What Drives You?

Would you still work in the dark?

Yesterday, I attended a fireside chat with Justin Kan, co-founder of Twitch (also Justin.tv and other successful + unsuccessful ventures).

At the end, he was asked to share his biggest learning from it all.

His two big ones:

  1. Intrinsic motivation > Extrinsic. He relies solely on the former now.

  2. He now only works with people that put a smile on his face.

What does intrinsic motivation look like? In Justin’s case, he asks himself: would I do this in the dark? Would I do it if no one was watching? Would I do it if no one cared?

Yes = keep going.

Sure, easy to say/do after a $1B exit.

And there’s nothing wrong with being extrinsically motivated by rewards, money, success, etc.

The trouble is, this is all most of us have known. From an early age, we’re trained to work exclusively for the prize. Grades, status, money, etc. is the endgame. The journey just becomes a means to an end.

But optimizing for only one dimension means you end up sub-optimal elsewhere. On the intrinsic like joy, happiness, peace, fulfillment, that are usually not a part of the extrinsic equation.

Extrinsic drive correlates highly with fear. Fear of not getting / missing the prize. Again, nothing wrong with this as fear is a great motivator. But it’s always good to be aware of the devil you’re dancing with, as fear can also bring stress, worry, hyper-competitiveness, the “fulfillment treadmill” (a chronic sense of emptiness leading you to constantly seek more in hopes of fulfillment) and fragility (your ego/identity gets so attached to outer rewards that any setbacks/threats here can be devastating).

Intrinsic motivation flips the script. Instead of fear, it is correlated with joy. Instead of seeking happiness/fulfillment, you start with joy by doing what you enjoy. This ascribes at least equal (or higher) weighting to the journey vs. reward. You start with your cup full.

“Working on things you enjoy is a renewable source of energy.”
 — Jack Butcher

Because your cup is full and you do things that actually matter to you, you can pour more of yourself into your projects. This is a good recipe for producing great work.

Great work = Higher value = Attract more/better.

There is actually proof this works and is the core thesis of The Happiness Advantage.

Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.
— Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage

Extrinsic motivation can get the job done, but comes at a price.

Likewise for intrinsic motivation. In this case the price is uncertainty and possibly going it alone as your intrinsic path will be as unique as you. Not the stuff of conventional wisdom.

While my bias is clear, it’s important to be aware that there is a choice here, and ultimately there are no wrong answers. Just consequences.

Here’s to your success,


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