Money Motivation Mythology

Ka-ching!?  Really?
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

“Money is like manure.
It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around,
encouraging young things to grow.” 

~Dolly Levi, (from the musical Hello Dolly!)

I know that more than a few people have come across the quote above, but I always wonder how many are aware of the monologue that accompanies it. Quoting the lines as closely I can from memory, here is the part that captured my fancy:

. . . and all it takes is just a little bit of money.

The difference between no money at all and a little bit of money is very slight — yet it can change the world.

The difference between a little bit of money and a great deal of money is very great — and it, too, can change the world.

“Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” 

Fertilizer of a Different Sort

Since I am in the process of beginning life anew, about to take another big leap, I have hyperfocused on feeding mySelf nutritiously. (Oh no, I still eat the occasional chocolate bunny – I’m not talking about that kind of food. I’m talking about feeding my brain and my soul.)

Beginning a few weeks before leaving to speak at the 5th Annual ACO Conference (ADHD Coaches Organization), held only a few weeks ago, I have been making it a point to begin and end my days with an inspirational video. I’ve been a a relatively positive person for most of my life anyway, but even cheerleaders yearn to have a few cheerleaders of their own from time to time.

Right away, I discovered that I had forgotten how incredibly effective they are on a great many levels.

I can’t begin to describe how much more positive, competent, and ready-for-bear I feel after only a few short weeks of this habit — lighter, happier, more like I felt long before I ever suspected that there might be such a thing as a “school of hard knocks.”

I have found a wealth of inspiring content, which I will share with you in upcoming posts in this “What Kind of World do you Want” series.  If your life could use a bit of feel-good inspiration, take the time to click on a link or two at the end of each of the articles with the small graphic of the globe in the upper right corner.)

In any case, think about this as you read the posts in this series, as a REAL question: 

What kind of world DO you want to live into?

Think about it in the same manner that a 4-star chef asks what he or she wants to create for dinner: as if you could cook up anything you were in the mood to eat.

Meanwhile, let’s spend a bit of time thinking about motivation – in particular, the relationship between motivation and MONEY!

Science and Studies

Regardless of field and irrespective of study purpose, researchers must always remember to design their studies in a manner that demonstrates the understanding of a single, foundational distinction: what elements are causal, as opposed to elements that are “merely” co-occurring?

At base, then, is the task of designing a study that tests a hypothesis without biasing the results through the design of the study itself, which is always a product of the original hypothesis.

I have noticed that escaping their frames of reference long enough to test their assumptions seems to be something that many fields seem to find a bit tricky.  Some relatively recent motivational studies provide an excellent example of what I am talking about.

Motivation Metrics

The business world loves metrics:

  • What can be measured can be managed.
  • What can be managed can be predicted
  • What can be predicted can be budgeted
  • Budgets can be manipulated and enforced!

Stockholders love accurate predictions and hate nasty surprises. Since most stockholders tend to keep score with money, economists and CEOs have spent a great deal of energy attempting to discover the optimal relationship between compensation and worker performance.

I recently watched a video examination of yet another study attempting to quantify the degree to which money is a motivator. It left me, as most “carrot and stick” managerial theories always do, scratching my head.

Animating Daniel Pink

For those who aren’t familiar with RSA Animate, it is a “site” that that consists of extremely clever videos covering a wide variety of topics.  It pairs the voices and content of noted speakers with a visual interpretation by an artist who seems to sketch as fast as Superman finds a phone booth, ditches the suit and dons a cape at the first hint that Lois Lane is in trouble.

Clicking around, looking for video motivators to add to my personal list, I came across an RSA Animate video featuring economist and motivational speaker Daniel Pink. Watching it started my brain wandering in the direction of the nature of the tenuous link between money and motivation.

If you can set aside about ten minutes for an inciteful, extremely entertaining presentation that will make you the star of your next cocktail party or coffee klatch, click over to uTube to watch this RSA Animate offering before reading the rest of what I have to say.

While you listen and watch, see if you can spot the fly in the ointment that has me shaking my metaphorical head, the inspiration for this article.

Studying the study

To be clear, I have no quarrel with Daniel Pink, his analysis or his conclusions.  I think he’s great, which is why I clicked on the link to begin with.  It’s the assumptions underlying the study itself that concern me.

I am especially puzzled by the fact that they got somebody to fund a study with such an obvious design flaw (and how I can get them to fund some of MY wild ideas!)

Not only were the assumptions overlooked in the design of the original study, the secondary study, undertaken to “double-check” the results, fell into the same assumption trap.

The Underlying Assumption

This study was set up to explore the following question:
“Does More Money Motivate Higher Performance?” 

Um, excuse me, but isn’t that question more than just a little bit like, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

Here’s the problem

Any study that begins by looking at “how much” or “more” has skipped blithely over the more important question: HOW MUCH OF WHAT?

The study in question began with an assumption they never identified as such:
THAT money motivates performance.  

Surely I am not the only one who listened with a quizzical expression on my face from that point on!

It came as no surprise to me that the findings turned out to illuminate what other studies have already illustrated — and any undergrad in psychology could tell you after only a class or two:

  • Beyond sufficiency (basic needs requirements), money itself is not a particularly motivating carrot. 
  • In fact, in this study, as designed, there seemed to be a clear indication of a negative correlation between greater monetary reward and increased performance for tasks that require even rudimentary cognitive skills. 

I could ramble on about the assumption flaws, possible explanations for money as a de-motivator, and suggest some other ways to design the study, but that is not the purpose of this article.  I want to move along to keep this article as brief as I, personally, can develop a thought . . .

Because their next assuptive leap is where they lost me completely!

Instead of questioning their original assumption, they questioned the degree of impact of the AMOUNT of money!  Their follow-on study changed economic venue to further examine their original assumption — in hopes of uncovering some potential corollary, I suppose.

The underlying assumption of the relocation is obnoxious:
that, for some figure high enough, minds and hearts can be bought.  

If that were an accurate prediction – and it is decidedly NOT – I’m not sure what you might call that dynamic, but the term “motivation” doesn’t even enter the ring of possible candidates in my mind.

Money is not a Goal

Money is what the coaching world calls an “in-order-to” goal.

  • You can’t eat it, even though you can use it to purchase food.
  • You’d need an awful lot of paper currency if you expected to burn it for warmth, but a much smaller amount will pay the electric bill or the gas bill that runs the systems that heat your houses.
  • You can’t wear it, build a shelter out of it, or drive around in it.
  • It’s not even much fun to play with, although you can use it to buy toys and experiences that light up your leisure hours (assuming you are not overly focused on making money so you have some of those leisure hours).

Money is a TOOL

Somewhere inside we all know that money is only a tool, even though some individuals seem to have lost touch with that understanding somewhere along the pursuit-of-capital pathway.

  • For a small, financially influential minority, amassing ducats has become an objective of import in and of itself.
  • Profit and Loss Statements have become the primary way of keeping score for far too many others, even though studies and surveys underscore the reality that the non-monetary rewards have a much higher perceived value for MOST people, employee and entrepreneur alike.

NOBODY consciously chooses to ignore financial realties to the point where we struggle for every dime — BUT, once our basic needs are covered, MOST of us value a great many things more than money.  Beyond basic sufficiency, NOBODY self-aware and emotionally healthy trades the intangibles that we value to increase our pile of greenbacks.

In fact, most of us find the suggestion that we might trade our quality of life bucket list for mere money offensive, whether we are aware of it consciously or not; even the suggestion itself wears us down and slows down effectiveness dramatically.

We become motivated (in ways that translate to a higher level of performance) ONLY by those elements that are of value to us.

We are motivated to the activation level by activities that breathe energy into our lives — wind beneath our wings that pump us up, that enlarge our vision of ourselves, our world, what we can accomplish, and help us concretize what we’re here to do — things like some of the items on the following list.

  • intellectual challenge
  • mentorship with automony
  • fairness of systems and implementation
  • strengths-based recognition and acknowledgement
  • excellent job fit with potential for incubation to mastery
  • purpose actualization
  • contribution to something beyond personal goals and objectives
  • structures and systems supporting life-long learning and potential for growth
  • development of a like-minded community in an atmosphere of trust
  • time off and schedule flexibility
  • compatibility with, and accommodation of, family priorities (including education and health)
  • an environment where we enjoy how we spend the minutes of our lives

. . . shall I go on?

So what are continued “financial compensation” studies designed to prove?  To whom and FOR whom?  And toward what end?  Do they make sense to YOU?

In a few upcoming posts in this series I am going to invite you to explore the meaning of money in your very own personal life — on the way to answering a few questions in a very up-close-and-personal manner.  And I’m going to invite you to think SMALL for a change, at least where your ducat talley goals are concerned.

WHY think about these questions?

Because the answer to the greater question, “What kind of world do YOU want to live into?” depends on who YOU are.  If you happen to be one of us on the Attentional Spectrum, you can’t afford NOT to know the answer to some of the upcoming questions — your activation ability is directly tied to your degree of interest!

So WHO are you?  It can be a lot of fun to really explore the answer to that question.

If not now, when?

As always, if you want notification of new articles in this series – or any new posts on this blog – give your name and email to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right.  (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too)  STRICT No Spam Policy


What Kind of World Articles & Related Inspiration:

BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

7 Responses to Money Motivation Mythology

  1. Pingback: Lousy 21st Century Ideas | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. jeg700 says:

    My answer was so long I had to create a post on my blog LOL here’s the link
    BTW, I’ve referred back to this blog post as well.
    AND, nice to read your posting again. Seems like it’s been a while since the last time…but that could be just me and my lack of time perception:)


    • Awwww – you missed me! Thanks for taking the time to comment, btw.

      In addition to technical problems with Cincinnati Bell, my i-net provider, I have, in fact, been VERY covered up with a number of sudden “emergencies” since returning from ACO — so my “usual” 2-3 per week has slowed to an average of one/week, so far, in April. HOWEVER, as time permits, I am working in the background on quite a few articles that will make it look like I “suddenly” started posting again, once I have time & focus to polish and post.

      WordPress hasn’t been working reliably of late, either – grrr – so when things take twice as long to update, etc. (or I have to go get a former revision and begin again when it simply won’t allow me to “save” what I’ve done), I run out of time sans accomplishment. GRRRRRR! QUITE annoying!

      Tonite or tomorrow I’ll get over to read your post – I’m looking forward to it.


  3. Pingback: Money… « addpositively

  4. Steve says:

    We make compromises all the time concerning money. Nobody is too broad a stroke. People sacrifice family life, health, friendships all the time in the pursuit of money. I have. Consciously. So I must be emotionally unhealthy according to your statement. Perhaps so. Certainly, the fear of poverty or lack is a strong motivation for many of us. Be it the wrong focus, it nevertheless colors decision making. :People working several jobs and destroying their health and personal relationships are motivated by the value of what money can be used for and not it of itself? So the idea is to dig deeper and discover the real reason one needs money for a certain exchange?


    • Thanks for your comment, Steve – and I apologize if my language inadvertently offended you. I certainly did not mean to imply that those who “take jobs for the money,” or those who experience periods in their lives where money becomes their top priority, were emotionally unhealthy – my belief is almost the opposite, in fact.

      Those who are reluctant to “do what they must” to create enough capital to keep themselves and their families fed, educated, etc, under some misguided idea that unless they are “following their bliss” they are not supposed to do anything at all, probably won’t find that a particularly “healthy” strategy — meaning one that will lead to a self-satisfying balanced life (at least not for anyone who doesn’t have a great deal of luck or a trust fund on his or her side. ::grin:: )

      I agree with your point that fear of poverty is a strong motivator for *most* of us who work for a living, even though a more uplifting come-from might be more along the lines of “cause and effect,” if only to keep our amygdalas from hijacking our performance. Bottom line, relationship and health DO take a certain amount of financial sufficiency to maintain, which does require time spent prioritizing “the pursuit of money.” Sometimes, tough choices paint us into corners we would not choose willingly if we could see another way, and sometimes we cannot because their IS no “other way” to BE seen at the time we look.

      My point was merely that once “sufficiency” needs were handled, few emotionally healthy people will be motivated to do a BETTER job by money alone. We could go back and forth for days about the meaning of “sufficiency” – a person-specific sliding scale of “enough-ness” – but I think we can bypass that back-and-forth if we focus on performance enhancement motivation, which was the focus of the study I objected to.

      Even though “money to use for exchange of whatever sort” is certainly a strong motivator in terms of agreeing to DO a job, in my experience, it seldom is a deciding factor “in real life.” For most people, “job satisfaction” that translates to going the extra mile on the tasks that make up that job seems to require something beyond cash incentives alone. In fact, part 2 of the study (where the venue was changed to a location where the money they were offering was substantial, compared to local payscales) appears to support my contention.

      At first blush, it could seem that sales professionals might be the exception, but I’d like to argue they are not. Top notch sales professionals ARE motivated by a chance to increase personal wealth, but I’m willing to bet that if you took away the values-based reasons that sales appeals to these individuals to begin with (autonomy, self-set income targets, whatever), most of these individuals would begin looking around for a different sales job that gave them MORE than money alone in exchange for minutes of their lives spent selling “widgets.”

      Your point about those whose lives are unbalanced to the degree that they jeopardize health and relationships is an important one. Certainly they are not motivated by the number in a bankbook alone, but by what it will “buy.” It has been my experience, however, that some time spent exploring exactly what it is that they believe they are “buying” usually yields “healthier” choices. I have seen, time and time again, that most of those who seem to be working ’round the clock often have a mistaken belief that relationship, health, etc. will “wait” until they reach a certain figure that signals sufficiency to them, and many have come to coaching to avoid “making the same mistake again” (their words) AFTER they lost one or the other.

      It is not my job to set somebody else’s goals and standards, but I do take on the task of helping them clarify them and line their actions up to support ALL of what they say they want. I have not had a single client in 25 years who wanted money above ALL else – that’s what makes life balance so darned tricky!

      I agree that you are right on, by the way, about “nobody” being too broad a stroke. It is most certainly a hyperbole. I’m sure we could find a few of those “exceptions” that prove the rule (and a few might even be emotionally healthy ::VBG::), but industry is sorely misguided, IMHO, if they believe that the majority of us roll that way.

      I would like to see studies that expand the performance enhancement motivation paradigm beyond cash incentives – and I would LOVE to see the focus on money alone fall by the same way-side as many of the other post Industial Revolution memes.

      Thanks again for your comment – keeps me on my toes!



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