99% Perspiration or 99% Inspiration?

Posted on September 6, 2011

For a knowledge worker, does the saying “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” still hold true. Or is it the other way?

Concept of “Work”

In the Digital Age, the concept of work has been redefined.  Hard work does not mean perspiring work that requires physical labor. Hard work in the Digital Age is picking up the phone to talk to a difficult customer or sending an email explaining a tough situation. In other words, hard work is something that needs a lot of motivation to get done.

Impact of “busy work”

When hard work is needed sometimes the busy work gets in the way. In the Digital Age there is plenty of busy work. There are emails that never stop. There are instant messages that keep interrupting. There are meetings that take away the most productive time of the day. So, busy work makes hard work harder since it is easy to procrastinate on the hard work. That is when high levels of motivation are needed.

Self-Motivation: A Requirement

In the Digital Age, a knowledge worker is required to be self-motivated. That is part of the job description. And most knowledge workers, if not all, are self-motivated, in my honest opinion. Now, the tough part is not motivation per se but keeping up a high-level of motivation. Whenever busy work comes in the way of the hard work, a highly self-motivated employee will make sure the hard work gets done right and at the appropriate time. So, how does a knowledge worker maintain high-levels of self-motivation?

Motivating Factors

Traditionally, pay check has been the highest form of motivator. The fear of a pink slip has also been another form of motivator. Be that as it may, Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, Adrian Gostick’s “The Orange Revolution” and some more books on this subject of “Carrot and Stick” approach to employee motivation have provided numerous examples of how this approach is not working. Not in this Digital Age. Case in point is the success of wikipedia. Another example heavily quoted is the growing community of open source programmers.

While the debate can be ongoing, I think Apple needs to be looked as an example to understand what can sustain high levels of motivation among employees.

Apple as an example

I am not in any way privy to the inner workings at Apple and so most of what I say below are my personal opinions. The only interaction that I had with any employee is at the Apple Store. So, I can only guess that the self-motivation of Apple employees other than the very obvious fact of making lots of money, is the inspiration that Steve Jobs provides. Every employee at Apple clearly understands the role she plays in the final product. The “big picture” is not hidden from any employee and the work that each one does is meaningful. That in essence provides the motivation.

Can we safely say that “An Apple A Day keeps Busy Work Away”? Can Apple serve as an example for every company to provide the line of sight between the work that an employee does to the triple bottom line of profits, people and planet? Can every company provide the inspiration that sustains the high-level of motivation needed in the Digital Age to do the hard work instead of the busy work?

So, can we now change the saying to, “99% inspiration and 1% perspiration”?

The idea for this blog post came to me while I was hearing the podcast of Michael Bungay Stanier, author of the book, “Do More Great Work”. In this podcast Michael was interviewing Andy Stefanovich author of the book, “Look at More”. So, all the credit goes to Michael and Andy for planting the idea of “99% inspiration”

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!

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