The Mystery of How People are Motivated by Suf Alkhaldi

It is almost a mystery how people are motivated.  Although we know all types of motivation: from money to praising and from scolding to punishment. It is still difficult to predict what will motivate each one of us. We wake up in the morning and start our day.  Some might be motivated to achieve their goals, and some barely hang in there for another day. Why are some people easy to motivate and others are difficult? Companies spend millions of dollars each year to motivate their employees and keep them engaged.  Some go further and bring in expensive motivational speakers, and some hire social engineers to build office spaces to motivate employees and increase productivity. It is no secret that Silicon Valley invests a lot of money in designing the best environment for their programmers to spend an unlimited amount of time at work. The working environments in these companies provide their workers with free food and drinks as well as very productive and playful environments.  Working for these companies, especially for young people, is a dream.  A dream where some people feel is the perfect environment to push the envelope and be motivated.

Google Motivational Strategy

“Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging and listening – and it can work for anybody,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations.  Bock continues to define Google strategy in motivation and what separates them from the crowd.  Google’s mission is to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  Google has figured out that the best way to motivate their employees is to work from the bottom-up, to make their programmers interact with each other and the world data, creating new products all the time. For example, Speak2Tweet (which allows tweeting using voicemail) was created during the Egyptian revolution.  Transparency is the second pillar for Google’s belief in keeping their programmers motivated and eager to contribute creatively (unlike Apple where transparency is discouraged, even interns could not share what they are working on with their families). Google founders Larry Paige and Sergey Brin have weekly All-Hands meeting where they discuss everything with complete transparency to answer questions, even trivial questions like “Larry, now that you are CEO will you start wearing a suit?” Larry replied without hesitation, “NO.” Another philosophical question “Is Google going in the right direction?” Google founders believe that full and complete transparency creates  employees’ trust and eventually motivates them. The third pillar is to give their programmers the voice to transfer their knowledge, concerns, and ideas directly to the top management using E-mail, All-Hands meetings, various sites and list servers, Google+ conversation and the Google Universal Ticketing System “GUTS.”  GUTS is a software which files issues or problems and uses the algorithms to find patterns which are similar to New York City’s 311.

Google pushes harder to survey their employees and managers for leadership deficiency or mistakes to correct them before it is too late. Google’s belief system in motivating people is not by money, but by three things: its Mission Statement, Transparency, and Voice. These three pillars of motivating people have been proven important by many studies. Many of these studies proved that monkeys are not motivated by reward and people are not motivated by money.  Professor Harry Harlow from the University of Wisconsin discovered that when monkeys were rewarded with food for solving a puzzle, the monkeys’ performance became slower with time. This experiment was performed again by Dr. Edward Deci in humans. Not surprisingly, the performance of humans in solving puzzles got worse in the presence of cash rewards, similar to food rewards for monkeys. Deci developed the Self-Determination Theory SDT.  The theory summarizes the finding: To be happy and motivated at your work or to have happy employees, you should have the following three cornerstones:

  • Autonomy: you should have the ability to control how you will fill your time; Google does that very well by giving their employees complete autonomy in how to “Organize the world’s information.” and encourages transparency and voice, creating a work environment which can be changed by their employees.
  • Competence: Ability to perform skillfully and with complete proficiency- being able to have “an effect on the environment” as psychologist Robert White mentioned in his speech in 1950. Google is the most well-known company which tries to hire the best of the best. Google’s job interviews are very famous despite recent findings that there is no correlation between performance on a job interview and future job performance.
  • Relatedness: where Deci explained, “To love and care, and to be loved and cared for.” Google trusts their employees and gives them a voice in deciding many things and the leadership is always receptive to input from employees. Google has the best retirement and life insurance benefits in Silicon Valley.  For example, if someone dies while working for Google, his/her spouse will receive the salary for 10 years. It is this kind of thinking that motivates people in Silicon Valley.

Zappos  Motivational Strategy

CEO Tony Hsieh built Zappos into a billion-dollar online retailer with a smart and pioneering vision. This company, which has 1,500 employees, is considered in the forefront in motivating their employees.  In fact, if you are selected to work for Zappos and you decide that you don’t like working there in the first two months, Zappos will pay you money to quit.  Zappos rarely recruits out of the company.  They offer the opening jobs to their employees first on a trial basis before they announce the job opening.  Zappos doesn’t time their customer representatives’ minutes when they talk to a customer on the phone.  My wife  usually spends almost 45 minutes talking to them about what size of shoes she needs to order.  Zappos customer representatives are always pleasant and cheerful.  Zappos employees have complete freedom in decorating their offices as well as having complete autonomy in working. When you focus on cultivating autonomy, competence, and relatedness of your people,  not only will you get a successful model of business, you will increase the happiness factor of the people who work for you.  Recently,  Zappos started to move away from a traditional organizational structure  by replacing it with a Holacracy, a radical “self-governing” operating system, which eliminates job titles and managers.  This brave step included that the CEO will give up some of his power. I will be very curious to see the outcome of this social experiment which might have a tremendous impact in changing the work place.

Finally, there is some kind of narrative to describe motivated people: they all work hard to keep themselves motivated and don’t waste time when negative and depressing thoughts come and attack their minds.  Somehow motivated people have the ability to let negative thoughts slide off their backs and only keep the positive thoughts circulating around their minds. Motivated people are action-oriented. They move forward without allowing their attention to be distracted, and they do not over-react or under-react to things. This type of motivated individual is what Google and Zappos and other software companies are striving to achieve.


  1. Sally February 15, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    I think motivation also depends on our age and mood. in my opinion it’s much easier to motivate a kid who doesn’t have big fears and who doesn’t experience the failure or even know what it means. Our mood has a very important role in that. Some times all what you need is just a nice word which will makes you jump from the top of a mountain.

    1. User Avatar Suf Alkhaldi February 16, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      Hi Sally,

      I totally agree with your comment. I think kids don’t have experience with failure, and this prevent them from being immune of trying new things. Regarding the mood and in my post of being able to let the negative thoughts slide off your back, when we are in a bad mood, we are holding tight to our negative thoughts. As soon as we let these negative thought move away our mood changes. I agree, sometimes all what you need is nice words to left your spirit.

    2. User Avatar Suf Alkhaldi March 14, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      Thank you Sally, I totally agree


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