18 08 2011

It is a disease which has gripped the United States for a couple of decades; a disease which is starting to creep its way across Britain and  Europe. This disease disguises itself as your friend before leaving you high  and dry and wondering where it all went wrong.

What is this disease and why haven’t you heard about it before?

You have, but because it disguises itself as your friend you failed to  recognise it for what it is.

I’m talking about the current endemic  for motivation as some kind of magic elixir.

You can spend thousands on it,  believing that with the right motivation you are but a step away from success.  There are motivational speakers, motivational books, motivational screen  savers, motivational….everything. It seems you can’t turn around without someone offering to motivate you, usually for a fee (the industry is worth  £Billions) but not always. For crying out loud I even have friends on Facebook  who seem to do little more than trot out motivational quotes (often out of  context) all day long!

Thank God there are some who see this  craze for motivation as the nonsense it is.

Devey; a voice of sanity

In the most recent episode of BBC2’s  Dragon’s Den a clearly highly motivated entrepreneur was obviously missing one  or two basic business essentials (such as understanding what ‘gross profit  margin’ means) but felt that frequently repeating how motivated she was would plug the obvious (to the audience) gaps. Sanity was needed and new Dragon Hilary Devey provided it in five simple but sensible words of advice; “passion does not generate profit.”

Of course, to succeed in business, as  in anything in life, you need to be sufficiently motivated, passionate about your dream. But, what none of the hundreds of motivational speakers out there  will tell you as they take your hard-earned cash is that on its own that is not  enough.

We’ve been here before with far more  serious consequences, for what we are now witnessing in business we saw nearly  a hundred years ago on the battlefields of Europe.

Back then, in the Great War, hundreds  of thousands of young men lost their lives because they were sufficiently  motivated to go ‘over the top’ for one more push. They were passionate in their  belief that the desire for success, if strong enough, would be all they needed as they charged at another machine gun nest.

In 1917 the Battle of Passchendaele  lasted for three months, cost 70,000 lives, a further 250,000 wounded and gained the allies a paltry five miles of ground.

Lest we forget

There was no lack of motivation at Passchendaele, no lack of passion. What was lacking was strategic leadership. Our current day motivational messengers often include Winston Churchill’s words  among the quotes they push as the route to success. Perhaps they should bear in mind Churchill’s words after Passchendaele; “a forlorn expenditure of valour and life without equal in futility.”

In 1917 the generals finally woke up  and realised that without the right planning, without the strategy providing informed, intelligent direction for the motivation and the passion for their brave troops, the horrendous loss of highly motivated life would continue. That motivation and passion was crying out for strategic leadership to give it direction. It took Verdun, Somme, Passchendaele and many, many other inglorious  battles for the penny to drop but, in the end, it did.

Fast forward to 2011; what is your  informed, intelligent, planned strategic direction? What is the vision that provides your destination? What is the route map to take you to your destination?

If you don’t know, no amount of motivational speaking, books, screen savers or Facebook friends will help, all they will do is motivate you all the way to disaster.

On the other hand, if you do know where your business is going and how it is going to get there that alone should be sufficient motivation. If it’s not, you’re in the wrong business.

So, before you spend any more cash on that motivational guru, it might be wise to instead invest some of your money with a strategy expert. You know where we are!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, August 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal



8 responses

19 08 2011
Andy Shea

Careful… if this kind of clear and logical thinking spreads, Britian could find itself in danger of coming out of the recession!

Excellent post again Jim

19 08 2011
Yvonne Parker

Yet another fantastic piece of common sense. Well done Jim, you keep doing it.

BTW, Graham will be in touch re the strategic gap analysis next week. I don’t think he realised how exposed he is/we are!

Keep up the great work.

20 08 2011

Yes, motivation is usually highly overdone, but I think your comparison with the first world war is ill advised. Are you seriously trying to say that millions went to their deaths because they were too highly motivated? That they thought that with the right mental attitude they would be impervious to bullets? I think facing a firing squad if the did NOT go over the top probably had a lot more to do with it. Maybe your obvious motivation to discredit the motivation industry had lead to inappropriate comparisons.

21 08 2011

Hi David,

Thank you for taking the time to comment. You are, of course, absolutely correct that facing a firing squad was one hell of a motivator for ‘going over the top’. The point being that the motivation, whatever it Is, will likely prove fruitless (and in the WW1 example, fatal) without sound strategic leadership. It is an extreme example but one which makes the point very well.

As for being motivated to discredit the motivation industry I’m afraid you are wide of the mark. I am motivated by the desire to help organisations succeed and am pointing out that the motivation industry on the whole is missing a vital component of achieving success – that of sound strategic leadership. There are a handful of motivational speakers who recognise this fact however the vast majority overlook it.



21 08 2011

Sorry Jim, can’t agree. Your basic point of motivation being useless without strategy is sound, but the WW1 analogy is just wrong, illogical and does not make the point at all. But then I’ve only been in business for 35 years, so maybe it’s just me!

21 08 2011

Hi David,

It seems we agree the on need for strategy but not on the analogy used. On that, rather than pass comments back and forth perhaps it would be wisest just to agree to disagree.

Thanks for taking the time to share your views.



25 08 2011
Paul Harris

Hi Jim,

I rarely comment on blogs but as yours was posted under “The Alternative Board Midlands” of which I am a member, I felt I had to comment.

I agree with some of the comments but found your suggestion that motivation is some of “disease creeping across the world” was far too dismissive of an incredibly important aspect of business and personal growth – and the WW1 analogy was extremely ill advised. It was the strategy prepared by senior leaders that was flawed – not the fact the the troops were highly motivated. Your point would have been better made if you had said that thousands lost their lives due to a flawed strategy rather than they simply were motivated to follow orders.

I do totally agree with you that motivation without strategy is useless. However, I would also point out that many business leaders (and business coaches) are very high on strategy and direction suggesting this is the “magic elixir”. They then spend days, weeks and months on detailed 5 year plans but then can’t get their team to buy into their ideas at all. Therefore, a brilliant strategy that nobody believes in is equally as useless as motivation without direction.

Motivation is not a disease Jim – it’s an essential ingredient – just as important as a good strategy. The “motivation industry” that you refer to in such derogatory terms attempts to get people to move themselves forward, take action or believe in their leaders and often provides skills and knowledge that strategists can’t grasp.

And as you suggest – the best help to all of us is a blend of motivation AND strategy. On this we agree. So I suggest that before you spend any money on any help at all – you ensure that the company offers strategy AND motivation. And there is plenty of us out there who do.

28 08 2011

Hi Paul and thank you for taking the time to comment and for the considered opinion you offer.

You state that; “a brilliant strategy that nobody believes in is equally as useless as motivation without direction.” In part, I would agree. However, a strategy in which nobody believes could not be described as “brilliant” anywhere other than a theoretical world. Good (and brilliant) strategy will always bear in mind the conflict between compliance and commitment in its development and their impact on its effective, efficient and economical delivery. And, as you will be aware, it is in understanding and addressing that issue that the need for ‘buy in’ is (or should be) addressed.

Anyone who understands this concept will include recognising the need for motivation within sound strategic planning and good strategic leadership. Those who separate the two are probably struggling to grasp the importance (even interdependence) of both on each other if real success is the goal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: