Book report: Primed to Perform – The motive spectrum


Reading notes by Yan Tougas

The motive spectrum

Why people participate in an activity (i.e. their motive) affect their performance in that activity. It’s difficult to do something exceptionally well if you don’t know the reasons why you are doing it in the first place.  If you want to build a great culture, you need to know why your people come to work every day.

There are 6 motives driving people to work:

  • Play – When you’re engaging in an activity simply because you enjoy doing it.  Curiosity and experimentation are at the heart of play.
  • Purpose – When you do an activity because you value the outcome of the activity, not necessarily the activity itself.  You feel a sense of purpose at work when your values and beliefs align with the impact of the work. A thoughtful organization can create authentic purpose for just about any type of work (the key word here is “authentic”).
  • Potential – When you have a second-order outcome.  You may not enjoy the work, you may not care about the outcome of that work, but it allows you to achieve something else that you value (e.g. the paralegal who does boring work for undeserving clients as a way to get into law school).
  • Emotional pressure – When emotions compel you to perform an activity (e.g. the child who practices the violin not to disappoint his mother).
  • Economic pressure – When you do an activity solely to win a reward or avoid punishment.
  • Inertia – When you do what you do simply because you did it yesterday.

The first three are direct motives, meaning that the motives are directly linked to the work.  These motives increase performance. Because play is more directly connected to the work than purpose, and purpose more directly connected than potential, play is more powerful than purpose, which is more powerful than potential.  Organizations that inspire people to do their jobs for play, purpose, and potential have the highest and most sustainable performance.  Their employees go above and beyond.

The other three are considered indirect because the motives are unrelated to the work itself.  These motives reduce performance.

By increasing play, purpose, and potential, and reducing emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia, any culture can be reengineered for the better.​

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