I’m in a reflective mood as Thanksgiving is around the corner, and I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation. If nothing else, entrepreneurs need a LOT of it to push through the valleys between the peaks.
When I think about it, I believe everyone’s motivations are driven by some combination of Love, Greed, and Fear. Some thoughts below on each one.
It’s easy to say that Love ought to be the strongest and most pure motivation. People will go to great lengths for the sake of love. They will suffer hardship and pursue perfection relentlessly because of love. We hope all the founders we back are driven deeply by love. For first time founders, that usually starts with the authentic love of a problem or the love of a product. For repeat founders, some of them just love the process of building and leading companies that make a difference.
Some founders just love to win, or at least to compete. I always remember when Michael Jordan came back to basketball late in his career, he responded to reporters who asked him “why?” and said “for the love of the game”.
We love love. The glorified hero is driven by love, and so is the glorified image of the transformative entrepreneur.
Just as it’s easy to celebrate Love as a wonderful motivation, it’s also easy to dismiss greed as a less-than-ideal one. “It’s not about the money” is something we love to hear. I think it’s common in the current culture to think of greed as leading to short-term thinking. Or a winner-takes-all vs. expand the pie mentality.
But is greed really so bad? Is the desire to want more… maybe more than the next guy or gal really so bad? Maybe it’s just natural.
We love people who exhibit hunger. A relentless drive and desire to keep fighting. A sense that what they have or have accomplished simply isn’t enough – they are hungry for more. Isn’t that just greed in a more positive light?
I love hungry entrepreneurs. One quote I’ve been repeating recently is from my friend Ariel Diaz, the founder and CEO of Boundless. He talked about his frustration with entrepreneurs or tech pundits who talk about working smarter, or life-hacking, or pursuing balance. His view is:
“I was a rower. In rowing, technique matters. But when everyone has good technique, it turns out that if you can find a way to row harder, the boat will move faster”.
I’m greedy for more founders who exhibit that kind of hunger.
Again, being motivated by fear doesn’t seem great. Fear can lead to irrational choices, and fear can make you focus too much on the short term, or what people think of you, or the competition, or a whole host of other unproductive stuff.
But fear is an incredible motivator. So many of us are driven by fear. I know I am.
It’s not the healthiest thing in the world. But if you are honest, aren’t many of us driven deeply be a fear of failure? A fear of letting people down? A fear that in the end, someone looks at your accomplishments and says “myeh, he really didn’t do very much”?
Sounds kind of harsh, but I know so many people for whom this is the internal dialog, whether they are really aware of it or not. As Harold Abrahams said in the classic movie Chariots of Fire about how he feels before a 100-meter race:
“I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But WILL I?”
Some of the most accomplished people I know are so insecure. That insecurity drives them to want to prove themselves over and over again. At an extreme, it’s pretty ugly. But it’s powerful, and I think that when in check, it’s a powerful motivator as well. As an investor, we sometimes love people who have “a chip on their shoulder” or “something to prove”. It’s a version of fear that we like quite a bit.
When I reflect on my own motivations, it’s a messy combination of Love, Greed, and Fear. And it’s messy because sometimes, Love makes me foolish, and Greed makes me short-sighted, and Fear makes me panic. But we are not simple creatures, and our motivations are mixed, whether we like it or not.