The Three E's of Inspiration

Posted by Sean Flaherty on December 11, 2015 in categoryStrategy

Inspired people are unstoppable. They are the foundation of success. Companies with inspired customers are the most difficult to compete with because those who are inspired are also educated, engaged, and empowered by your interactions with them. They will follow you anywhere. The question is: how do you get your customers to this level of inspiration?

The Self Determination Theory is a formula for leadership in action consisting of three components. It is a method for inspiring the best results from those whom you lead; Great leaders innately encompass all three aspects of the formula and inspire those who follow them. The very best leaders are those able to create the language and instill the passion to accomplish these three factors for large populations of people.

In health care, the Self Determination Theory (SDT) is a well-established and tested model for human motivation and behavior change.

A brief search on PubMed, as of December 11th, 2015, brings up 2,278 results for studies that discuss or reference the “Self Determination Theory" in some way. When you read through the core research and discover the formula for the creation of intrinsic motivation, it is easy to see how powerful this theory might be if you could apply it to your business. 

At its core, the theory is founded on evidence that there are three primary factors that produce sustainable behavior change in people. The more you can reinforce these three factors, the more likely you are to impact their decisions. This concept can be applied to business problems that involve people in micro-interactions, just as well as over long-term periods. In fact, one could argue that the more you think about and execute improving qualities throughout the lifecycle of any human interactions, the more impactful and sustainable the results will be. 

The three components of the Self Determination Theory are Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.

  • Autonomy is the power of free will. Humans do not like to feel as though they are being controlled. In fact, they will often make counter-intuitive decisions, and even some that are detrimental to themselves, if they feel as though they are being controlled or manipulated. Autonomy is recognizing and honoring people's need to have choices, and for those choices to be their own.
  • Competence is the power of personal knowledge. It is “knowing” vs “thinking” and truly being able to construct or create that knowledge for themselves. Competence is the art of making the knowledge their own by communicating “why, in a way that resonates."
  • Relatedness is the power of connectedness to self. The more something is related to someone personally, the more likely they are to try it on and ultimately connect to it. Relatedness is helping people see, to the greatest degree possible, why it is relevant to them, as well as what is in it for them. Relatedness is emotional intelligence in action. 

If you simply apply any one of the three components of Self Determination Theory to a business problem, you will have a significant impact on the result. However, if you combine any two components you will get even better results. The combinations of these different components will ultimately result in what is called the Three E’s, which upon implementation, can help lead to an inspired user.

  • Empowerment: Autonomy and Competence together create an environment of empowerment. Empowering people to make educated choices is lofty and an important part of the formula. However, it is missing relatedness. If you spend the energy to understand your audience and tweak your delivery to more closely relate to them (think education level, language nuance, localization in software), you will move them toward inspiration.
  • Engagement: Autonomy and Relatedness together create an environment of engagement. Relating to people in a way that engages them is also an important part of the formula. However, it is missing competence. If you create the language to help people understand and connect to the “why” and make it their own, you will move them closer to being inspired.
  • Education: Relatedness and Competence together create an environment of education. Educating people is always an important goal and doing it in a way that relates to them will improve your success (i.e. teaching history to a teenager at the high school level vs. the PhD level). But without choice, teaching feels reminiscent of the education systems many have grown up with; Lecturers stand on a podium and indoctrinate us with facts, but without much relatable dialog or choice. Simply recognizing that people have free choice, and finding the right language to honor that, will greatly improve your chances of inspiring them.

Thus, if you figure out the right balance of all three components, you have the best chances of creating sustainable, inspired results in any human interaction. You will find people that are intrinsically motivated to become an advocate for your cause, whether it is a team that you are leading or a product that you are building. Using this formula will help you create a clear and executable path for product innovation that will impact your ecosystem in profound ways by moving the needle on education, engagement, and empowerment, ultimately leading to inspiration.