There is a common perception nowadays that movies or novels – fiction – is just light entertainment designed to distract us from the boring mundanity of everyday lives. But of course the ancients understood differently, that fictional narratives could contain great wisdom and understanding, with the greatest of them going on to become mythology – another level altogether! So, we often see wisdom cropping up in surprising places, even the Hollywood blockbuster. Having said that, it should be no surprise that Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, which is so richly steeped in mythology, has some interesting things to tell us about personal development and even motivation!
Before we look at this intriguing parallel, however, it is worth briefly examining the history of personality profiling, psychometric tests, and the boom of diagnostic tools that allow us to measure unseen aspects of the human psyche. We can see a surprising degree of variation in terms of (1) what people are looking for in a diagnostic, (2) the output of the diagnostic, (3) and whether the diagnostic reflects an unchangeable element, or something that does evolve and change over time. It’s clear the academically-minded prefer diagnostics such as Myers Briggs and the 4-Colours precisely because they measure aspects of the self that are fixed and cannot change; they are therefore “repeatable” under study conditions. Interestingly, both of these systems are based on the multiples of “4” (16 types of personality in the case of Myers Briggs, 4 in the case of Colours).
Maps, on the other hand, is based on 9 motivators, which correlate to the Enneagram and the wisdom of the ancient tradition. There are many further reasons for this difference. One is due to the fact that the Map is not a personality profile but rather self-perception inventory that measures the circa-80% of human nature that is experientially evolved, or, in other words, malleable. Our motivations shift over time. Not only that, but our motivation levels increase and decrease. Rather than putting people in a limited box and saying, “This is who you are” we say, “At this moment in time, these things are driving you and doing more of them will give you more energy.” Motivation is directly correlated with energy (for more information on this, it is worth reading Mapping Motivation
However, this doesn’t fully answer the question of “why 9 motivators?”. Why not 7, or 8, or 16? Why are there 9? There are many answers to the question, including some highly esoteric ones about the mystical properties of the number 9 itself, but a surprising and perhaps more helpful answer can be found in The Lords of the Rings!
If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, then you will probably have already put two and two together and worked out that there are 9 members of the Fellowship of the Ring, which are diametrically opposed to the 9 evil Ringwraiths. 9 is deemed the optimum number by the wise elven Lord Elrond to provide enough strength to fight off attackers, but also to pass unnoticed if need be. But deeper than this plot-driven reason, we see that the Fellowship is a perfectly balanced unit. Together, the Fellowship lacks nothing.
If we examine the Fellowship members, we will see that each of them resembles a motivational driver. Remember, we each have all nine motivators within us, but we tend to prioritise one or more (and can also have an aversion to some). However, we do need all nine, otherwise we begin to wilt energetically. We might view the motivators as nine energies that, when synergised, provide balance. The Fellowship exemplifies this.
- We have Frodo, who represents the Searcher motivator – the desire to make a difference;
- Samwise, who is the Friend motivator – who wants to belong and have meaningful connection;
- Gandalf, the wizard, who is a Creator motivator – he desires change and to bring new things into the world (and note when we meet him he shows off his homemade fireworks);
- Aragorn, the ranger, who is a Spirit motivator – he desires independence and freedom (ironically, his character arc is to move towards accepting more responsibility);
- and speaking of responsibility, we have Director-motivator Merry, who is constantly giving orders “We have to fight”, who asks for the responsibility of serving King Theoden in battle, and ends up rallying the Ents for their last heroic march;
- Pippin, on the other hand, is the Star – he wants to be the centre of attention, he wants recognition (and often does slapstick things in order to get it!);
- Gimli, the dwarf warrior, is a Builder – he values material possessions which embody his progress (note how he asks the Lady Galadriel for a lock of her golden hair: the memory is not enough, he needs the physical talisman of the experience!);
- Legolas is an Expert motivator, constantly giving advice: “A red sun rises: blood has been spilled this night” and “The elves began it [the process of waking up the trees]” – he wants to share his expertise;
- And lastly we have Boromir, who is a Defender motivator, constantly concerned with the security of his nation and city, “We should strike out from a place of strength!”.
Of course, Tolkien died before the creation of Motivational Maps, and I do not believe he would have much interest in such a tool, but I do believe that he tapped into a universal truth about these nine energies, just as Motivational Maps has done in the process of extensively researching motivation. You may think I am reading too much into The Lord of the Rings, but note how the tensions that we often see in a workplace arising between certain motivators are reflected in the dynamics between the Fellowship members!
For example, Gandalf is eternally frustrated with Boromir, and the two argue on a regular basis. The Creator motivator (Gandalf) seeks change, but the Defender (Boromir) wants things to stay the same, and wants everything to be safe. This split priority creates conflict. Note as well that although Boromir is often viewed as the “bad one” or the runt of the litter, there are many instances where Boromir’s strength and ox-like stubbornness, derived from his grounded motivator, see the Fellowship through difficult scenarios (and of course, he heroically sacrifices himself at the end to save Merry and Pippin).
To view another example, Aragorn and Boromir are often at loggerheads. Aragorn’s Spirit, to be independent and free, clashes with Boromir who is constantly insisting that they do the logical and safe thing and return to the city of Minas Tirith. We also see tensions arise between Legolas and Aragorn in The Two Towers. Legolas, as an Expert, cannot see why Aragorn is allowing himself to be dragged into the battle of Helm’s Deep with such hopeless odds. He looks around at the warriors who have either “seen too many winters” or “too few” (i.e. they are too old or too young for true combat), and is disdainful. The Expert is a critical eye who can always see a better way to do something. Aragorn, however, recognises that there is no process or knowledge that can help them at this desperate stage, only action!
So, when you next do a Motivational Map, ask yourself: which member of the Fellowship am I most like! As stated before, the Maps are not prescriptive. We all have all nine motivators, but it might be that one or more of the motivators is leading the pack (in charge of the Fellowship) at a particular stage in your life. If you then consider that character’s wider arc and journey, it might surprise you what insight this can offer to help you in your current predicament!