What drives me?

by Mike Dershowitz

I don’t know what it is about Billie Holiday. She has such a calming effect, and yet such an introspective one.  Her voice either paints scenes we all want to live in (“Autumn in New York”) or exposes pain we don’t want to deal with (“Strange Fruit”), or makes us feel in love (“Too Marvelous for Words”).

For me, Holiday’s music makes me introspective, and so on this Sunday night I’m thinking about this book I’m reading called “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel H. Pink.  I highly recommend it for any business leader, and I’m only about a third of the way through.

Pink’s basic premise is that most people aren’t motivated by rewards, but instead by intrinsic motivations based on their desires for mastery, self-improvement, or accomplishment in their work.  Yes, money plays a factor, but usually only at a basic level; meaning their basic money requirements must be met so they can focus on their work.

So our old model of do-something, get-a-reward, what he calls “Motivation 2.0,” is broken in the economy we have of today, where the cost of creation have declined so dramatically, which has given rise to “Motivation 3.0,” where intrinsic motivations (desire for mastery, self-improvement, or accomplishment) are really the driving force behind how to make people excel to produce the best results.  The old models are broken, Pink argues, it’s time to revise the motivational models in our economy, and what helps us work at peak performance.

As with all blog posts I write, whenever I explore a concept, it’s important to bring it back into the solar industry in the US.  This one’s easy.  Ask yourself, what drives you?  Why did you leave the industry you were in and come into the solar industry? 

If you’re like me, it wasn’t the money (how many folks complain about razor-thin margins and the “solarcoaster?”  Ever heard of GTM’s “dead pool“?).  I was making a very comfortable living in banking, taking nice vacations, and enjoying good food and wine and plenty of time with family and friends.

But, sometime in 2009 in the middle of the financial crisis, which I was able to witness from the inside, I had a very strong premonition of myself on my death bed, uttering in that scraggly, breathy, barely audible voice of Charles Foster Kane, “Well, I was a banker.”  Hmm….not the type of epitaph I wanted.

A friend introduced me to renewable energy, and after some study of the various markets within RE, it was clear that the timing was right for solar and it was a particularly  good fit for the talents I possessed at the time.  So it was clear I needed to take the leap.

You see, solar hit my two key intrinsic drivers: first, a way to contribute to an industry that was undeniably doing good for our society; second, an industry that was ripe for change, and hadn’t yet applied technology to help it get there.

So no matter what I do, when I come into our offices every day, I start out waaaaay ahead of others out there that are working a job but not loving what they’re doing, and maybe even not agreeing with what their company does.  In my own small way, I’m contributing to moving our society toward a sustainable solution, and I’m creating technology solutions that are helping to change the industry.  Looking at myself in the mirror and respecting the guy who’s looking back at me?  Check! My key drivers are met, and so I’m set up for success because of that, and naturally inclined to perform well.

If you’re a leader, you have to ask yourself, first, can you claim the same thing?  (If you can’t, it’s hard to do this next part.) Next, you need to ask your people, “Are you doing what drives you?”  One of the things Pink argues very strongly is that companies will get better results when people are left with a very long tether (or no tether at all in some cases), and when they’re asked the basic question: “what do you want to be working on” or “what do you find interesting?”

That long tether really freaks some managers out, but the truth is that your people spend a lot of time thinking about their jobs and your company.  The chances are good that they’re going to create things that are of value to you company (anyone ever heard of Google’s 20 percent time?).  My team doesn’t know it yet, but they’re going to get asked this question at our Monday morning meeting.  It will be very interesting to see what they say.

So since I’m thinking about these things myself, I wanted to make some suggestions to you on what people in various parts of the industry might find drives them:

Sales

Find out what motivates you/them.  My bet is it’s one of three things: either money, the thrill of the hunt, or a honest-to-goodness desire to help and educate people.  Once you understand that, you can structure your day to enhance what you enjoy doing.

Installations

If you’re anywhere involved in installations, the key question to ask is: are you a craftsmen?  Those who aren’t should really question whether or not installations is the end of the business they should be in (let’s not forget that our industry is much better served when quality work is done by everyone).

Marketing

As tough as it can be to get folks interested in solar when they know nothing about it, I think the marketing folks have it easy.  I mean – think about what else they could be doing – marketing credit cards or hair removal gel?  Solar is at least a marketing message you can get behind.  But for markers, the results are super important.  Whatever you do, make sure you can measure what your marketers are doing – that will make them (and you) a whole lot better.

Technology

If you’re a part of the technology stack in solar (panels, inverters, etc.), the key line to draw is to understand how your product enables this industry to do what it must for our society.

The truth is I’ve found what drives me, and I’m doing what drives, me, so no matter what bumps there are, I’m better equipped to deal with them, because there’s no place I’d rather be.  Plus, I’m also intrinsically setup for success, because I spend every day working on the two things that drive me: making our society more sustainable, and changing an industry through technology.

The only thing left to do is ask – what drives you?

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