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Catch Fire Show

Motivation Code with Todd Henry

Catch Fire Show is a podcast traversing non-traditional career paths by intentionally choosing who and how you serve. Then cultivate the skills you need to serve. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Are you in search of the perfect job? The perfect tasks to fit your passion?

This week Todd Henry, a five-time author and founder of The Accidental Creative, challenges us with our idea of the perfect job. He believes a myth that our society holds is that we will find tasks that we will enjoy all day. Todd thinks the ideal job is the job one that enables you to achieve the outcome you desire, even if you don’t love all the tasks that you have to do all day. His challenge:

“What if you brought your motivation to your tasks instead of relying on your tasks to bring you motivation?”

Fifth Book in Ten Years

[00:03:19] And so that’s been the case for all of my books, is that as I’m researching and writing, I’m discovering things that are like threads. I want to pull, but I can’t pull them now; I have to pull them later. Cause they don’t have, they don’t fit into this book, or they don’t fit into this project, whatever it is.

[00:03:33] And so I just set them aside, and that becomes the next thing that I work on. So each book has led to the next, in that way.

Why the topic of motivation?

[00:04:27] And, I don’t know about you, Simon, but when I hear “assessment”, my eyes start to roll in the back of my head, and I think, “Great! I need another set of letters to attach to myself.” But listen, I trusted Rod, so I took the assessment, and quite frankly, what I discovered absolutely blew me away.

[00:04:41] Absolutely blew me away! I saw at the end of taking the “M Code Assessment”, “Motivation Code Assessment”, the reason behind a lot of my decisions I’ve made in my life, why certain kinds of work energize me, other kinds of work doesn’t energize me, even though it’s the opposite for many of my peers and my friends.

[00:04:57]New areas of conflict in my life, why they exist and how I might be able to move beyond them. Really, just so many things were laid out in front of me. And I realized at that moment; I wanted to get this work into the world, to let other people experience it as well. There was a small problem, though, and that was that I was already under contract and in the middle of writing my other book called “Herding Tigers” that came out in 2018. I’ve been working on this book in the background for about four years, working on it with Rod and Dr. Todd Hall and Dr. Joshua Miller, and really pulling this together, and leveraging there over fifty years of research into this topic.

[00:05:29] And, so finaly, now after four years, the book is ready to be put out in the world where it belongs and “Motivation Code Assessment” is finally gonna be put out there where it belongs, and I’m really excited to see what happens.

What was it like presenting another’s research?

[00:06:08]It’s always fun to come in as an author and be able to put your own unique spin on it. And what’s funny is that even before I was exposed to all of this, I’d written a chapter on motivation in “Herding Tigers”, where I talked about three profiles based on the work of another friend of mine, David Wiser, where he had talked about builders, fixtures and optimizers, as three kind of profiles. And the funny thing is that those align really closely with some of the motivational themes that we discovered in “Motivation Code”. Yeah, so again, you kinda see that work carrying forward into this book, that some of those themes really continue to apply to this work as well.

[00:06:44] But, but yeah, it’s, it’s always hard to work on. I struggled to work on multiple big projects at the same time, which is why I put it, I was working on in the background, but I put it on hold until I had locked the manuscript for “Herding Tigers”. And then it was full guns blazing from that point on.

[00:07:22] And that’s just not a good thing. You want to make sure the book is going where it needs to go, not where you needed to go so that you can, so you can actually write it at that moment in time.

[00:08:07]You might be able to tell that we’re siblings if you saw us together, but we’re very different in terms of our personality and how we play out. In the same way, these motivational themes share some DNA with other themes. So we put them into families, but they’re very different in terms of how they play out in practice.

[00:08:23]We really focus on the theme level in terms of identifying what your motivation code is. Your motivation code is our, the motivation code we defined it as your top three to five themes, and how those themes affect you and how they interact with and interplay with one another.

[00:08:39] So my top themes, for example, my very top theme is something that we call “Make an impact”, and “Make an impact” means that I am driven to see impact from my work. That’s what I really want at the heart of it. So if I don’t see the direct impact from the work that I’m doing, then it’s hard for me to stay engaged, hard for me to stay motivated.

[00:08:57] So you can imagine in the time of COVID how that’s playing out for me right now, where I’m used to speaking on stage in front of thousands of people, and now, all of a sudden, I’m speaking into a camera to people and I can’ t see them.I’m like, three or four at a time, if I’m doing it over zoom or something.

[00:09:11]But it’s not the same as being in a room with a bunch of people and seeing the tangible impact of my work. So I’ve had to adapt my expectations and my work to make sure that I am seeing impact because one of the, what we call the shadow side attributes of that motivation, you, every motivation is a gift, but there’s also a shadow side, and one of the shadow sides is that sometimes people driven to make an impact, try to make an impact, even more, it’s not welcome. So if I don’t see the impact of my work, I might start trying to make an impact where I’m not necessarily welcomed. And one way that happens, for example, like if I’m invited into a meeting where I’m just supposed to sit in the back and just audit the meeting or something, I guarantee you within seven minutes, I’m standing at the whiteboard with a marker in my hand, already like mapping out, “Hey, what if we did this?” or “Hey, let’s try it!”, just because that’s such a part of it, of who I am. My number two motivation is what’s called “Meet the Challenge”, [00:10:00] meaning I like concrete, discreet challenges that allow me to feel like I’ve overcome something in the short term.So long arc projects, like writing a book, don’t challenge me. I don’t feel challenged by that because it’s such a long arc project. I go looking for short term challenges in the midst of that.

[00:10:18] So I might sit down and crank through my email inbox. And yeah, it really charges me up when I really need to be writing.But the reason I do that is because it feels like a challenge to me to get through my inbox. Versus writing. I’m like, “I’ve got a year or two”, that doesn’t feel challenging to me.

[00:10:31]What I’ve had to do is structure my work so that, even like my book writing is a series of mini challenges. I’ll tell myself, “I need to write that five hundred words by 9:30 this morning” in order to make it feel more challenging to me. And once I do, I feel engaged, I feel invested, because I don’t like to write. It’s not something I enjoy doing, but yeah, but bringing that motivation to my writing reframes it completely. So that’s an example of, and then my number three is “Influenced behavior”. So I want to see other people, like right now you’re nodding as we’re speaking, and that like really charges me up because I see that you’re kind tracking with me.

[00:11:04] Sometimes people will accuse me. This is part of the shadow side. People will accuse me of saying the same thing over and over, “You’ve said the same thing five times!” I’m saying, “I know, but I’m just waiting for you.” You acknowledge to me that it got through, cause I want to influence behavior.

[00:11:16] That’s how I’m wired now. Those are my top three and they all interact with one another. But some people, for example, maybe one of their top three is “Collaborate”, meaning that right now, they’re really is struggling because they’re probably working from home. They’re probably not in the team setting very often, and even though they might jump on Zoom, this Zoom call feels very transactional. And so maybe work that once really charged them up, doesn’t quite charge them up the same anymore because they’re not able to be with other people, or some people are driven by what we call “Serve the serve” motivation. It’s really hard to serve people when you’re not right next to them, when you’re not in proximity to them, and so, some people are being robbed of some of the natural circumstances that lead to [00:12:00] activating those motivations. And so once we understand how we’re wired, what it is that drives us, where we get our motivational energy, we can begin to structure our lives and our days and our interactions in a way that activates that motivational energy, and we bring our motivation to our tasks instead of waiting for our tasks to motivate us.

Do writers enjoy writing?

[00:12:40] And that is that writing wasn’t one of your favorite things to do. And I’m around a lot of people that are just kinda “When I could do”, “When I get to this point”. And I’m just going to be honest: sometimes I look at you, and you’re one of my heroes, and I’m like, “Oh, if I could speak like Todd!”. I mean talk about, since you don’t like writing, why is it such a big part of what you do?

Writing is a great way to get ideas into the world…

[00:13:15]But writing is a great way to get ideas into the world. It’s a great way for people to digest what you’re thinking. And it’s really the most concise way to do that. And that is really, it’s a vehicle that I chose to achieve the outcome that I want, even though it’s not necessarily a task that I enjoy, that I love.

[00:13:33]And so I think sometimes one of the myths that we have in our society is that we wait to find tasks that we think we’re going to enjoy all day. And that’s what the perfect job is. And I don’t believe that’s true. I think the perfect job is the job that enables you to achieve the outcome you desire, even if you don’t love all the tasks that you have to do all day.

[00:13:51]Yeah, I think that’s the very definition of having passion for your job. And while I, listen, and I tell myself this all the time, I don’t like to write, but I’m [00:14:00] not out digging ditches or, do, there are a lot of the things and that’s, sorry, that’s the go-to. I don’t, I’m not meaning to disparage digging ditches, but that’s the go-to slog work because you have to do it, whether it’s hot or cold, or raining or dry, or whatever, like you’re out there digging the ditch.

[00:14:13]But in many ways, like that’s what it feels like to me when I’m writing. It’s “Okay, let’s crank it out.” I mean, right now, I’m in book launch mode. I’m cranking out articles for all these publications and seven hundred words here, and nine hundred words there, and just on all kinds of topics.

[00:14:27] And, it’s not my favorite thing in the world to do, but I realize on the other side of that is going to be impact that I’m going to love. And so that’s what keeps me, keeps me moving forward. So we can’t fall prey to the idea that the perfect job is a job, but we just enjoy the tasks. We’re going to enjoy some of the tasks, of course, and maybe over time we gain more flexibility to really structure our life around just the tasks that we want more and more, but we have to earn that. We have to earn, and nobody has a job where they only get to do what they want to do all day. Instead, we need to look for a job that gives us the ability to have the impact that we want on the other side.

Connecting with a big impact.

[00:15:32] What are some of the ways that then you reconnect with that impact?

[00:16:08] That’s fine. But that doesn’t really charge me. But what charges me is, on the other side of this is somebody who might be really struggling right now. I just had to talk the other day with somebody from an organization who had invited me to come in and speak to their organization. And this person was saying, “I started listen to your podcast and yeah, I was going through a season where I really needed someone who understood what I was going through. And you were speaking directly to me. And now all these years later, I’m asking you to come speak to the organization that I work for because you were able to help me in that time of need.”

[00:16:38] That’s huge for me. Like just that number doesn’t matter, but just knowing that impact.Now for some people, to get back to “Motivation Code”, for some people it’s going to be like, let’s say I’m a podcaster. I need a team because I’m wired to collaborate, and I want to make sure that whatever I’m doing with other people.

[00:16:55] So for that person it’s more about, the collective team effort of putting a podcast into the world, or sharing our ideas with other people. For some people who might be driven to comprehend and express, for them it might be, “I want to learn new things all the time and then share those things with people”, and that’s what drives them. That’s the satisfaction they get. Any number of people could be driven to do the same thing for very different reasons, depending on where they get their motivational energy. Yeah, but for me, it’s reconnecting with the personal stories of people who have been impacted by what I’m doing.

COVID Themes

[00:18:59] And those rhythms are going to look very different now than they did six months ago , , because we’re, I think six months ago, everybody was thinking, “Man, if I could just work from home all the time, that would be awesome. If I could work in my pajamas all day and never had to change and go.” And I think a lot of people right now are thinking, “Man, if I could just get in the car and drive to an office and sit at a desk all day and be around people, that would be amazing.” It’s funny how our perspective has changed now that we’re doing this; we realize, “Oh, maybe somewhere in the middle is actually a better solution. Maybe one day at home, a week, or something.” But we just, we don’t realize how much we need that. And so that’s the consistent theme I’m hearing is that the anxiety is, we didn’t realize how much it’s been stolen from us until we’d been doing this for a while. And I think right now, many people are starting to feel the tension of just the anxiety that’s bubbling beneath the surface constantly.

Tips for flowstate at home.

[00:20:31] And I sort of keep a record of kind of what I’m doing, what my ambitions are for the day, all that kind of stuff , and time blocking is the only way I’ve found to do that. You have to block time off for the things that matter. So if you want to get into flow state, number one our team has discovered in a lot of its research, that there’s a high degree of correlation between operating and your motivation code and experiencing flow, so that’s one thing. If you’re operating in that core motivation, you’re more likely to experience that state of flow, which is incredible. But second, if you want to get into flow, it’s going to take time, and space, and focus. So you need to block off chunks of time for doing what Cal Newport calls “deep work”, if you want to really get into those states.

[00:21:31] And the only way really to do that is to understand what drives you and then to bring that energy through your work every day, instead of waiting for your work to energize you, which is probably not going to happen, unless you understand what it is that really drives you. So that would be, I guess the only other thing I would offer.

[00:21:45] And if you want to learn your motivation code, you can do with or you could read the book “The Motivation Code”. Available now.

Originally published at on October 12, 2020.



Traverse non-traditional career paths with the stories of those activating their skills with intention. These professionals are from different disciplines and industries but share a common goal of serving people with intention and excellence.

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