Why is it important to motivate achievement?

Organizational psychologists help motivate employees and keep them engaged. But what motivates any of us to pursue high standards or difficult goals?

Henry Murray

Think of someone you know who seems driven to be the best—to excel at any task where performance can be judged. Now think of someone who is less driven. For psychologist Henry Murray (1938), the difference between these two people is a reflection of their achievement motivation.

If you score high in achievement motivation, you have a desire for significant accomplishment, for mastering skills or ideas, for control, and for meeting a high standard.Achievement motivation matters. Just how much it matters was demonstrated in a study that followed the lives of 1528 California children. The children all scored in the top 1 percent on an intelligence test. Forty years later, researchers compared those who were most and least successful professionally. The most successful were ambitious, energetic, and persistent.

As children, these highly motivated individuals had enjoyed more active hobbies. As adults, they participated in more groups and preferred playing sports over watching sports {Goleman,1980).

Other studies of both high school and college students have also found motivation-based differences. Self-discipline,not intelligence score, has been the best predictor of school performance, attendance, and graduation honors. "Discipline outdoes talent," concluded researchers.

Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman(2005). For example, by their early twenties,top violinists have fiddled away 10,000 hours of their life practicing. This is double the practice time of other violin students aiming to be teachers (Ericsson & others, 1993, 2001).
Similarly, a study of outstanding scholars, athletes, and artists found that all were highly motivated and selfdisciplined. They dedicated hours every day to the pursuit of their goals (Bloom, 1985). These achievers became superstars through daily discipline, not just natural talent. Great achievement, it seems, mixes a teaspoon of inspiration with a gallon of perspiration.

Duckworth and Seligman have a name for this passionate dedication to an ambitious, long-term goal: grit. Intelligence scores and many other physical and psychological traits can be displayed as a bell-shaped curue. Most scores cluster around an average, and fewer scores fall at the two far ends of the bell shape. Achievement scores don't follow this pattern.

And that is why organizational psychologists seek ways to engage and motivate ordinary people to be superstars
in their own jobs.

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