We open on a young tomato. He’s had some tough times down at the farm. You know, rabbits, and…Eugene Dupree
This possibly ad-libbed line is from the movie Elf. Eugene Dupree is played by Kyle Gass of Tenacious D fame, who in the film is pitching what is clearly set up to be a shallow plot for a children’s book. After trailing off, Eugene indicates with his gestures “I don’t know, what do you guys think?”
What they think is that the implication of this simple line is that the tomato is motivated because rabbits have been eating their family. In a children’s book.
The simplicity of the two-and-a-half sentences uttered by Eugene obscure the core strength of the pitch: the motivation to protect oneself and one’s family. I can imagine the book’s final form, with this young tomato down on the farm channeling Liam Neeson from Taken, hunting down these rabbits and making them pay for what they did to the tomato’s family.
Motivation comes in many forms. I think it’s a common misconception that employees are motivated by money. Money is merely a conduit for other motivations: providing for our families and protecting them from harm, creating security from disease and the elements, and as we are paid more and more, we want other things. We want influence, status, and permanence.
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While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is imperfect, it holds some core truths. As individuals and groups, we have needs and wants, and roughly speaking how needy we are dictates how motivated we are to solve those needs.
I remember working on a project where the primary goal was to move obfuscated data about people from a company’s system into Facebook, where it could be used to create more targeted ads. This was problematic for me for a couple reasons. First, I dislike targeted ads because it requires companies to silently hoover up people’s data and using it against them to artificially influence them to buy things. I dislike Facebook because their entire business model is built on getting people to spend more and more time on their platform at the expense of more fulfilling activities using a toolset of emotional manipulation.
You can imagine how motivated I felt working on that project. On one hand, I wanted to make my co-workers and boss happy. I also wanted to keep my job so I could provide for my family. On the other hand, I had no personal desire to help multi-billion dollar companies silently share your data with each other to sell you more stuff.
When another company approached me about working at a job where I could create a groundbreaking potentially-lifesaving product, I felt very motivated to listen.