I’m not convinced that motivations are well understood, least of all by me. You see, I was taught in economics that perfectly rational people will respond to a set of incentives in a perfectly rational way. While I’m sure that that makes sense in a textbook, and of course for the graphs and models which derive from that axiom, it doesn’t make sense as a framework through which to observe life nor make decisions regarding the advancement of it.

And so comes forth the challenge of understanding what motivates.

Since a large-scale operation to discover isn’t an option, I found it most pertinent to find the answer in myself. Instead of comically interviewing myself on the subject however, I’ve been looking for others ideas of motivation to see if it is something to which I can subscribe.

It lead me to an article on Steve Newcomb’s blog about building a cult culture at a startup. Steve Newcomb was the founder of Powerset which is now a part of Bing.com. This paragraph here really got me:

The best way to prove to yourself, potential investors and to any potential future employees that you have a killer idea, is to get a number of A-level engineers to join full-time with equity-only deals.

Would I ever do an equity-only deal? That’s a pretty awesome question. Does that mean that the idea motivates you so much you know it’s going to succeed? Or is it that the money you make is irrelevant in the short term versus the ability to cash out in the long term? Does it mean committing to a project for 2-3 years to vest enough of the equity such that if there is a liquidation event then it’s all worth it?

One million and one questions flew through my mind in an instant. And I came back to the original which was, “Would I ever take an equity-only deal?”

I quickly realized that the answer was no. Not because I’d want money instead of the equity, that’s not the problem. I think the problem is that the motivation doesn’t come from the expected result, but by the journey that gets me there. Having the equity doesn’t give me the power to control, in some shape or form, the journey. I know that no end result is guaranteed, but I do know that I have to get from point A today to some point unknown in the future, and that I want to enjoy it while I go down that path.

Nonetheless, there was much more in this article to glean from, and so I’ll return to it tomorrow. Maybe the answer lies here, but really what the answer isn’t lies here, and the answer lies somewhere else.