Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

26 August 2014

Aspiration trumps trepidation

Clark @ 7:43 AM

Last week’s #lrnchat (a twitter chat on learning that runs Thurs evenings for an hour 5:30 PT/8:30 ET) was on the topic of fear-mongering in Organizational Learning.  The point is that often fear-mongering happens (by definition always wrongly), but what are the reasons, impacts, and ways to avoid.  And among my responses are one that I like as a quip.

I was, in particular, flashing back on the book Story Wars, that talked about how advertising has changed. This was in the context of fear-mongering as an approach to motivating behavior. In that book, they cited how advertisements in older days were designed to target your concerns. In essence, they made you worry about shortcomings as a motivation to buy remedies, whether to address your personal hygiene or appearance of success.

What’s changed is that they’ve now moved on to finding out that what is more motivating is tapping into your goals.  What are you trying to achieve? Who are you and what reflects your passions?  Then they provide products that can align with your self-image.  Of course, their ability to target your market segment is much more advanced, so they know more about who you are and have more specific means of reaching you.

In learning, however, this is also true. It’s far better to tap into your aspirations to motivate your learning than drumming on your fears. The latter will work some, if you’ve got legitimate concerns (e.g. losing your job), but far better is to help you understand how this will help you.

So, when it comes to motivation, I’ll argue that targeting aspiration trumps targeting  trepidations. Help people understand why this is valuable or important, not fear of the consequences of failure to comply. It’s part of a better culture, and a better workplace.  And that’s something you aspire to, right? ;)


  1. I’m all for targeting aspiration, I think, but I have more than once seen a technocrat or two preaching to the proles about the reasons for the wondrous new [ inventory / personnel / manufacturing / learning-management ] system. It’s a combination of cognitive bias (he or she just loves this stuff and enjoys making it tap dance, mistaking features for benefits, and what Bob Mager called “they really oughta wanna.”

    Take your average ERP software implementation. Whatever benefits show up in the first year are almost always limited to some corporate goal. SAP, Oracle, WhateverWare in this context do not make life better for the people who have to keep the gears working. Often they make it worse in the short run–their productivity takes a nosedive, the formal training was inadequate, the informal training is packaged in frustration and desperation.

    No amount of aspiration is going to make that better, despite what the guy who sold you this stuff says.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 26 August 2014 @ 8:45 PM

  2. Dave, well, yeah, your aspirations have to be authentic. However, it’s not always about the new system (which, properly chosen, should fulfill new aspirations), but can also be personal improvement, too.

    Comment by Clark — 27 August 2014 @ 6:59 AM

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