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Mastery as a Motivator

Posted on October 24th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence


Over the last couple of articles, we’ve been delving into what motivates us in the workplace. According to Dan Pink, intrinsic motivators can be much more powerful than extrinsic factors like financial rewards.

Today we’re going to focus on one of the three key motivators his work has highlighted. I think this one is especially important for those working in the chemical engineering industry. It’s one that carries a lot of weight with me, and seems to resonate with a good number of technically minded people I’ve worked alongside.

Today we’re going to look at mastery.

Always Getting Better

Dan Pink describes the motivation of mastery as the desire to get better and better at something that matters. It’s the curiosity in us and the part of us that wants to continually improve.

Sometimes that comes out in an obsessive need to beat the high score in a video game, or do one more push-up than last time, or find a slightly more efficient route to work. Sometimes mastery looks like learning more and more, becoming a subject-matter-expert in your field.

Other times it comes out at a much lower skill level, where the focus is on incremental improvement rather than necessarily reaching the highest possible peak in performance. That might be finding fulfilment in not having to ask basic questions to be able to use a piece of software any more, or now being able to show others how to use pivot tables in MS Excel.

Using Mastery As A Motivator

Knowing that the prospect of getting better and better at something that matters can be a motivator is helpful in itself. The next step though, is to actually put that to use in the workplace. In the sections below I’ll describe just some of the times I can recognise mastery as a motivator in my work. Perhaps these would be things you could bring into your daily work, or that of your colleagues or team members.

Formal Training

Perhaps the most obvious way to facilitate getting better and better at something is through formal training. Going on a training course can expose you to new ways of doing things and can be a good way of accelerating learning and skill development.

I often find that when I improve at something through a training course, I’m more enthusiastic to continue getting better as well as using what I’ve learnt in my day to day work. Occasional investment in formal training is definitely motivating for me.

Teaching Others

There’s nothing quite like teaching other people for cementing in knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. It’s often a good way to highlight our gaps and reveal the areas we need to work on more to continue getting better and better.

I have found teaching others to be a very helpful way of continuing to develop my own expertise, especially when working closely with a junior engineer or technician. Spending time with them in my team, or as a more direct one-on-one mentoring type relationship, I find that I’m encouraged to develop and hone my knowledge.

That enthusiasm usually spills out into other areas of my work at the same time.

Recognition Of Expertise

As well as getting better and better at something in absolute terms, recognising your own mastery in something is a powerful motivator. It’s sometimes difficult to perceive your own level of skill or knowledge and an external reminder or prompt can be useful.

In one company I worked in, some work was done to find several on site subject-matter-experts in the use of a particular set of modelling tools. My expertise in a niche area of modelling was recognized as a part of that process, which forced me to take stock and look at how my skills had improved. That was enough to inspire me to continue to develop, and to apply what I’d learnt in different contexts around the business.

For me, it took an external factor (the recognition of my expertise by my peers) to enhance my intrinsic motivator of mastery.

As before, these are just some of my experiences of mastery as a motivator. And so the list above is by no means exhaustive of how it can be helpful in the workplace. It’d be great to hear about some of your experiences in the comments below. Next time, we’ll focus on the third of Dan Pinks intrinsic motivators: Purpose.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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