“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
– Aristotle, (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher

I love to learn and I love to teach. One of my greatest joys is to take in as much information as possible about what interests me – and I have many interests. Whether it’s movies, videos, books, articles, lectures, theater or just good conversation, I can’t get enough input. I look at all this incoming information as being thrown in the pot of my mental stew and cooking until some exciting and wonderful insight materializes. Sometimes it takes a great deal of subconscious cooking time before an idea pops out, sometimes it happens quickly and sometimes there is a trigger that ignites an insight. In this case, the trigger was two-fold – watching a video of Steve Jobs on YouTube and reading Daniel Pink’s new book.
A friend of mine recently sent me the link to Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Stanford University. Steve told three stories: his adoption and education, his creation of Apple – including his firing and eventual rehiring from Apple – and his battle with pancreatic cancer. There were two powerful points that resonated with me:
1. You cannot connect the dots of your life and learn by looking into the future. You can only connect them by looking at the choices you have made in your past.
2. You must – must – must do what you love in life.
That is powerful stuff. So, why do most people trudge away at jobs that don’t turn them on? I think part of the reason is they simply don’t realize that they have a choice. I believe another part of the equation is that most people really don’t take the time to examine their past, connect the dots, accept responsibility for their choices and apply their “learned wisdom” to the choices they make in the future. It takes courage and a belief that your past doesn’t have to repeat itself in the future and that you can guide your future choices by learning from the past.
This is not a new idea. The Greek historian, philosopher and biographer Plutarch (ca. 45–120 CE) wrote, “To make no mistake is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.”
Which brings me to the second learning event: Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motives Us.
For many years, I included a viewpoint in my business presentation that went essentially unheeded and often upset management. I believed and still believe that competition in the family or in the workplace is essentially destructive to the human spirit. The “carrot and the stick” reward and punishment model, while it may work as a short-term motivator for tasks that require only one outcome, can destroy creativity, stifle long-term motivation, create unethical behavior and encourage short-term thinking.
Like me, Daniel Pink believes that these operating systems served us well – about 50,000 years ago -when being driven by our fear-based biological system that helped us survive. But now, even though many of these basic assumptions about motivation are still in play, they simply do not work and, in some cases, are even damaging.
In our ever evolving and information-based society, we need to communicate and cooperate more than ever. And, in our flattened-down organizations, people need to be self-motivated. Therefore, a new set of rules must come in to play – a set of protocols that enhance creativity, productivity and motivation. We all know the truth in our hearts about what gives us joy and makes us feel creative. What Daniel Pink brings to the table is fact-based research.
As I look back on my life and connect the dots, I see that when I was most motivated, absorbed, excited and creative is when I was immersed in a project that I loved – and no one was threatening me with punishment if I failed. So, it was no surprise when I read that “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.”
I thought I disliked history, but two teachers I had in college made it come alive by allowing me to create artistic maps of various countries and build Elizabethan theaters out of balsa wood. I got an A in both courses.
In my work life, I soared when I gave myself the freedom to produce theaters, mold and perform a one-man show at universities, write a book and, eventually create and present my speech topics to business audiences. Now, I have to admit that the lessons that Steve Jobs talked about in his commencement speech were lessons that I absorbed and acted on very early in life. I’m sure it had to do with my upbringing but it also had to do with my curiosity, passion for learning and desire for freedom.
The bottom line is that we all need to understand that doing what we love must align with how we do what we love. The reality is that we humans have an innate inner desire to be self-determined and autonomous, yet connected to one another – and when we are, we too will soar.
Here are some think points to help you live an exceptional life.
1. As a parent or manager, re-think your reward systems. Reward as a surprise, not only “when” and “if” a child or employee succeeds at a task. You don’t want to create an addict; you want to support pride and inner motivation. While rewards can deliver faster results, they don’t support long-term motivation.
2. Give autonomy. Let go of trying to micro-manage and control. People will do their job much better and with greater enthusiasm when they feel a sense of freedom. Freedom and autonomy are both motivators and support a sense of well-being.
3. Provide a clear goal and reasonable time frame and then let your child or employee figure out how to accomplish it. You provide the support and materials to accomplish the task. Keep in mind that ownership is a motivator and supports creativity. Studies have shown that “perceived control” is a vital component to our happiness.
4. Encourage constant learning by” upping the game.” Give “stretch goals” that require learning. Constant learning and creating a mindset of mastery are a “must” to live an exceptional life. Keep the learning curve going, being careful not to over-do it so you don’t inadvertently create a melt-down.
This article is about a very simple concept. Science shows that we are happiest when we are self-directed, doing what we love and working with others. Read these four tips and see how you can implement them in your personal and professional life.