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Human Motivation Lifecycle

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I first realized about this phenomenon on a vision seeking weekend of a volunteers organization I am part of. On the way home understood that it’s actually the same in another organization I am in as well. And thinking about it further it appears to apply also in software development and maybe even everything?


The maybe universal lifecycle of human motivation:

Step #1: Somebody has an new idea (or joins an existing idea), tells somebody else, they do it together for the first time. The project is started! People love it! The feedback is great. This is what the world needed! In the beginning it is:

  • new, exciting, fun, is a learning experience, maybe even improves the world
    (As long as it’s an idea that works – we focus on these here.)

Step #2: After a while people get used to the thing: It’s not so new anymore. The people who do it don’t learn so much anymore and are not so overwhelmed by the responses.

  • It’s not new anymore.
  • learning, fun and excitement decline.
  • The people who do the project as well as the participants get bored slowly, motivation declines. If nothing happens, the project will probably die slowly step by step.

Step #3: BUT, the organizers don’t like to let the project die! So they try to make it more interesting for the audience (and actually also for themselves): Summer edition. Different location. New details here and there. Some surprises. Something that makes the event/product remain somewhat new. – Even though the core concept remains the same.
Usually this works for a while and can definitely make the projects death slower. However more often than not coming up with something new every week isn’t really new anymore after the 10th time.

Step #4: Excitement in general will continue to decline. Usually the organizers of a project will now remember how great it was! Fall in nostalgia sometimes. Want to bring this greatness back. They still think the original thing was great and try to keep doing it. Or at work, their company tells them to keep doing it. Anyway, now many people appear to come up with ways to collect more motivation!

  • add external motivation: Combine it with hanging out with friends. Get some monetary compensation. Use the cool new geek tool to do it. Basically add something interesting to increase the overall motivation level, so they can be happy again doing it. Or in other words: Find an excuse why they can keep doing it, even though it’s not so thrilling anymore.
  • add a vision: Another thing that happens at this stage is the search for a vision, for a broader picture. Find some bigger goal where the current thing is only a step towards. Basically this is „inventing“ some additional reason to do the project.
  • new ideas: Often people also come up with some new ideas what they want to do. And as they still want to support the original project, they try to do it under the umbrella of that project. This can be good as then this new idea will be interesting, exciting, fun and everything again. But it can also be bad if the new idea is too far off from the original project, so the project looses focus and many of the other members cannot relate to the new idea anymore.
    The other option is that the new idea is executed outside the original project and the person is lost.



Watch movies together at home.

  • #1: NEW: Wow! A great idea! It’s like going to a cinema, but cheaper. And there are so many interesting movies to watch!
  • #2: GETTING USED: Ok, it’s friday again. What is it tonight? Hangover 3? I already didn’t like Hangover 2 …
  • #3: KEEP IT INTERESTING: Let’s vote for the movie. Come dressed up matching the movie. Have somebody telling upfront what is so special about this movie. Make „best movies of the 60s“ month. etc.
    • External: Invite new people every time. Watch movies in Spanish to improve the Spanish level in addition to seeing the movie. Cook some good food together before the movie. First do the knitting meeting and then watch the movie. The host gets 20 Euros for organizing the event.
    • Vision: Sit together and discuss and develop a vision: Bring humans out of their isolation at home! Live together as community!
    • new ideas: Shoot a movie ourselves!



First of all I was very surprised that we humans take care a lot of our motivation to do something without even noticing! I like that! 🙂
Second, I think it is interesting to understand that this is actually something common with many projects, organizations, etc. So we don’t need to be surprised if it happens to us. We can even assist in the different stages!
And this is where it gets interesting: We can influence what is happening. We can do some steering!

It’s worth to mention that not everybody is always at the same stage of the process. Some just joined and find everything very new and exciting while others need a strong vision to keep doing it. And even others have probably already left the project.
Actually this entire topic is just about managing of human motivation!

Some thoughts on what we can do:

  • Ensure steps happen: Start with „keep it interesting“ early so people can stay in the initial stage for a long time.
  • Address the different individuals differently: Let beginners remain in the initial stages as long as they want and have already bored people get special tasks (new for them) or let them develop a vision. And then let them find new ideas which also support the vision. And probably branch them out if they get away too much from the core of the project.
  • Also new people will usually start at step #1, so make sure that there are always new people joining the organization. And make sure that they get into doing things! Make pairs of experienced people and new people. In the method of Dragon Dreaming they focus on giving a task to somebody who WANTS to do it, no matter if they know how to do it or not. Whereas people who know how to do it but don’t want to do it are only consultants on the topic.
  • Note that remembering the good old times is something the new ones cannot relate to and are more likely scared off by – in addition to probably feeling excluded. Maybe rather do a brain storming on what to do in the future, than thinking about the past to much.
  • As an old organizer give trust to the people and give the idea into the organization. Allow people to transform the organization and even empower them to do so. This way they develop responsibility for it.
  • Probably last but not least: Repeatedly take a few steps out of the daily business and take a look at the different parts and individuals and how everything is running. What is running well and what needs attention. Then take action.

Alright, so far from my side for today.
Have an eye open in your world and let me know if you have some more thoughts on this!
And good luck with all your projects! 🙂