The Four Pillars of Motivation

The Pillars

Let’s break this down:

Effective

The contributor must be able to work without having to frequently pause or context-switch. Things that could cause the contributor to pause include:

  • Slow tooling or development environment
  • Needing to always ask others for help on a complicated or confusing system
  • Lack of direction as to the thing the contributor is trying to change or implement
  • Unreliable test environments
  • Mandatory process (eg QA) that requires frequent interruptions

Interesting

I’ve found this condition to vary significantly between contributors. For some, “interesting” can mean working with the same technology for years, as long as the work is varied, and for others the inverse is true.

Meaningful

The contributor should feel that the work they’re doing is going to somehow have a positive effect, somewhere.

  • making it easier for people in the company to do their jobs
  • increasing the company’s cashflow
  • making the world a better place

Safe

In my opinion this condition is the most critical of the four.

An Example

Let’s talk about Bob. Bob’s working on a task to change a button colour from green to blue.

Autonomy

One last thing I’d like to touch on is autonomy. Contributors must feel that they can improve their own environments such that these conditions are better met. For example, a contributor should be able to improve CI reliability & speed to remove a blocker (to improve effectiveness), there should be some capacity for self-selection of interesting or meaningful work, and contributors should be able to move to a team that better fits their personality, allowing them to feel safer.

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