Realigning Motivations: Internal & External

Note to my future self…

This week I finished reading Quirky and there are a couple of key takeaways that I want to unpack from it. In this post I want to talk about the argument that the book makes that individuals that seek high levels of achievement tend to seek both external and internal forms of motivation and validation (even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside).

The author presents a case study of 8 innovators in science and technology that redefined the world we live in. Innovators include Musk, Jobs, Tesla, Edison, Curie, Franklin (Ben), Einstein and Kamen. Through these case studies the author argues that these innovators drew from their motivation from both internal and external sources. Some of their intrinsic sources of motivation include your usual suspects: insane work ethic, idealism, a state of flow while performing their respective activities, etc.

However, these innovators also fueled their drive with the external validation that they received (or hoped to receive) even if this was not their primary motivator. For example, both Jobs and Musk are known for their larger-than-life personalities, which they didn’t shy away from. Although they say they don’t care about financial resources, they do live a very opulent life. In the case of Musk in particular he doesn’t shy away from the media, celebrities, and/or the attention that comes with being in these circles.

It’s important to note that some of these inventors went out of their way to say that they didn’t care about material possessions and/or social validation. However, all of them tended to take these into consideration one way or the other. For example, Marie Curie lived a very modest life and isolated herself from the outer world to the point where her children had to be raised by their grandfather. However, when news broke out that she had an affair and that because of it she wouldn’t be able to collect her second Noble prize she allegedly almost had a mental breakdown and she furiously wrote back to the committee making the case that her private life was well her private life.

In the case of Tesla he explicitly said that he didn’t care about fame and money and for the most part that was true. However, he did think that eventually he will be vindicated by history and all the haters would realize how he was right. In other words, he still sought a form of external validation even if it was delayed.

I make this points not to highlight the moral flaws of these individuals but to highlight the fact that they were indeed humans. Before this book I always wrestled with this question of whether I should be driven exclusively by intrinsic forms of validation or if it was ok to seek some external validation. I think that after reading this book it’s clear to me that (in moderation) it’s ok to seek some form of external because it’s a normal human behavior. Furthermore, if external validation helps you do more stuff great stuff for the world, then so be it(:

Now back to work..