A business that teaches you is a business with motivation built into it; in short, it’s a business you can love. At a talk I gave to a room full of first year graduate business school students, I was asked “what motivates me.” Before I answered, I felt compelled to explain what intrinsic motivation is and used the following example to describe it.

“Tonight, I’ll spend about 90 minutes talking to y’all. I’m doing it because I enjoy it and I learn from it. While I hope it is useful to you, that’s not the reason I’m doing it. While I hope you have fun, learn something, and enjoy our time together, I won’t feel better or worse if you do. In fact, since my goal is to learn from everything I do, I’d much rather you give me feedback about things you think could have improved our 90 minutes together.”

I then went on to explain that I’m motivated by learning. I’ve decided to spend my entire professional life learning about entrepreneurship and have decided that my laboratory is “creating and helping build software and Internet companies.”


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A business that teaches you is a business with motivation built into it; in short, it’s a business you can love. At a talk I gave to a room full of first year graduate business school students, I was asked “what motivates me.” Before I answered, I felt compelled to explain what intrinsic motivation is and used the following example to describe it.

“Tonight, I’ll spend about 90 minutes talking to y’all. I’m doing it because I enjoy it and I learn from it. While I hope it is useful to you, that’s not the reason I’m doing it. While I hope you have fun, learn something, and enjoy our time together, I won’t feel better or worse if you do. In fact, since my goal is to learn from everything I do, I’d much rather you give me feedback about things you think could have improved our 90 minutes together.”

I then went on to explain that I’m motivated by learning. I’ve decided to spend my entire professional life learning about entrepreneurship and have decided that my laboratory is “creating and helping build software and Internet companies.”

Over time, I’ve expanded the range of things that contribute to my learning. During the past four years I’ve spent a lot of time with first time entrepreneurs through the creation and development of TechStars program. As part of that, I decided to try to codify some of what I’d learned. That led to me writing Do More Faster with David Cohen, which led to learning about creating, publishing, and promoting a book.

In each of these cases, I’m intrinsically motivated. I hope that TechStars is a success. I hope that every company that goes through TechStars benefits from it. I hope that the book that David and I have written is well received. I hope that people learn from it. But none of these are why I spent enormous amounts of time and energy on each activity.

I was in a conversation with someone who was clearly extrinsically motivated. He approached me as though I was extrinsically motivated. He kept thanking me for what I was doing for him and then asking me what he could do for me. I finally stopped him and explained the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I told him that I had no expectation that he’d do anything for me; that I was spending time with him because I hoped to learn something from every interaction I had.

While I’ve presented this as an absolute (e.g. you are either intrinsically or extrinsically motivated), I know that it’s a spectrum for almost everyone (including me). But I think it’s important, and very useful, to understand which end of the spectrum someone is on. Don’t assume everyone is like you!

Comment by Mark Essel
Did you come to find intrinsic motivation as a source of greater satisfaction and happiness? I can imagine extrinsic motivation to be a never-ending chase, while the intrinsically motivated are always happiest in the moment. That philosophy and world outlook has a distinct Buddhist characteristic.
October 2010
Reply by Brad Feld
It definitely is for me, but I'm not sure I'd ever try to make the general case as different things create satisfaction and happiness for different people.
October 2010
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