What is motivation?

Alex | @ruttkowa
4 min readDec 4, 2018


Before we even begin, let’s talk about what motivation means to me and what my understanding of it is.

Motivation is the inner fuel for any movement.
It’s the why to the executed action.

I want to give you an example how my take on “motivation” changed while, well, to be honest, while trying to figure out how to get others to do what I wanted.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
But that’s the underlying question if someone asks “How can I motivate my team to do X?”.

As I started to transition in a leadership role in my recent job, I felt the weight of new responsibilities.
I thought I had to detach myself from the team, take a look from the ‘outside’ (as if that’s possible) and try to improve the effectiveness of the team.
My intentions were good, I saw many field-tested ideas and wanted to implement them into our team.
But I always asked myself one question:
“I just discovered XYZ? How can I make them (my team) see the value in this, change and move into the direction, that I think is the right one”?

I will not get into what kind of ideas I had and why I now think compensating “lack of cooperation in the team” with some stand-up meetings is a bad idea/didn’t work (daily stand ups = more transparency = less “what is he even doing?”).
Also I will not get into how arrogant I think I was. I’m definately more humble now.

What I really want to show you is how I tackled this problem and what I think of it today.

I need to see it first

To get a better understanding of a problem or idea I always feel the need to get an overview first.
Get some orientation, know the borders etc. you know “OODA-Loop” stuff.

Personally, I default into drawing.
Here’s the picture I did for my problem:

Image drawn for clarification…

With this picture I tried visualized the one question which was:

What is in my control?

It also tied in the relationship between the team and myself and basicly lays the foundation for a better mindset that I acquired, but that’s another story.

So, what truly is in my control?

1. Everything I do, think, say, act.
2. How good I know and see everyone.

What is not in my control?

3. How others see me and what I do, how they see each other and how they react.

So apparently I have not much control over others and their will to follow my idea by themselves.
This realization left me rather disappointed.

Categories of motivation (Internal and external motivation)

After I looked at my poorly drawn picture I realized I had to accept something I refused to accept for quite some time.

You can not motivate someone. True motivation always comes from within.

Today, I believe that we as humans only move because of two things:

“Love” or “Fear”
(credits go to Dieter Lange)

To give those two factors more meaning I’ve translated them to:

“We as humans only move either because we like to (“internal” = love) or because we need to (“external” = fear).”

Everything can be boiled down to those two emotions.

“Do as I say or you’re fired!”

This would be a prime example of external motivation. It’s quite obvious and blunt. You cause movement because the other party fears of said punishment.
But be aware of using external motivation unknowingly. It can be quite subtle and often times unconscious.

It could be instilled into the team by your predecessor without you being aware of it.
Often times we become rather blind to fact, that the reason someone is doing something is essentially out of fear.

I think we all can agree on that external motivation might get you to your desired end state the fastest and doesn’t require much skill at all.
And if you’re thinking only short-term and still can look yourself into the mirror, good for you.

But have you ever talked with someone about something they are turly passionate about? Something they simply can not stop talking about.
This is internal motivation in it’s purest form. Nobody from the outside forces them to do so. They just love what they do.

This is how I felt while discovering new ideas for our team and wished everybody else could feel the same.
I’m convinced if love is our motivation, we produce far better results, are happier humans and everyone profits in the long term.

So be aware of what your own motivation is and what kind of motivation your team has.
Question your motives and your actions often. Dig deep to get to the underlying emotion, and figure out if you act out of love or fear.
If you are responsible for others / are some sort of authority do the same for your those how you are in charge of.

If you made it up to this point thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions feel free to ask.



Alex | @ruttkowa

Munich Metal | Cardano Ambassador | I want to show how tech can help you | 🇩🇪 & 🇬🇧