Recently some 3 200 people from throughout Britain and beyond gathered at 3am in the city centre of Hull to strip naked and be painted blue. You might be thinking ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ should have been coined as, ‘only mad Englishmen and dogs go out in the early hours’!
The ‘event’ was the call to arms, legs and pretty much everything else by renowned American artist, Spencer Tunick. Tunick is famous for his photographs of masses of naked people – all of whom are volunteers. On this occasion in Hull the intention was to highlight Hull’s relationship with the sea and was commissioned by the Ferens Art Gallery.
Why is it that people flock to do such things? I am sure there are multiple motives to be part of such events but I do think that it appeals to a base motive that we all share whether or not we strip naked and paint ourselves blue. It is the motivation to be part of something bigger than ourselves and be part of something that will outlive us –about leaving a legacy. Actually, this represents a duel motivation as these two things – being part of something bigger and leaving a legacy, although often connected, can be seen separately.
The need to be part of something bigger than us – or contribute to something bigger than ourselves, has been identified as a fundamental intrinsic motivator by Dan Pink who undertook formal research on the subject of human motivation that is captured in his excellent book, Drive. Psychologists also inform us that in addition to this there is an identifiable stage in our personal development when we focus on ‘leaving a legacy’. Both of these two motivators are important and both shape and drive our thinking and actions.
Smart leaders understand these personal drivers and address them in how they engage their staff and business partners. The people who ‘show up for work’ and who do the best work are those who feel that they are contributing to something bigger than what their specific function at work entails. They see the bigger picture and they understand their contribution to that outcome. Too many leaders assume this is the case with everyone because, well because it is ‘obvious’ to them given their vantage point.
The fact is it is anything but obvious to many within your factories or on the office floors beneath you. The failure to understand this causal connection fosters the need to rely on ‘motivational talks’ that seldom if ever leave a lasting impact. Motivational talks offer nothing more than a sugar pill for short-term energy and maybe offer some entertainment value but that is about it.
As a leader you should ask yourself whether or not your people would voluntarily ‘strip naked and paint themselves blue’ for your cause. Testing it might be a step too far and well… it has already been done! But it is maybe a good conversation to have and an easy enough proposition to test.