Motivation Code with Todd Henry



Are you in search of the perfect job? The perfect tasks to fit your passion?

This week Todd Henry, a five-time contributor and founder of The Accidental Creative, challenges us with our idea of the perfect job. He believes a myth that our society holds is that we will find tasks that we will enjoy all day. Todd thinks the ideal job is the job one that enables you to achieve the outcome you desire, even if you don't love all the tasks that you have to do all day. His challenge:

"What if you brought your motivation to your tasks instead of relying on your tasks to bring you motivation?"

Todd's new book, The Motivation Code, aims to help each of us discover the hidden forces that drive our best work. The research in The Motivation Code began in the late 1960s and includes the largest repository of achievement stories in human history.


[00:01:30] Simon Yost:  Todd, thanks for joining us today. You're over in Cincinnati, is that right?

[00:01:34] Todd Henry: [00:01:34] Yeah, that's correct. Yeah. We, I think we just set a record for the only team in the history of the Major League to be kicked, to be booted from the playoffs without scoring a single run or something. Yeah. We're still a little heartbroken over that, and I know you guys are in St. Louis, right? You've had a little more success, but the Reds are coming up on your heels, so just be careful.

[00:01:54] Simon Yost: [00:01:54] And the Cubs, but yeah, it's baseball is crazy. And then the Bengals, do you have [00:02:00] any hope this year, or are you, do you follow up Bengals?

[00:02:02] Todd Henry: [00:02:02] I have hope every year, but it's like Lucy with, in Charlie Brown with the football. This is the time I'm going to kick the football, and she snatches it back to the last minute. And that's what it's always like with the Bengals, but listen, I love. Sorry, I don't want to dive in like a whole sports thing here, but I love, I love Joe Burrow and his energy, and I just love the way that they're really rebuilding this team around a new ethic, and so I'm hopeful for the future. I am.

[00:02:23] Simon Yost: [00:02:23] That's cool. We, I found you several years ago, maybe circa 2003,  when you started your podcast; I tuned into my dorm room. Does that sound about right?

[00:02:34] Todd Henry: [00:02:34] Probably been about 2005 maybe is when, yeah. That's when the show started in earnest. That's when I started producing episodes.

[00:02:40] Simon Yost: [00:02:40] So I remember opening up my, one of the first Mac books I got, and opening up iTunes and searching for creative podcasts, and Accidental Creative was the first one I latched on to. And I have learned a ton since then. And, so I think, October 7th, the release of the "Motivation Code". Mark, your fifth book, is that correct?

Fifth Book in Ten Years

[00:02:58] Todd Henry: [00:02:58] Here's my fifth book in the last ten years. Yeah. So "The Accidental Creative" was released in 2011. So this will be the fifth book in ten years. Yeah. Which is crazy when you put it that way. But, yeah, it's a, it's been a pretty fun run. And, the good news is that when you research, and this is true of any kind of creative work, when you research, when you write, when you're doing the work itself reveals, whatever the next work is going to be.

[00:03:19] And so that's been the case for all of my books, is that as I'm researching and writing, I'm discovering things that are like threads. I want to pull, but I can't pull them now; I have to pull them later. Cause they don't have, they don't fit into this book, or they don't fit into this project, whatever it is.

[00:03:33] And so I just set them aside, and that becomes the next thing that I work on. So each book has led to the next, in that way.

[00:03:39] Simon Yost: [00:03:39] Oh, that's great. Cause I think for me, I'm sure there's many themes of your work and your one-liners, "Cover bands don't change the world ," things like that. I remember a lot, but it seems like one of the themes is " How to stay healthy as a create on-demand professional" and then "How to lead teams, so they're healthy". And when I saw the new title, "Motivation Code", it struck me. Oh, like normally, [00:04:00] those type of people have just like this overwhelming drive or intrinsic motivation. And so how'd you come across this idea, to bring the "Motivation Code" into the next work?

Why the topic of motivation?

[00:04:10] Todd Henry: [00:04:10] Yeah. So about four years ago, a friend of mine, Rod Penner, who was a twenty-year veteran of a management consulting firm, contacted me out of the blue. And he had left the management consulting firm years before, but I didn't know what he'd been working on since then. And he said, "Hey, I'd like you to take this motivation assessment I've been working on."

[00:04:27] And, I don't know about you, Simon, but when I hear "assessment", my eyes start to roll in the back of my head, and I think, "Great! I need another set of letters to attach to myself." But listen, I trusted Rod, so I took the assessment, and quite frankly, what I discovered absolutely blew me away.

[00:04:41] Absolutely blew me away! I saw at the end of taking the "M Code Assessment", "Motivation Code Assessment", the reason behind a lot of my decisions I've made in my life, why certain kinds of work energize me, other kinds of work doesn't energize me, even though it's the opposite for many of my peers and my friends.

[00:04:57]New areas of conflict in my life, why they exist and how I might be able to move beyond them. Really, just so many things were laid out in front of me. And I realized at that moment; I wanted to get this work into the world, to let other people experience it as well. There was a small problem, though, and that was that I was already under contract and in the middle of writing my other book called "Herding Tigers" that came out in 2018. I've been working on this book in the background for about four years, working on it with Rod and Dr. Todd Hall and Dr. Joshua Miller, and really pulling this together, and leveraging there over fifty years of research into this topic.

[00:05:29] And, so  finaly, now after four years, the book is ready to be put out in the world where it belongs and "Motivation Code Assessment" is finally gonna be put out there where it belongs, and I'm really excited to see what happens.

What was it like presenting another's research?

[00:05:41] Simon Yost: [00:05:41] Do you feel like - this might be a secret- but do you feel like there's any bits that have leaked out in talks that you've given or things like that throughout the years?

[00:05:51] Todd Henry: [00:05:51] Yeah. For sure that, the funny thing is it's like the fun thing about the whole thing is that while it's based on, as I mentioned over fifty years of research, it began really in the [00:06:00] late 1960s , and was conducted over the course of all that time with top leaders in the industry, really people from all walks of life.

[00:06:08]It's always fun to come in as an contributor and be able to put your own unique spin on it. And what's funny is that even before I was exposed to all of this, I'd written a chapter on motivation in "Herding Tigers", where I talked about three profiles based on the work of another friend of mine, David Wiser, where he had talked about builders, fixtures and optimizers, as three kind of profiles. And the funny thing is that those align really closely with some of the motivational themes that we discovered in "Motivation Code". Yeah, so again, you kinda see that work carrying forward into this book, that some of those themes really continue to apply to this work as well.

[00:06:44] But, but yeah, it's, it's always hard to work on. I struggled to work on multiple big projects at the same time, which is why I put it, I was working on in the background, but I put it on hold until I had locked the manuscript for "Herding Tigers". And then it was full guns blazing from that point on.

[00:06:59]Simon Yost: [00:06:59] Especially with, books are huge projects and there's a lot of threads, so to speak in just one book, let alone. Multiple. I can't even imagine.

[00:07:07] Todd Henry: [00:07:07] Yeah, for sure. And you want to make sure that each book is its own thing. It's its own idea set. You want to make sure that books aren't cannibalizing from one another, that there aren't too many overlaps. And if you're writing multiple books at the same time, you can't help, but have your mind to go in the same direction for both of them.

[00:07:22] And that's just not a good thing. You want to make sure the book is going where it needs to go, not where you needed to go so that you can, so you can actually write it at that moment in time.

[00:07:30] Simon Yost: [00:07:30] Yeah. It's like the opposite of a movie script, like trilogy movie scripts or something, or so.

[00:07:35]Todd Henry: [00:07:35] Exactly.

[00:07:35]Simon Yost: [00:07:35] So I haven't even had the chance to take the "M Code Assessment" yet, but would you mind sharing any takeaways that you had when you took the assessment? Did you notice any changes in your interactions with folks or the way

[00:07:47] Todd Henry: [00:07:47] Yeah. So really, what we've discovered and what the assessment does, is it identifies as twenty-seven unique themes of motivation. And those twenty-seven themes live within six families. So just like [00:08:00] you have similarities with your biological family, right? Like my sister, my biological sister and I have similarities in our DNA.

[00:08:07]You might be able to tell that we're siblings if you saw us together, but we're very different in terms of our personality and how we play out. In the same way, these motivational themes share some DNA with other themes. So we put them into families, but they're very different in terms of how they play out in practice.

[00:08:23]We really focus on the theme level in terms of identifying  what your motivation code is. Your motivation code is our, the motivation code we defined it as your top three to five themes, and how those themes affect you and how they interact with and interplay with one another.

[00:08:39] So my top themes, for example, my very top theme is something that we call "Make an impact", and "Make an impact" means that I am driven to see impact from my work. That's what I really want at the heart of it. So if I don't see the direct impact from the work that I'm doing, then it's hard for me to stay engaged, hard for me to stay motivated.

[00:08:57] So you can imagine in the time of COVID how that's playing out for me right now, where I'm used to speaking on stage in front of thousands of people, and now, all of a sudden, I'm speaking into a camera to people and I can' t see them.I'm like, three or four at a time, if I'm doing it over zoom or something.

[00:09:11]But it's not the same as being in a room with a bunch of people and seeing the tangible impact of my work. So I've had to adapt my expectations and my work to make sure that I am seeing impact because one of the, what we call the shadow side attributes of that motivation, you, every motivation is a gift, but there's also a shadow side, and one of the shadow sides is that sometimes people driven to make an impact, try to make an impact, even more, it's not welcome. So if I don't see the impact of my work, I might start trying to make an impact where I'm not necessarily welcomed. And one way that happens, for example, like if I'm invited into a meeting where I'm just supposed to sit in the back and just audit the meeting or something, I guarantee you within seven minutes, I'm standing at the whiteboard with a marker in my hand, already like mapping out, "Hey, what if we did this?" or "Hey, let's try it!", just because that's such a part of it, of who I am. My number two motivation is what's called "Meet the Challenge", [00:10:00] meaning I like concrete, discreet challenges that allow me to feel like I've overcome something in the short term.So long arc projects, like writing a book, don't challenge me. I don't feel challenged by that because it's such a long arc project. I go looking for short term challenges in the midst of that.

[00:10:18] So I might sit down and crank through my email inbox. And yeah, it really charges me up when I really need to be writing.But the reason I do that is because it feels like a challenge to me to get through my inbox. Versus writing. I'm like, "I've got a year or two", that doesn't feel challenging to me.

[00:10:31]What I've had to do is structure my work so that, even like my book writing is a series of mini challenges. I'll tell myself, "I need to write that five hundred words by 9:30 this morning" in order to make it feel more challenging to me. And once I do, I feel engaged, I feel invested, because I don't like to write. It's not something I enjoy doing, but yeah, but bringing that motivation to my writing reframes it completely. So that's an example of, and then my number three is "Influenced behavior". So I want to see other people, like right now you're nodding as we're speaking, and that like really charges me up because I see that you're kind tracking with me.

[00:11:04] Sometimes people will accuse me. This is part of the shadow side. People will accuse me of saying the same thing over and over, "You've said the same thing five times!" I'm saying, "I know, but I'm just waiting for you." You acknowledge to me that it got through, cause I want to influence behavior.

[00:11:16] That's how I'm wired now. Those are my top three and they all interact with one another. But some people, for example, maybe one of their top three is "Collaborate", meaning that right now, they're really is struggling because they're probably working from home. They're probably not in the team setting very often, and even though they might jump on Zoom, this Zoom call feels very transactional. And so maybe work that once really charged them up, doesn't quite charge them up the same anymore because they're not able to be with other people, or some people are driven by what we call "Serve the serve" motivation. It's really hard to serve people when you're not right next to them, when you're not in proximity to them, and so, some people are being robbed of some of the natural circumstances that lead to [00:12:00] activating those motivations. And so once we understand how we're wired, what it is that drives us, where we get our motivational energy, we can begin to structure our lives and our days and our interactions in a way that activates that motivational energy, and we bring our motivation to our tasks instead of waiting for our tasks to motivate us.

Do writers enjoy writing?

[00:12:30] Simon Yost: [00:12:30] So one of the topics of this podcast we wanted to bring is "charting non-traditional career paths". And I don't think we have time, unfortunately, to go through your whole story, but you said something a minute ago that really struck a chord with me.

[00:12:40] And that is that writing wasn't one of your favorite things to do. And I'm around a lot of people that are just kinda "When I could do", "When I get to this point". And I'm just going to be honest: sometimes I look at you, and you're one of my heroes, and I'm like, "Oh, if I could speak like Todd!". I mean talk about, since you don't like writing, why is it such a big part of what you do?

[00:12:59]Todd Henry: [00:12:59] It's, it is because it's the best way for me to achieve the impact that I so desire. I love speaking because that's a very tangible, concrete thing where I can immediately see the impact of my work, cause I'm speaking directly to people and I can see them reacting to what I'm saying.

Writing is a great way to get ideas into the world...

[00:13:15]But writing is a great way to get ideas into the world. It's a great way for people to digest what you're thinking. And it's really the most concise way to do that. And that is really, it's a vehicle that I chose to achieve the outcome that I want, even though it's not necessarily a task that I enjoy, that I love.

[00:13:33]And so I think sometimes one of the myths that we have in our society is that we wait to find tasks that we think we're going to enjoy all day. And that's what the perfect job is. And I don't believe that's true. I think the perfect job is the job that enables you to achieve the outcome you desire, even if you don't love all the tasks that you have to do all day.

[00:13:51]Yeah, I think that's the very definition of having passion for your job. And while I, listen, and I tell myself this all the time, I don't like to write, but I'm [00:14:00] not out digging ditches or, do, there are a lot of the things and that's, sorry, that's the go-to. I don't, I'm not meaning to disparage digging ditches, but that's the go-to slog work because you have to do it, whether it's hot or cold, or raining or dry, or whatever, like you're out there digging the ditch.

[00:14:13]But in many ways, like that's what it feels like to me when I'm writing. It's "Okay, let's crank it out." I mean, right now, I'm in book launch mode. I'm cranking out articles for all these publications and seven hundred words here, and nine hundred words there, and just on all kinds of topics.

[00:14:27] And, it's not my favorite thing in the world to do, but I realize on the other side of that is going to be impact that I'm going to love. And so that's what keeps me, keeps me moving forward. So we can't fall prey to the idea that the perfect job is a job, but we just enjoy the tasks. We're going to enjoy some of the tasks, of course, and maybe over time we gain more flexibility to really structure our life around just the tasks that we want more and more, but we have to earn that. We have to earn, and nobody has a job where they only get to do what they want to do all day. Instead, we need to look for a job that gives us the ability to have the impact that we want on the other side.

[00:15:00] Simon Yost: [00:15:00] Something else that I'm hearing and, take us in the right direction here, but there's a scale with this impact.  Even the pre-COVID versus now, like I'm in the office all day, and I might have a series, even just a few conversations that might seem to be high impact. Or, when I look back on my day, it might be like, "Oh, this is where I really connected with someone." Or this is where we really pushed the ball forward. When you are saying, "Oh, remind yourself of the impact that your work is going to have", but it's so corporate, it's so big .You're pushing it out to thousands and thousands of people.

Connecting with a big impact.

[00:15:32] What are some of the ways that then you reconnect with that impact?

[00:15:36] Todd Henry: [00:15:36] Yeah. It's really good question. For me, numbers don't really mean a lot, I know the podcast I do is downloaded millions of times a year, and those numbers don't really mean anything. They mean a lot to our advertisers, but they don't really mean a lot to me personally, cause it's not just about numbers, it's about the impact that I'm having through the people who are, for the people who are listening to that. And getting a couple of emails from people saying, "Hey, [00:16:00] here's how your show impacted me" that will keep me charged up for weeks, versus just seeing download numbers go up or just seeing  metrics go up.

[00:16:08] That's fine. But that doesn't really charge me. But what charges me is, on the other side of this is somebody who might be really struggling right now. I just had to talk the other day with somebody from an organization who had invited me to come in and speak to their organization. And this person was saying, "I started listen to your podcast and yeah, I was going through a season where I really needed someone who understood what I was going through. And you were speaking directly to me. And now all these years later, I'm asking you to come speak to the organization that I work for because you were able to help me in that time of need."

[00:16:38] That's huge for me. Like just that number doesn't matter, but just knowing that impact.Now for some people, to get back to "Motivation Code", for some people it's going to be like, let's say I'm a podcaster. I need a team because I'm wired to collaborate, and I want to make sure that whatever I'm doing with other people.

[00:16:55] So for that person it's more about, the collective team effort of putting a podcast into the world, or sharing our ideas with other people. For some people who might be driven to comprehend and express, for them it might be, "I want to learn new things all the time and then share those things with people", and that's what drives them. That's the satisfaction they get. Any number of people could be driven to do the same thing for very different reasons, depending on where they get their motivational energy. Yeah, but for me, it's reconnecting with the personal stories of people who have been impacted by what I'm doing.

COVID Themes

[00:17:26] Simon Yost: [00:17:26] And then, just to touch on COVID a little bit, it seems like you've at least heard from a few practitioners or folks that follow you that are connected with the creative community, over the course of COVID have you heard any themes that have come out, good or bad, of how their world is changing, or how they've had to reframe?

[00:17:43] Todd Henry: [00:17:43] Yeah, I just finished doing a series of live workshops online for people called "Creative Leader Round Table". And the consistent theme was, there's, it's difficult because everything feels transactional right now. Zoom calls feel transactional, it's not like we're in the same space, doesn't feel like we have [00:18:00] relationship. It feels like we're going to get online and do this transaction. And then, yeah, jump off. And so, it's just hard to build any kind of team culture right now. It's hard to create an environment because, and also the other thing to remember is everybody's in different places. Like, some people maybe lost a loved one to all this madness. Some people might be really struggling with a lot of the  justice issues that are going on in our culture right now, and struggling in the way that some other people maybe aren't as much. People have different perspectives on that stuff. We're in the midst of political turmoil. As we're speaking right now, we just found out the president of United States has tested positive for COVID. Everything's coming at us so fast right now, and that it feels like that anxiety is bubbling just beneath the surface all the time. And so, the question becomes, "How do we,how do we structure our lives to ensure that we have the space, the focus, the energy that we need to be able to bring our best work to the table every day?"

[00:18:59] And those rhythms are going to look very different now than they did six months ago , , because we're, I think six months ago, everybody was thinking, "Man, if I could just work from home all the time, that would be awesome. If I could work in my pajamas all day and never had to change and go." And I think a lot of people right now are thinking, "Man, if I could just get in the car and drive to an office and sit at a desk all day and be around people, that would be amazing." It's funny how our perspective has changed now that we're doing this; we realize, "Oh, maybe somewhere in the middle is actually a better solution. Maybe one day at home, a week, or something." But we just, we don't realize how much we need that. And so that's the consistent theme I'm hearing is that the anxiety is, we didn't realize how much it's been stolen from us until we'd been doing this for a while. And I think right now, many people are starting to feel the tension of just the anxiety that's bubbling beneath the surface constantly.

Tips for flowstate at home.

[00:19:51] Simon Yost: [00:19:51] Yeah. I know that a lot of your work talks about rhythms,  and you mentioned that the rhythms are going to change. I've noticed even in my work that, sometimes it's hard to get into [00:20:00] a flow state. Like I just, I'm task-switching more. Have you, I know you've worked from home and stuff for a long time, do you have any tips for bouncing between meetings and stuff like that? How do you frame that up for yourself?

[00:20:12] Todd Henry: [00:20:12] Yeah. Time blocking is the thing to do. Every day I have, I'll show you actually. I've never done this before, but I do it on my iPad, but I've got these little daily plan sheets that I use. You probably can't see that very well, but I use these little plan sheets and you, my days are blocked off fo r different kinds of tasks.

[00:20:31] And I sort of  keep a record of kind of what I'm doing, what my ambitions are for the day, all that kind of stuff , and time blocking is the only way I've found to do that. You have to block time off for the things that matter. So if you want to get into flow state, number one our team has discovered in a lot of its research, that there's a high degree of correlation between operating and your motivation code and experiencing flow, so that's one thing. If you're operating in that core motivation, you're more likely to experience that state of flow, which is incredible. But second, if you want to get into flow, it's going to take time, and space, and focus. So you need to block off chunks of time for doing what Cal Newport calls "deep work", if you want to really get into those states.

[00:21:13] Simon Yost: [00:21:13] Great. Yeah. Do you have anything else you want to talk about the book or anything else that I missed?

[00:21:17] Todd Henry: [00:21:17] No, I just think, the problems we're facing today are not going to be solved by people phoning it in. And so, we need all of us to better understand who we are, what drives us, how we can position ourselves to be ready to deliver at a moment's notice what it is that's required of us.

[00:21:31] And the only way really to do that is to understand what drives you and then to bring that energy through your work every day, instead of waiting for your work to energize you, which is probably not going to happen, unless you understand what it is that really drives you. So that would be, I guess the only other thing I would offer.

[00:21:45] And if you want to learn your motivation code, you can do with or you could read the book "The Motivation Code". Available now.