As part of the new direction on 43 Folders, Merlin Mann recently highlighted this video interview with choreographer Twyla Tharp. In my view, Tharp’s book The Creative Habit is essential reading for anyone who takes their creativity seriously. Her advice is based on years of hard work and stellar creative achievement.
Tharp talks about the classic conflict between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that all successful creators must resolve. (The discussion of motivation starts at 1.07 on the video.)
Intrinsic motivation means you love doing the work for its own sake, regardless of what others think and whether you are rewarded for it. Extrinsic motivation refers to the rewards you can gain from your creative work. Money is the most obvious one, but artists and creatives also yearn for other extrinsic motivations such as fame and recognition:
it is a slippery slope … those who are going after something because they want something else from it – they want recognition, they want reputation, they want glamour, they want money, they want success – instead of just doing the job at hand and seeing whether these things come along with it. It’s about making the dance, in my case, that you’re really curious about and trusting that others will be interested in it and that if it has a sincerity and a truthfulness to it and if you really tried something in it – and guess what? You guessed right! And it has a really wonderful feel to it people will sense that and all this other stuff will come. But if you’re working in the studio for notions that it’s going to engender X dollars – X dollars have nothing to do with making a dance. They do however have to do with paying for the studio, trying to afford the dancers, some kind of income, paying your own bills, so yes it’s a problem.
Tharp is the voice of experience, but you may be interested to know that creativity researchers agree with her – studies have shown that people are usually more creative when focused on intrinsic motivations (absorbed in the work itself) than when they are focused on extrinsic motivations (executing work for a paid commission, or in order to gain status or recognition).
Thanks to Merlin for pointing out the interview. He also draws our attention to a free sample of the first chapter of Tharp’s book The Creative Habit .
You and Your Motivations
Do you recognise the conflict between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations?
How do you put aside the distractions of money, fame etc and stay focused on the work itself?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.