When in doubt, (don’t) follow the money

People need to understand motivation in order to make sense of a story. When we see a person or a business take action, our first move is to try to figure out their motivation. The why. The what’s in it for them.

We want to know why someone is acting the way they are. Your customers or your friends or your investors or your boss want to know what makes you tick.

And the reflex explanation is: money.

He works a ton of hours, but that’s because he gets paid so much.

A going out of business sale? Oh, they’re in pain, so I get to save money.

He recommended that book, but that’s because he got a kickback from Amazon.

She wants me to buy that service because she works on commission.

Of course, in a few cases, this is exactly the correct explanation. Except it almost always isn’t.

People don’t volunteer long hours at the museum or at an online forum for the money. There isn’t any.

People don’t work nights and weekends at some jobs because they have to… they have colleagues that get paid just as much who work less.

I smiled a bit when I saw a few posts from people who suggested I started the Triiibe group as some sort of grand scheme to sell books. I’ve gotta tell you, there are far easier ways to sell a few thousand copies of a book than to build and run an online community.

No, people (most people) don’t do things only for money. There’s usually a minimum threshold that gets someone to pick a job and stick with it, but beyond that, the things we do are expressions of who we are and what we love and the impact we wish to make, not selfish acts designed to earn a few extra bucks. (No one paid you to read this post, I bet).

All other things being equal, people pick what pays the best. All other things being equal, people buy the cheapest one. Fortunately for marketers, all other things are rarely equal. People don’t all sign up to work at Goldman Sachs. Most of the meaning and activity in our lives comes from the things we do for free, or the choices we make about work, not the financial exchanges we do to support ourselves.

Next time you catch yourself following the money, it’s worth another look. Follow the non-money first.