When processes, procedures and motivations are properly aligned, there is an easy flow and success takes on a sense of the inevitable. Each component of the system is individually successful and the individual successes are aligned to contribute to the success of the whole system. It is a self-sustaining zen-like perpetual motion machine.
Well, at least that is how it is supposed to work. There are times when everything is in perfect alignment and I am surprised by success. It seems easy and natural. I begin to get a bit cocky. And of course, that is just when it all falls apart, when I think we have done everything right, everything looks good on paper, but one problem after another seems to keep us from moving forward at all. Everything falls out of alignment and we stumble. What seemed easy and inevitable one moment seems impossible the next.
So, I spend a lot of time thinking about alignment. Solar Sister is made up of a network of independent entrepreneurs, when they are in alignment, then the success of a single entrepreneur adds to the success of the whole network. Business zen. Ubuntu in the true sense of being individual and part of a greater whole at the same time.
But when things are out of alignment…well, let’s just say, it’s not pretty. Actions begin to work against the system. People become unhappy and unmotivated. They start to look out for their own interests, the greater good be damned. The women look for rationales that don’t really exist. Jealousies fester. Conspiracy theories find footing. Petty problems become insurmountable. It begins to resemble the worst side of my days on Wall Street. Motivations get distorted and rewards become disconnected.
The key lies in finding the right motivations and rewards. Solar Sister provides economic opportunity to women, so it would seem obvious that money is our primary motivator. The women sell solar lamps and other products from their ‘business in a bag’ and earn commission on each sale, so there is a natural reward system of the-more-you-sell-the-more-you-earn. Easy. Right? Not so much. Money does not motivate in isolation. And the entrepreneurs’ opportunities and responsibilities do not exist in some economist’s controlled economics/behavioral study. These women live full, complicated lives. They are balancing work and life, family and economic realities just like I do. It may look different on the outside, but it is the same struggle of balancing the multiple roles of mother, daughter, wife, sister, homekeeper, gardener, friend, entrepreneur…self.
One of the challenges is to really listen to what motivates the women, and build the structure of the organization around those motivations so there is an internal logic to every action. When we are properly aligned, we’re in the groove.
Rewards and motivations come in many shapes and sizes. A nice payday is great and it can be a powerful motivator. But not as great as a hug from your child; a dying mother’s soft pat on your knee as you sit, for hours, at her bedside; a husband’s happy smile when he sees you have prepared his favorite dish for dinner; the satisfaction of a job well done; a perfect eggplant from your garden; learning something new; finding a moment to visit a friend. Simple things that bring us connection and joy in our relationships. Complicated things which come after striving for many years. Money is only one reward, and it is not usually the most compelling.
Trying to find a business model that incorporates the reality of people’s motivations is much more nuanced than a simple “commission based model” can ever achieve. I recently read a blog post about “Intrinsic Rewards and the Path to Happiness” that seemed to address this nuance. The article references Reality is Broken, a book by Jane McGonigal, self-proclaimed gamer for good, that looks at the gaming industry’s advanced use of intrinsic motivators. Intrinsically motivating activities are those in which people will engage for no reward other than the interest and enjoyment that accompanies them. When people are engaged in activities that are intrinsically rewarding, there is alignment, their activities provide reward, which motivates continuation of the activity.
In the article, McGonigal explains how well designed games actually tie into intrinsic reward structures that act as happiness drivers. This “autotelic”, self-rewarding, behavior creates a core motivation engine that external, extrinsic rewards cannot come close to replicating. It is the difference between my daughter keeping one eye on the clock while reading ‘for 20 minutes every day’ because she has to turn in the reading log at the end of the week and wants to do well versus staying up past her bedtime with a flashlight under the covers to read ‘just one more page’ which turns into another page, then a chapter, then an hour of secret reading simply because she loves to read. (And yes, she uses a solar flashlight So what are these intrinsic rewards that McGonigal describes? She names a few:
1. Humans crave satisfying work, every single day.
2. We crave the experience or the hope of being successful.
3. We crave social connection.
4. We crave meaning – the chance to be a part of something larger than ourselves.
I am always amazed by the serendipity of coming across information just as it is needed. And the way relevant truths cut across disciplines. Money is an extrinsic reward. For Solar Sister to be in alignment, we need to tap into women’s intrinsic reward systems.
This listing of intrinsic rewards could just as easily be a listing of Solar Sister’s core operating values. Solar Sister provides economic empowerment. But it’s not just about the money. The real value of being a Solar Sister, the rewards that motivate the women intrinsically are these: Solar Sister provides satisfying work, every day. Solar Sister provides the experience or hope of being successful. Solar Sister provides social connection. Solar Sister provides women the chance to be part of something larger than themselves.
As women become Solar Sister entrepreneurs it is this intrinsic motivation that makes them such effective entrepreneurs. We see them become evangelists for clean energy technology that goes beyond just ‘making the sale’. It is amazing to witness the energy they bring to their work and I have often wondered where this extra enthusiasm comes from. They become part of something larger than themselves by providing access to technology that improves the lives of their families and their communities. The alignment of the intrinsic rewards, the extrinsic rewards, and the organization’s goals means that success is an internally generated and inevitable outcome.
In the immortal words of the crossover R&B/disco philosophers McFadden & Whitehead, “There ain’t no stoppin’ us now….we’re in the groove.“