Many years ago I was talking to a freelance proofreader who was several weeks late getting a project back to me. She chronicled the various issues in her life that were keeping her from completing the job. She concluded by saying, “I really want to get this done. I feel extremely guilty I am so late.”
I replied, “Well, that just proves what a poor motivator guilt is.”
There was a very long, very silent pause at the other end.
I thought, Oh, no. I’ve really insulted her. That was way too harsh.
Finally she said, “Andy, that is so profound!”
I don’t recall if that conversation helped get the project unstuck, but a different sort of episode sticks in my mind.
Every three years InterVarsity Christian Fellowship holds a convention for fifteen to twenty thousand students. This past year, the evening meals were provided for all attendees–a massive undertaking. The first night things did not go well. Lines were blocks long with hour-long delays.
So, before the next meal, and with the permission of the facility managers, leaders of InterVarsity spoke to the wait staff. They explained what the convention was about–changing the lives of students, giving them a vision for serving the world, ultimately with a goal of changing the world. For that to happen, the students needed to be well fed and to get to the sessions on time.
That evening and for the rest of the convention, there were no delays at all. The wait staff had been struck by the huge vision and excited to see how what they did made a tangible contribution to achieving that goal.
Negative motivators–like guilt–may yield some results in the short term. Then again, they may not. But if it’s commitment, creativity and enduring results you want, there’s no substitute for going positive.