What’s the secret behind entrepreneurial drive?

What’s the secret behind entrepreneurial drive?

On March 31, Elon Musk unveiled the latest chapter in Tesla’s master plan – its most affordable electric car, the Model 3. The following week, his SpaceX venture made history by landing the Falcon 9 rocket on a floating drone ship at sea.

Many would be satisfied with just one of these achievements. So what is it about entrepreneurs that drives them to reach stretching goals and endlessly strive to deliver more?

Entrepreneurial individuals gravitate toward enterprising and creative activities, and to some degree social ones. This is clear. But the research is counter-intuitive. In a recent study, highly driven entrepreneurs viewed their businesses as vehicles for self-esteem (their overall sense of self-worth) and self-actualisation (the realisation of their potential). Those displaying lower entrepreneurial drive viewed their firms as vehicles for providing basic financial needs. A sense of personal purpose trumps financial gain.

Even more surprising, perhaps, is the recent theory that the motivations of entrepreneurs develop dynamically and interactively with other aspects of their lives – their career, household and business life courses. So rather than a fixed attribute, ‘entrepreneurial drive’ is something that adapts and changes with time.

Entrepreneurial leaders like Musk tend to have a sense of purpose that works on three levels: by seeing the outcome of their work (in this case Tesla’s first electric car for a mainstream audience), by contributing towards something they couldn’t achieve alone (Musk is a tech entrepreneur, not an automotive engineer or rocket scientist) and by making the world a better place (Musk’s ambition for a sustainable global energy future).

But the chasm between the entrepreneur and the average US worker’s sense of purpose is reaching worrying levels. YouGov stats reveal 24% of US workers don’t think their work is meaningful, and a further 17% aren’t sure. If people don’t think their work makes a difference to themselves or anyone else, how can we expect them to be motivated to lean in and to always give their best?

Looking again at these three levels of purpose, you don’t have to be pioneering commercial space ventures to find a sense of purpose at work. The opportunity to have a meaningful job is available to us all. Organisations can help their employees to feel their work matters more – and thereby increase performance – by finding purpose through these three aspects:

Task purpose: I can see the fruits of my labour. My efforts lead to progress, and no work is futile.

Collective purpose: I’m contributing towards something I couldn’t achieve alone. Having a strong sense of contributing to a team effort motivates me to dig deeper and perform better.

Social purpose: My work has a wider impact and it matters beyond my immediate workplace.

Research shows that people are increasingly driven and motivated by work that has a positive impact. In a study of 1726 US employees, 58% of US workers would take a 15% pay cut to do work which is aligned with their personal values. It’s easy to think that social purpose is the preserve of the lucky few who are saving children in need or resolving conflict. It doesn’t have to be. We can find this wider purpose in most places, if we look through the right lens. One way to help people find meaning in what they do is to connect them with the person, initiative or community they positively impact.

The more we consider our own sense of purpose the better we will perform and ultimately the more satisfied we will all be.

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