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How Toddlers Show Us "Motivation" Doesn't Work

Susan Fowler Posted by Susan Fowler.

Susan Fowler is the author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...And What Does as well as several articles on the topic of motivation.

How Toddlers Show Us "Motivation" Doesn't Work

An Interview with Susan Fowler.

Can you please explain to our readers why you wrote this book? What passion drove you to write this for your readers?

My dream was to build upon the compelling research of Drs. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and the Self-Determination Theory academic community, which had captivated me since I discovered it in 1996. Their groundbreaking validation of three basic psychological needs (autonomy, relatedness, and competence) at the foundation of human thriving—and the essence of our motivation—answered questions at the heart of my life’s purpose: to be a catalyst for people’s growth and quality of life.

For 15 years, I developed strategies for leaders and individuals to take advantage of this compelling science. My bold assertion: Motivation is a skill—people can experience high-quality motivation anytime and anywhere they choose. My desire to write a book translating the research into pragmatic best practices was matched only by my need to corroborate the ideas globally. With colleagues Drs. Drea Zigarmi and David Facer, I developed a framework, model, and practical course of action, and field-tested them in organizations worldwide. The Optimal Motivation training solution and my book were born and raised together—along with my dream!

What is your favorite chapter in the book and why? 

This question prompts the proverbial “That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child” response. Each chapter was carefully conceived to contribute to the larger whole. Having said that, I fess up that Chapter 6 has garnered the most interest in social media, radio and article interviews, and generated the most requests for webinars and keynotes. I enjoy talking about “Rethinking Five Beliefs that Erode Workplace Motivation,” because no matter where I am in the world, people can fill-in-the-blank to finish the five beliefs. For example, “It’s not personal, it’s just __________”. This belief is so embedded in our collective psyches that even in China, the group yelled out “business.”

The message in Chapter 6 truly resonates for people: We need to challenge these beliefs if we are going to take advantage of the new science of motivation to create workplaces where people produce sustainable results while thriving and flourishing.

What do you say to people who oppose your point of view -- that motivation doesn't work? What really convinces your readers?

Part of me wants to advise: Study the compelling evidence or attend the global conferences to learn directly from the brilliant researchers from over 350 countries dedicating their lives to the pursuit of understanding human motivation.

Then I realize, that’s my job—to translate the science of motivation and make it accessible and relevant! So, what I advise is: 

  • Notice how a baby grabs the spoon from you during feeding to exercise his basic psychological need for autonomy—the perception that he has some control over his life and ability to make choices. 
  • Notice how a two-year-old grabs your face if she’s talking to you and you’re not giving her the eye contact required to satisfy her psychological need for relatedness—the feeling that she is cared about without ulterior motives. 
  • Notice how a toddler learning to walk doesn’t cry when he falls down, but cheerfully bounces up to satisfy his psychological need for competence—the joy that comes from continually growing and learning. 
I encourage naysayers to simply observe human behavior—especially their own!

You can read more about Susan Fowler and her work here.