Hi, I’m Gary Meyer
This website is a collection of my things. My posts cover topics like media, marketing, culture and technology. Mostly, they talk to how we make sense of the world by building on ideas. My most popular short articles include “The Rise of the Talent Stacker” and “It turns out there are four basic elements to motivation”. I believe that everyone is a strategist. I’m on a mission to teach thousands of people to adopt strategic thinking in everything they do. It’s easier than you think. You can find me on Twitter.
Thanks, Gary Meyer
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I’ve spent the past few weeks speaking to high performing achievers about what motivates them, how they get motived, and what keeps them motivated.
We’re at that time of year when we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. If you’re like me, these resolutions last all of a few days before I end up back where I started.
One of the most common reasons for this is a lack of motivation to make changes in my life, work, health or relationships.
As it turns out, there are four basic elements to motivation that I’ve distilled below.
Set a binary goal – you either did or you did not.
Motivation is impossible without a clear goal or an objective in mind. The victory condition needs to be precisely defined and easily measurable with no room for interpretation. Your goal needs to be binary – it was either achieved or it wasn’t. If you can see an outcome where the goal could sort of have been achieved, then you need to grab the scalpel and refine it further. Be brutal and disciplined.
Acknowledge the consequences of failure
Once you’ve set a binary goal, you’re going to need a sound reason to achieve it. This sounds obvious but it is frequently forgotten. Who, why, or what are you working towards this goal for is paramount. The reasons should be completely subjective with the only criteria being that it is important to you. This can be for personal growth, a better standard of living, or even just for your kids or family. A great way to measure the importance of your reason is to assess the impact of failure to achieve your goal. Who or what is impacted and are you willing to tolerate that?
Tolerate the pain
Here’s the hard part. Any binary goal with a meaningful reason to achieve it is going to attract a level of pain. If there is no pain, your goal isn’t big enough. Find the pain.
“We’re not afraid of pain, we’re afraid of unending pain.”
Once you’ve found the pain, the key to tolerating it is knowing exactly where it begins and where it ends. We’re not afraid of pain, we’re afraid of unending pain. Pain comes in many different forms and measures; physical, emotional or even financial. All of these can all be tolerated if you’ve identified the beginning, middle and end to your suffering.
Open-ended pain is where everyone fails. For example, “I’m going to start going to the gym next week” versus “I’m going to do 10 pushups every day for one week”. The latter defines the end point, making it achievable.
Test with distractions
Once you’ve set your binary goal and you know why you’re trying to achieve it (and the consequences of failure) and you know where the end of the pain is, it’s time to test it. The most effective way I’ve been taught how is to find your distraction point.
- Why am I not starting this right now?
- What could stop me from working on this goal for a day?
- What could distract me from working on this goal tonight?
If you can find a distraction then your goal either isn’t important enough, you don’t care for it, or the pain isn’t worth tolerating. Any of these conditions is an instant motivation killer and it’s time to revisit the first three elements.
Repeat this process until you can’t be distracted.
Anyone can be motivated to do anything.
Consider something you’re easily motivated by. You’ll find that the 4 elements are easily applied to the obstacle and you have no problem getting motivated to get it done.
On the other hand, maybe starting a business, getting a promotion, finishing a diet or quitting smoking (once I’ve finished this box, of course) seem less likely to be achieved. If you’ve ever found yourself demotivated by anything like this I challenge you to apply the 4 motivation elements to the problem and try again.
If you do it properly, you can’t fail.
They are scientists, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers (both electrical and mechanical). They are lawyers, accountants, philosophers, sociologists, historians, and nutritionists. They’re chefs. They’re zen. They’re programmers, IT, IS, designers, videographers, and marketers. They are probably experts in AI, ML, Blockchain, and automation. A few are detectives, writers, strategists, and poets. They are all project managers, project planners, project executors, trainers, interpreters, and translators. They’re consultants, and they’re entrepreneurs and they probably already work for you.
They are all of these things and, most surprisingly, they probably didn’t go to university.
A master of none
One of the most common phenomena I’ve come across in recent years is the Talent Stacker. These are individuals who, in another time, would be referred to as a “jack of all trades.” You know the saying – A jack of all trades but a master of none -, and in the world of specialisation, the master of none is often unemployed or worse, unemployable. However, the extended version of the saying is:
“A jack of all trades but a master of none, but ofttimes better than a master of one.”
…and in the era of digital transformation, it’s the Talent Stacker who is your greatest asset. It’s these individuals who can call upon their diverse interests and see correlations between two different concepts, in two different disciplines across two various fields where no obvious connections exist. And, infuriatingly, when these connections are pointed out to us, they’re painfully obvious. It’s this gift that makes them indispensable.
Taught Vs. Learning
The Talent Stacker is seldom taught – but is an obsessive learner of everything and anything – and their university is the internet. It’s worth noting the difference between being taught and learning. Many things can only be learned and not taught. For example, anyone can be taught the facts about history, but to understand history requires a thirst for knowledge. Learning requires digging down through multiple layers of “why” to get the root knowledge – knowing when to discard learning with updated data – and then to continue the process indefinitely. Real learning is a passion, and passion cannot be taught.
Furthermore, anything that can be taught can generally be automated. Being taught something typically involves a variation of the if-this-then-that principle – if this happens, then do that. It’s also the basis of computer programming. If we can teach a machine how to do it, then we can replace the human currently doing it. In short, learning requires a drive to understand – thus making it much harder to be automated. By being a master learner, the Talent Stacker’s role is almost impossible to automate.
The problem is that a Talent Stacker role doesn’t exist because it doesn’t currently fit a clearly defined job description. So where do these individuals usually thrive? Well, entrepreneurship, of course. Finding problems and seeing the “obvious” solution nobody else has seen lets them be the genius founders of the likes of Uber, Airbnb, and even Facebook. They’re the challenger thinkers of industry and society, and we reward them generously with high valuation startups and companies.
But what about the Talent Stackers who don’t want to go into business? Every company talks about innovation and innovative thinking, yet very few of them build an environment conducive to change, let alone hiring actual innovators, or worse, even having an innovator function. My advice to you is if you are serious about innovation, find the Talent Stackers and give them the freedom and opportunity to innovate.
Trigger Warning: they probably don’t have a three-year degree.