Igniting motivation in others

I am a meathead freak.

I talk about protein more than anyone I know. I have up to 4 protein bars a day, probably 2 shakes, and usually some amino acids. When I eat food, I think about it's protein to calorie ratio.

I have bench pressed over two times my body weight. I have had six pack abs. I prefer going through life shirtless.

I've been working out since I was 14. 13 years of serious dedication.

Initially what drove me was really to just not be fat (which is where I was headed).

The results I saw - the ability to control my physical appearance through my own actions (exercise) and decisions (what to eat) - was fascinating and has created years of a never ending obsession.

I know what motivates me now - I'm a control freak about myself. Only I can determine my level of success in any area of my life - physical, career, relationships - anything.

Something many people have talked to me about, is how they can get "into" the gym (or programming).

So, how do you create motivation in someone else? How do you give them the drive to accomplish their goals?

I don't know the full answer yet, but here is my current roadmap:

  1. Inspire
  2. Educate
  3. Encourage
  4. Challenge
  5. Repeat

Inspiring is something you do without doing anything - if you are leading by example, people will be inspired simply because it's how they would like to see themselves. People want to be better naturally.

An inspired person talks about it - how they want to be better. They may be idealistic and dreaming, but their hopes and goals may be the most valuable thing in their life. Educate them as much as you possibly can. When a friend asks me to workout with them for the first time - I try not to teach them this exercise or that exercise - but more about how muscles work, and what the goals of working out are (ripping fibers, increasing endurance). The idea is for them to understand how to build their own workout around their goals, rather than just proceeding blindly on my word and not understanding what or why they're doing something.

I'll encourage them - I'll set their expectations appropriately. Everything is easy when the mystery is removed. Everything. Its like the day after you learned how to ride a bike, it seems unbelievable that you would have ever needed training wheels to begin with.

Then its time to challenge them to be better - tell them to set their goals. To give themselves a deadline. A start date, anything to measure against themselves.

For the numerous people I've been able to help motivate - this is always the process I've used. The real trick is #5. When a person sees the fruits of their labor, thats when it happens. When they understand that they know how to fish. When they realize they don't need anyone else. When they realize the mystery is gone, and they are the master of themselves.

The utility of side projects

When I look back at all the side projects I've built post college, after you know, "starting my career," I have the following:

  1. A local resources app for learning (my first rails app) that never launched.
  2. A weight lifting tracking application - that partially launched (reached about 300) members, before I took it down.
  3. A task management app - I finished, and then decided it just wasn't right. Never launched. It was also my first app to utilize highcharts.
  4. A trading application (80% done - will revisit in the next few years), and my first app to utilize KnockoutJS & Resque & Stripe.
  5. An app for remotely managing error pages, and my first app to utilize AngularJS. This one launched - 404engine.com.

I've been out of college 5 years now, so I'm creating these things at a rate of about 1 per year, which certainly isn't bad. 

The obvious problems

  1. I'm not launching enough of these.
  2. I'm doing absolutely no customer development.
  3. I'm not getting paid.
The value is much higher
  1. Each one of these exists in git as a portfolio piece
  2. Each one taught me to be a better designer
  3. Each one taught me to be a better rails coder
  4. Each one taught me to be a better javascript coder
  5. Each one taught be to think about XYZ market differently
  6. Each one taught me how to embrace new technology
  7. They all gave me massive experience on both ends of building an app (design to backend)
  8. They all increase my value to any employer
  9. They all increase my confidence
  10. They increased my skill set.
  11. They take initiative.
  12. They teach me about solving my own needs.
  13. They teach me about solving needs that never existed.
  14. They teach me about failure.
  15. They push me to be better.
  16. They set me apart.

Developers who say they don't know design, are simply developers who haven't failed at design enough times.

I went to school for business. Yet I'm paid to be a user experience designer/engineer and developer. I get to work in photoshop, HTML/CSS, Rails, & Javascript every day at work - and its incredible. I'm extremely confident in what I do - a formal education in CS or design may have provided a different foundation to let me move faster, but it can't touch years of just trying shit out.

The first web site I built, I was 12. Today I turned 27. So 15 years ago, I made a site on Angelfire called, "Jack from the moon's galaxy" - it was based on an inside joke from summer camp. The web site had links to pages I liked, and an image for the movie "Idle Hands" which had been my current favorite. And it of course had a counter. It looked like dog shit.

The next web site I built also looked like dog shit, and so did the next one. But they looked a little bit less like shit each time. I was never a naturally good designer. I love that. I have no emotional connection to my designs. I want them to look good, and want to love them - but if they're ineffective, and user's don't like them, I want to throw them the fuck out and start over. Good design for me, is iteration & testing.

This has been exactly the same with every project I've taken - personal, freelance, career - every project I should be getting better as a designer, coder, business guy, marketer, etc. Every project is just the next iteration of myself.

And thats how side projects should be viewed:

  1. Yes, try to at least have a business model.
  2. Yes, at least think about customer development
  3. Yes, try to get paid
  4. But do it for the experience
  5. Do it to learn
  6. Do it for fun
  7. Do it to be better

Do you like to, "do it, yourself?"

I've been designing and coding web sites for nearly 14 years now. 

Anyone in a similar position can agree that comes with a reputation amongst friends and acquaintances as the guy who can build your "amazing idea called mygooglebook," that will obviously be bigger than the beatles, if they were a web site.

This is about the time I usually try to take a huge dump on their idea.

There is an inherit value of doing so:

  1. If they really believe in it, what I say should only motivate them to prove me wrong.
  2. If I'm right I'm going to save them a lot of time.
  3. If they can't convince me I'm wrong, how will they ever get customers?
  4. I'm a busy guy, I don't want to be pitched non-stop. If this stops someone from repeatedly pitching me shit ideas, then I've saved us both some time.

Lets say I do decide their project is enticing enough that I would consider putting in my time. 

This is when customer development becomes your best friend. At this point its easy - you want to have shared (not equal) effort and founder value if you're working together. You know you can do your job well, but you want to mitigate your risk entering any kind of joint venture (with a friend, acquaintance or otherwise).  

So now you must require your "idea/business man" to develop a customer base, that will be ready to buy on launch. You need this absolutely guaranteed - by the customers, maybe a form of early discounted payment, letter of intent, or early deposit.

If your business guy can make that happen before you ever touch the keyboard, you're doing it right - and they're the right partner to have.

So, unless you like to "do it -all- yourself" - get dumpin.