove it. For what does it say? If A=B, and B=C, then also A=C. This is the power of the axiom, and we need to be clear about it when we talk to skeptics who say, ‘Where’s the proof?’ It doesn’t need proof: it’s axiomatic. Motivation, you see, is core to performance.





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