Teach Yourself: Motivation out of Genuine Need

I’ve been out of school for several years now, and oftentimes when I look back on my time in school, I come back to the same thought: “man, if I had actually cared a little bit more back then, I bet I would have gotten so much more out of it!”  I am frustrated with myself that I had all of these opportunities to learn from such great teachers, but I just didn’t have the motivation at that time in my life to really apply myself as much as I could have.  If I were going to register for and pay to take a class now, I would probably try so much harder to get as much out of it as possible.  But then, I would probably be taking that class for a specific reason.  Which brings me to my point:

If someone actually needs to learn something, they will be motivated to do so–and they will find a way to teach themselves how to do it.

It is only when someone does not see the real need for the information that they don’t try as hard to learn the material.

Understanding how people learn is a key skill for anyone in a managerial role, in any field, because chances are they need to try to motivate other people to learn things.  I would argue that in order for someone to be motivated, they need to genuinely be interested and have a need to learn the material.  Conversely, if someone knows that they don’t really need to learn something, they simply will not learn it, or will only give about half of their effort to learn the absolute bare minimum.

Allow me to illustrate my point with an example (and I’m pretty sure this is a true story).  A group of students enters a classroom on the first day of school and finds it completely empty.  Their teacher explains to them that they are going to have to figure out what they need in the room, and build it themselves.  They then spend the next couple weeks figuring this out and building their desks, chairs, tables, etc.  This would be an example of learning out of genuine need.  The students knew that if they didn’t figure out how to build their desks and chairs, they would have no place to sit and work.  So they figured it out–they taught themselves how to do it (under the guidance of their teacher, of course), and at the end of the experience, guess what?  They had learned not only how to build  basic pieces of furniture, but also how to work as a team, how to use math in a practical way–the list goes on and on.

This principle can be applied to any setting, really.  If someone sees the genuine need to learn something, meaning, if they can see how learning it will directly impact their life in the near future, they will figure out a way to do it.  Sometimes people really just want the freedom to learn it in their own way, rather than having it spoon-fed to them.  A little bit of guidance is necessary in order to make sure that people stay on the right track throughout the learning process.  However, too much guidance and not enough freedom should be avoided.  My point is that maybe the focus should be on sparking interest, and convincing people of their genuine need to learn, rather than looking over their shoulder every step of the way or teaching them yourself.

Tomorrow I will lay out how this can be applied specifically to people in managerial roles, whose job it is to motivate others to learn and do things.  Stay tuned!