Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
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99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2018 Brian Remer
Updated Dec. 2017

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

January 2018

Please Go Practice:
Motivate with Trust, Choice, and Feedback

Some say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. If that's true, why would anyone start? How does anyone get beyond the enormity of that number? There must be some secret that drives an individual to work that hard. Learn about hidden motivators and lead a discussion about them with your team. Use the 99-Word Story, discussion questions, and interpretation in this issue of 99's on the 9th.

Please Go Practice!
When we tell our daughter it's time to practice the clarinet, she reluctantly makes several trips to bring her music, instrument, music stand, and chair all the way down from her room to the living room where her mother and I are sitting. I couldn't figure out this behavior. Why not practice in her room?

When I read the work of psychologist Edward Deci I finally got it. Who wants to be all alone while doing something they didn't choose and can't do well? The three keys to intrinsic motivation had been missing: relationships, autonomy, competence!



You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.


There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

Motivate with Trust, Choice, and Feedback
Whether playing the clarinet, mastering tennis, coding a computer, or assessing a financial spreadsheet, learning any new skill is difficult for many reasons. It's not just the knowledge base that must be established. There is muscle memory to engrain, procedures and best practices to navigate, and the ability to respond to contextual situations in real time. No wonder it takes a reported 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill!

What does it take to begin that long road toward mastery?

Intrinsic motivation is critical. No amount of carrots and sticks will compel a young person to become the next star jazz clarinetist or Wimbledon champion. There must be an inner drive, an intrinsic satisfaction.

Matt Richter, leadership consultant and motivation specialist with the Thiagi Group, once told me that competence was probably the most critical intrinsic motivator. He explained that it's difficult to take the second step - and any future steps - in a learning process if one hasn't experienced at least a smidgen of competence in one's first step.

Somehow, the individual must receive enough feedback about their performance to feel good about what they have done. Perhaps that takes the form of a sense of delight in hearing the notes they played. Perhaps they are surprised at their ability to hit the ball over the net and in bounds. Maybe their instructor shared an insightful observation about their technique. Maybe a coach compared their serve to that of a star player.

Because much of this sense of competence is internal, we may never know exactly what's going on for the learner. But that makes the role of the teacher, trainer, or coach that much more critical. The instructor must establish a positive relationship with the learner. The two need to care about each other, at least a bit, but, more importantly, they need to trust one another. The instructor trusts that their student takes the lessons seriously. The student trusts that the instructor wants them to succeed.

I believe this trust can be established by instructors when they emphasize the other two intrinsic motivators.

When instructors focus on autonomy by offering choices about a lesson, students gain a modicum of control in an uncertain situation. Certainly there are best practices about how to teach anything. We all live with constraints but there also are always alternatives about when, how, where, or how long a lesson is taught. Perhaps the student can make some of those choices.

When instructors focus on competence by offering feedback that is specific, and identifies a positive outcome, students gain insight about what they can improve. Certainly students will take actions that are wrong and must be corrected to avoid creating bad habits or even injuring themselves. But when instructors help students identify and augment what they are doing well, students see their own progress. They become motivated to discover and improve their weak points later.

You may be an instructor, team leader, or parent but as long as you are interested in the development of other people, as long as you want to see them fulfill their potential for productivity, you can take advantage of the intrinsic motivators - relationships, autonomy, and competence - to boost their skill level.

But don't wait for them to drag all their paraphernalia into your "living space". Build trust, offer choices, give meaningful feedback.

For More Information:
Why We Do What We Do by Richard Deci and Richard Flaste, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995, ISBN 0-339-14047-6.

Matthew Richter can be reached at matt(at)thiagi.com


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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