Motivation is Motivation is Motivation

My photo of white board written by M. Li

In my management classes, I always start with definitions and quite often with the etymology of the words in the title of the lecture. For example, the word motivation is originated in latin’s MOVERE, which means to move and to push.

Being lucky enough to teach a group of Chinese master students during this semester in the course „Leadership coaching“, I asked them to translate the word MOTIVATION in Mandarin. After a certain period of discussion I was obviously not able to follow, they said, there are two possibilities to translate MOTIVATION, with two hieroglyphs respectively. One is the combination of „Stimulation & Inner Power“, another „Movement and Reason“ (s. picture).

So there was no need to explain the difference between Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation! These two different kinds of factors are already shown as different concepts in Chinese. Is it about internal desire („Inner Power“) to achieve something or even enjoying the process (e.g. learning) itself or is it the impulse coming from outside, giving you the „Reason“ to move forwards – rewards, appreciation, money at last!

It took quite a long time in the western cultures to realize this distinction; somewhen in the 1970s, this psychological idea infiltrated the management science. And it seems that ignoring the intrinsic motivation factors, which seem to affect longer and stronger, is not „effective“. So could it be the advantage of my Chinese students to understand this distinction rather naturally, based on their language? And is it maybe one of the reasons why they are so motivated in the classes?

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