Episode 3

Published on:

4th Nov 2020

Ep.003 - Intrinsic Motivation and the Jiujitsu Point - Sharath Jeevan

[00:00:00] Sharath: There's always what I'd call a jujitsu point in a system, right? Where there's a role. There's a kind of person in the system who is very close to tipping, right. They really want a better outcome on the motivation side. But something is conspiring against them.

Clement: Today we speak to Sharath Jeevan, one of the world's leading experts on how to practically re-ignite the inner drive or intrinsic motivation in our lives.

He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Roehampton University for his contribution to the field in 2017, was elected an Ashoka Fellow in 2014 and was recognized as one of the United kingdom's 10 leading social entrepreneurs in 2019.

But when it comes to his work in deeply understanding intrinsic motivation, he gained firsthand experience through funding STiR Education in [00:01:00] 2012. STiR is the world's largest initiative to improve interest stigmatization, specifically in education. It now supports 35,000 schools today across India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. That basically equates to 200,000 teachers and 6 million children with a better understanding of their own motivation in life.

Sharath: Social entrepreneurship is a prime example. We're almost weaned away from intrinsic motivation and trained to really do things because there's something at the end.

Clement: What's especially interesting about Sharath's story is his experience as an entrepreneur himself. Prior to starting STiR, he held a senior corporate role at eBay, and then launched his own startup, a social network platform called ContactDetails.com -- this was before the Facebook era!

[00:02:00] Here to dive deeper into the connection between intrinsic motivation and entrepreneurship, is Sharath Jeevan.

Laura: What is intrinsic motivation? What is the definition for you of what that is? Because I think those two words, intrinsic motivation just seems to encapsulate so much of the work that you do and, and, and who you are. And I just would love to hear what you have to say around that definition.

Sharath: Thanks, Laura. And yeah, I think for me that the real definition of intrinsic motivation is about doing something...really because it's inherently rewarding and fulfilling in its own right. Not because of the external reward or status or money or any other kind of benefit you receive from pursuing that thing. So it's kind of doing something for its own sake, in a nutshell.

And it sounds very simple, but I think in, in many areas of our life, and I think social entrepreneurship is a prime example, [00:03:00] we're almost weaned away from intrinsic motivation and trained to really do things because there's something at the end. I think that's my sort of mission in life, if you like, is to try and change that balance our lives and see if we can...see if we can challenge ourselves as people, as societies, as organizations to rethink that and apply that to how we live and work really more generally.

Laura: And why do you think it's so hard to align this motivation with the actual work that we do or our everyday lives? And, and I mean, I think that that's a challenge that so many of us face.

Why do you think it is such a challenge?

Sharath: Yeah, I think what we've done a lot of, in many areas of life stories, Laura, is we've sort of confused what motivation thinking would call the true motivators, right? And with what it would call hygiene factors. So hygiene factors, that's a strange name, but it's really something where basically if that thing is not there, it will demotivate you.

Right. So let's say, you know, Uh, decent working [00:04:00] conditions, right? If you're an office where you can't hear, you don't have space to put your laptop down, if people constantly disturbing you, that's clearly going to be a big de-motivator. But one of the really interesting things that motivation theory suggests is that that same thing will not deeply motivate you.

Right? So we've seen this right right now with COVID where, you know, we've seen, for example, many tech companies invest in these really gleaming campuses that look beautiful. They are beautiful. The free lunches, the cafeteria has the gourmet chefs and bizarrely...when you talk to most tech workers, they don't miss those campuses that much.

And so it says a lot. I think again, you need to make sure that you cover for these hygiene factors. Pay is another example, but... just constantly increasing pay is unlikely to make you deeply fulfilled and motivated at the same time. So it's just trying to separate what really deeply motivates us from what deeply de-motivates us and understanding the difference there is really critical.

Laura:  That's so interesting. [00:05:00] I didn't, I didn't even think to examine the fact that there might be these two facets to motivation even in my own life. And as you said, I think during this pandemic it's really shone light on, you know, the very separate... uh, those, those two types of, as you called them hygiene....

remind me again?

Sharath:  Hygiene factors. Yeah.

Laura: Hygiene Factors. Yeah. I can see those clearly already. What are, when you think of these two facets to motivation, is there a way to hack that? I mean, I'm always looking for hacks, but is there a way to really, almost try to spearhead more holistic motivation in life, where it really brings you forward and not just, you know, keep you steady.

Is there a way to hack that?

Sharath: Yeah. So a lot of the work I'm doing is really thinking about how we can try to hack that basically in different areas of our lives, not just hack, but also deeply kind of reconfigure, I think, using that tech wording as well. A lot of the research over the last three decades has shown that three things really matter in terms of intrinsic motivation.

[00:06:00] One is a sense of purpose. Um, the second is a, is a sense of autonomy. The third is a sense of mastery. So PAM, if you want an easy acronym. And... purpose, I think, is probably the most interesting one and the one that probably is most important in the social entrepreneurship space, of course. And I define purpose really very simply about, you know, can you see how what you're doing, if it's a work context in work, how it really helps and serves others?

And it's really interesting how much of modern work today, you know, even as a social entrepreneur, it almost conspires against creating a sense of purpose, right? It's very difficult in organizations to really understand how, what you as an individual do ultimately helps someone else.

You know, if you can hack that link and make that a stronger link for the person to see it is a very, very deep source of motivation that will sustain and probably grow over time as well.

Laura: It's so hard because it's, I mean, manufacturing purpose seems [00:07:00] an impossible... it seems like an impossible thing to do.

And if it's such an important part of that equation, and, and I agree that probably the most interesting part of that equation. I've always been curious, you know, how do I, even in my own life, how do I ensure that I am fixed on that purpose and that I at least cultivate that purpose in the things that I do?

And sometimes I really do feel like it's a hard... it's almost a hard job to find it sometimes. And I know in all the work that you've done, I mean, you've worked with children. You've worked with, you know, organizations, individuals, social entrepreneurs. Do you find there's a difference in, I guess maybe in, in the age that we are when we discover our purpose or even in the types of roles that we have, is there a difference between, you know, all of these different groups you've worked with when it comes to identifying purpose and really, and really being able to, to work with that?

Versus, you know, I've known there's periods of my life when I feel like I've had no purpose. Is that completely ad hoc and random, or is there a pattern to finding [00:08:00] that purpose?

Sharath:  Really great question, Laura. So. I think what I've seen is that most of us start any kind of job or career with some intrinsic sense of purpose.

Right? I mean, so let's take teachers as an example. Most teachers do go into teaching with some sense of, you know, I'm here to help change a child's life. Right. But we are incredibly good in our systems that are work systems of putting barriers in front of people that obscures, that, that deep sense of purpose.

So in a teacher's example, you'll find that, you know, they're often told... they often feel they're accountable to the ministry or the bureaucracy, they're part of, right. So they're told to cover the syllabus, for example, irrespective of what the child is actually understanding, what the learning or not.

And so very quickly, they move away from being a, sort of an agent for change to being an agent of the state. And it completely shifts their mind from what they're there to do. And it's really [00:09:00] difficult to bring it back. And, you know, my work over the last nine years with STiR education has been to try and see if we can rekindle that.

And I think we can. I'll be working this year with about 200,000 teachers and about 35,000 schools and reigniting their intrinsic motivation. But it was a battle because the system was so... most education is so, so, so designed against that. So I think there's that in every career, I'm happy to talk more about social entrepreneurship in a second, but I do think there's something in all of us that, that want that purpose and often has it to begin with.

It's not an individual thing. It's much more about how do we configure the system, the culture, the organization around us to rekindle that purpose and reframe work so that purpose comes to the fore and it's not just hidden away in the background.

Laura: That's a really, really interesting point, connecting purpose to almost systems redesign in some sense. I often, you know, at The Spaceship, we're talking a lot to entrepreneurs and, and, and, and reminding them and reminding [00:10:00] ourselves that to change the system, sometimes it just requires... it doesn't necessarily have to, require a...an innovation at global scale. Sometimes it's the smallest part of the systems that can make an exponential change happen and an exponential shift happen.

My follow up question to this cause it's really, I had no idea that this would be part of this conversation, but the question that comes to mind is at what point do you take the challenge of looking at a... like you said in education, an entire system that is working against these teachers.

At what point do you see it as an opportunity to almost link your motivation too, and at what point do you maybe have to pivot and potentially give up? I keep thinking of, you know, these entrepreneurs that I've spoken to in the last week for this podcast and others, where we talked a lot about, you know, finding that moment where you realize, okay, it might be time to shift gears.

And yet we sometimes have such a strong motivation that we don't want to. We don't want to [00:11:00] give up this idea, this view, this understanding that we have and when it's to shift entire system, I can't imagine even with, you know, these teachers and education, at what point do you feel like that... where's the limit? Where's the limit to that?

Sharath: Yeah. I honestly think there, there isn't a limit. I think it's more of a, how smart we can understand motivations of different actors and in systems, Laura. And I think, um, let me take it from the system point of view first, then we can talk about maybe the social entrepreneur, what motivates them and, obviously I'm a social entrepreneur myself, and, you know, thought about these things myself and suffered many of these same challenges. But on the system side, what we, what I've learned over the years is that there's, there's always what I've called a jujitsu point in a system, right?

Where there's a, there's a role, there's a kind of person in the system who is very close to tipping, right. They really want a better outcome on the motivation side. But something is conspiring against them. So let me just give an example in education. What we found was that, of course, teachers often were [00:12:00] very cynical, very de-motivated to start with, but our jiujitsu point was the person who supervised teachers and systems.

They were people who often were given responsibility for running and overseeing, say 15 schools and in a state in India, or maybe 20, 30 schools in a country like Uganda, What we learned about those people was that there was almost no recognition for their roles, right? They were being paid by the government and they were, they were often recruited through quite... fairly rigorous selection processes, with the sell that they would go and support other teachers to become better.

Right. They were often teachers themselves, at least the best ones were often...had done it themselves. But what happened is the reality of the job, you know, they have, they came in with this kind of intrinsic motivation, but the reality of the job has nothing to do with, with improving things for teachers.

It was basically a reporting role, right. To make sure data was shared back with the central ministry. So we know they would spend their day is going school to school, or sometimes on WhatsApp checking where the toilets were [00:13:00] built or whether midday meals were being served. Right. And these are important things, I'm not trying to play them down, but that's not what motivated them to go into these roles. Right.

So I'm just thinking, how do we try and harness their motivation? What was nice is there was a really powerful point of leverage because that one individual was probably indirectly supporting about 200 teachers, typically.

So, if you could work with one and change them, you're going to change 200 teachers, probably about four or five thousand lives, very quickly. So we started to create a program, a way of working with them, supporting them, motivating them to reimagine their role. And now, you know, we're working with thousands of those types of individuals, and many of them are really heroic and inspiring ones, across about 35,000 schools, now.

And so, yeah, it's often finding where's that, that point where the person really wants to be re-energized they have a lot of influence in a system and there's a nodal effect [00:14:00] where that person immediately then transmits energy below them. But also what we realized is they would also transmit energy up. So their supervisors or managers are often in districts.

They started to take notice and attention, and we ended up being able to work with them and change their mindsets and motivation. And so really by creating those strong relationships all the way through a system, through strong role modeling, we could really shift how the whole system behaved and functioned and behaved culturally as well.

Laura: It's so revolutionary actually, because you know, you describing these positions, you know, these individuals who, who might've gone to school in education, and really had this passion for education, almost climbing the ladder in a sense, and getting into these supervisor roles, removes... it brings you so far from the so called beneficiaries or, you know, the students themselves.

And yet these are oftentimes, you know, if we think of the meritocracy of so many of our systems, [00:15:00] those who rise above will enter these roles that remove them from what made them rise above in the beginning, right, what really influenced them to go into this space.

So ,it's so... I actually think this point of view is so revolutionary in so many senses, because if we don't start doing that, I guess the flip side of the coin is that more and more, you will have this almost this disconnect. I mean, I know individuals who no longer even want to go into education because of the status quo.

Um, and so. We're we're seeing more and more teachers who are burnt out or don't even enjoy being there, or kind of have lost their sense of, of direction. And, and like you said, the impact of that, how many students will be taught by a teacher like that? And what is the impact of that? I think that's really, really interesting.

So you mentioned 35,000 schools. I do want to get to, you know, you yourself, you've been a social entrepreneur, you were recognized as one of the UK is 10 leading social entrepreneurs in 2019. So you have a strong tie to [00:16:00] that space as well. And before we leave this topic of the school systems, I, I am just curious though, you know, in working with teachers and with students as well, do you think that we have, when it comes to, you know, intrinsic motivation from our childhood or from, you know, our school times.

Have you noticed anything when it comes to comparing, you know, motivations that students might have at the beginning of life versus much later on or when, when you entered the workforce? I'm just wondering if there's anything that's come out from your work in that space.

Sharath: Yeah, no, I think we're really... Um, it's a sort of human tragedy, I think, because I think we're really not preparing young people for the world they're going to be facing, right, when they come out. In every sense. I think part of this is that we've tried to reduce education to a set of numbers, of numerical targets.

And those are important. We need some basics forms of accountability. But what has happened, I think we've sort of made those numbers of things that are measurable... it's a bit like, you know, Mark Twain and he talked about the trunk and the [00:17:00] lamppost, right. That, uh, you know, the lampposts are good for support, but rarely for illumination.

And I think there's a, a parallel here because what we can measure in education to this point... often it doesn't really capture the full richness of the human experience. And I think a lot of what education needs to be about is about how we help kids to learn to learn. And to love the process of learning. So they can adapt to whatever life throws at them.

And it's such a simple concept, but almost everything we're doing in education is moving against that direction. We're doing, you know, overloading a lot of content on people, we're trying to go for more and more standardized tests, we're trying to make curriculum much more homogenous. And so I think it is destroying the intrinsic motivation of young people.

And I think we're also, um, labeling kids very, very early in their school careers and putting them into boxes, that really, rather than actually unleash them and allow them to reach their potential, it's putting them into cages, really, where we're [00:18:00] actually limiting options rather than opening up for them.

So I don't think what we're doing in education is, is right at all. I, I, I've been very proud of the work I've been doing over the last nine years within education to try and change that working with governments. And I think we're starting to see some pretty exciting signs that you can change this culture.

My big regret, I guess honestly, is that I wish I'd had this conversation with governments, with parents and with employers. Because I've come to realize that as an educationalist, you can only do so much, you know. A lot of the education system is beholden to what parents think is important and what employers think is important.

And I think it's the conversation between, you know, our systems of education, our governments, our employees, and our parents, along with teachers, of course, that is going to really create the space for, uh, different ways of, of running education. I think as well, long term.

Laura: Yeah. All the various stakeholders that I guess change over time, I mean, if you look at education, historically, I [00:19:00] guess a lot of those stakeholders have shifted and how much parents have become more involved or less involved, depending on the times. You mentioned something really interesting, you know, just like, you know, just the testing that happens in education, you know, can you benchmark, obviously your reading skills, your math skills, all of these things that were placed in forcefully when we're pursuing our early education, can you benchmark something like passion or motivation?

I often think of this also coming back to, as we segue to this discussion around entrepreneurship, there's so many books, there's so much content around. What's the alchemy of a successful entrepreneur. You know, what time do they wake up in the morning? What are the foods that they eat? What apps do they use to keep themselves on track?

But can we actually put a dataset on motivation just as we've been trying to, you know, put data sets on everything when we come out of school and, and all the aspects of our learning. Is that possible? Is that being done or is it completely [00:20:00] superfluous to even think about that?

Sharath: You know, I think some, some, some core measures are really important.

So, so it's still, what we started to do is measure things like, is the child engaged in their learning? Are they feeling safe in the classroom? Are they curious? Are they thinking critically? Are they self-confident? These are all direct outcomes, if you like, of intrinsic motivation. Right. And we also look to try to measure elements of intrinsic motivation directly and how they behave.

I think it's actually great to do that. It's good to keep everyone on track. And also some accountability is important. What was really important is that we kept these measures very simple. So they take, you know, seconds to do not hours to do, to collect a single data point, because what would happen is in, if you're, if you're thinking about working in 35,000 schools, very quickly, most of the time, the people we actually train will be spent measuring things, not actually doing things to improve motivation.

So, yes, I think there are ways... it's taken us awhile because these things are new instruments, new ways of thinking. And I hope with what... we're working out with the motivation that I'm creating with intrinsic labs, we can do more in many sectors to build [00:21:00] those measures. But I think it's really important those measures are proportionate and all focused on improvement.

 I think the big challenge with education is we view education with this kind of scarcity mindset, right? It's about sorting people. There are only so many good jobs out there. Education's role is to sort people into some kind of meritocracy that.... so some people can get those jobs.

Now, whether we want to say that explicitly or not, that's been the paradigm that we've all been taught to think about. I'd love us to move to an abundance mindset where the jobs of the future are gonna be ones that we create. Right. And we don't know what those are going to be.

How do we unleash everyone's potential and create this world where, you know, a whole set of diverse talents can be realized. And I think we've seen with Black Lives Matter, MeToo, you know, real crisis of society saying they want to be part of, of progress. They don't want to be...left behind. I think we've got...education's got to respond to that.

Laura: Yeah, I think, um, this idea of scarcity versus abundant mindset, in a lot of [00:22:00] ways, is not just in education. I mean, taking this further is something that can really. At least for me, completely changed the way I look at what's going to happen for me and my work in the future of the types of problems that I, that I tackle, no matter how large or how complex those problems might be, it's almost like the growth versus fixed mindset, as well.

You know, this, this idea that, you know, is it possible for me to learn enough to actually pursue this next thing, or to actually hack that problem. In our previous chat, you, you mentioned kind versus wicked problems and how that relates back to intrinsic motivation in some way. Can you explain, first of all, what is a kind versus a wicked problem and, and what's that relation?

Sharath: Yeah. So, so kind problems are, um, problems where there is a technical solution to the problem, right? There is a nice, bounded, delineated way of solving that problem. A wicked problem is usually a systems problem. It's usually about human relationships at the core, there is no fixed or one [00:23:00] answer, and it's rarely a technical solution will get the answer as well.

And if you want a real example of this, think of, you know, a few months ago, we had this crazy week where, you know, with Elon Musk, put a spaceship into Mars, which was, it was amazing on one level. That was a great example of a kind problem being solved. Literally within days of that, we had, you know, cities all over the U S burn with the protest from Black Lives Matter.

And that was a wicked problem that there's still no clear solution for. So I think we put a lot of our, well, you know, R and D resources, maybe entrepreneurship, into solving these kinds of problems. And we are seeing, you know, fruits of that, whether it's from, you know, Mars or self driving cars or whatever, but the wicked problems are these human problems that are usually about how society is structured. They're usually about systems issues.

I don't think we're making the progress we need to make if we're really going to give our people a fulfilling and motivating life. Right.

Laura: So I'm just curious, is this where you decided for yourself to enter the social entrepreneurship route? Did that have [00:24:00] anything to do with it?

Sharath: I think, well, I, I, to be honest, I probably started off with STiR thinking what I was going to try and do was actually a kind problem. I was trying to, at the beginning, it was trying to look at how we could find practices, we call them "micro innovations," small scale ideas from teachers, that could be spread widely around the world.

Right. So it was very nice. It was very clear. I could do a nice log frame for my donors to show the progress that we made or not. What I got in, almost by horror and by complete surprise, was kind of to a massive wicked problem around motivation. Because what I learned was that these technical seeds that I actually was going to try and plant, right.

New techniques of teaching... that stuff was the easy part. The soil was the much harder part. And how do we create the motivational soil so that teachers would want to try these things out in the first place? And that became the nine year journey that I've been on. And that, uh, has been, you know, uh, exciting, exhilarating, tremendously challenging at the same time.

But yeah, I'm very convinced from that that, you know, more generally, we've got to put more effort [00:25:00] and time and as entrepreneurs, especially into solving those wicked problems.

Laura: And what would you say was the first step for you when you realized that there was an underlying wicked problem to this kind problem you were solving with STiR?

What was one of the first steps?

Sharath: The answer I'd love to give, Laura, is the textbook answer but it actually had nothing to do with that. It just came from real life. So, I think what happened is we really tangibly, we found these ideas from teachers in the slums of Delhi. Uh, this was 2012. We were very proud of ourselves.

We published it. We felt we'd done a good job. We were patting ourselves on the back heavily. And then our phone just would not stop ringing for days from teachers saying, "I know my idea. Wasn't selected. I'm not arguing about that. I know you had a fair process, but you've ignited in me something I've not felt for a long time. I'm starting to remember why I became a teacher in the first place."

And I didn't even know at that time what intrinsic motivation was. You know, I completely completely stumbled across, but we were basically hearing from the ground from the field, [00:26:00] this really this deep hunger we'd almost accidentally unleashed.

That's what got me onto the journey. It wasn't any piece of research or any intellectual way of engaging... just happened by the sheer sort of force of what we created by accident, really.

No that's

Laura: actually... I'm so glad it was that answer and not, um, you know, spending X amount of dollars or time into deepening the research, because this feels very holistic in the way that you are able to listen to the authentic response that came from this group.

And, and so I think there's just something to be said about listening and, and, you know, whenever you drop anything into an ecosystem, just to see. See how everything responds to it over time. I think that's so, that's so invaluable. So I'd love to hear just a bit more about your experience in the social entrepreneurship space and even just your own intrinsic motivation.

Can you speak to that? I mean, has it been a bit of a meta process for you to be exploring this, but also, obviously, have to have a serious [00:27:00] of motivation to pursue this type of work?

Sharath:  Yeah, and I think, I've been thinking quite deeply about this because it's, I'm sort of handing over the reigns now with my current organization...it's always a good time to sorta reflect, to think what was the journey like?

And it's been the most amazing nine years. And I feel incredibly grateful to everyone who came on the journey with me, for my team support to our partners and donors and governments. And of course our, you know, the teachers and the schools that we serve ultimately. But thinking back, you know, I was incredibly lucky, I think, to... have enjoyed almost all of the journey, but I really worry that that's not the norm. And there were definitely some very dark times in these nine years where I was de-motivated and I think it's made me think to step back and say, what, what really is motivation for a social entrepreneur all about?

 And at the tour, I mean, I was, I was kind of joking around. There's a, um, I don't know if you know, Laura, the story of the Dodo. Do you ever,  (I don't think I know the story) So it's a, it's a, [00:28:00] it's a bird that went extinct many years ago. And I was reading about it just from a biological perspective.

And, and the, the reason it went extinct was that it got hunted by so many different animals. Right? So it was like lots of animals wanted it for food basically. And I think it's not a bad metaphor for a social entrepreneur because what's really interesting is that, you know, the first year or two as a social entrepreneur, you're really trying to get, you know what, I guess what the, what Silicon Valley would call product market fit, right. Or program impact fit.

 Do you have an approach intervention that is solving a particular problem and it's quite free, normally you might scrap some seed money together from a uncle or a friend, or if you're lucky, a small seed foundation. Pretty much people leave you to your yourself right at the beginning.

And it's very similar to a conventional, to a startup actually to Silicon Valley investors or entrepreneurs. This is a very similar path as well. What happens is you start to get your first, um, you know, your pilot is going, you [00:29:00] start to attract funding from more, perhaps institutional donors or family foundations, et cetera.

You start to grow your team as well. So you're building, um, you know, you're starting to hire, you're no longer, fully in charge of things. Often you're delegating your work to other people. You start to bring a board on. You might start to work through a government system if that's how you're trying to scale your work as well.

So all of these triggers basically. You know, we talked about these ideas of purpose, autonomy mastery, suddenly your autonomy as a founder starts to get compromised. But let me just take a check that this has made sense so far, I just want to check-

Laura: No, it does. It does. It does. You're painting the scenery for me.

Sharath: So I think what's happening is that it's a strange paradox, right?

Because most founders go into this... or social entrepreneurs go into this thinking... they are entrepreneurs. They love the control. They love the sense of like, I can find a problem. And their motivation is very, very much linked to themselves. Ah, no, I don't mean in a bad way, but it's about how can they [00:30:00] find a solution to a really important social problem.

But very quickly you start to morph into this kind of, um, uh, this kind of what I mean with the Dodo, which is kind of, you're trying to serve different people, right. You're spending a lot of time talking to your board. And managing the board around what you're doing. You're having to deal with donors. Many of them, maybe some of them may, at least might be difficult, pulling you in a direction you don't fully want to go in.

You've got team members who, if they're any good, will be challenging you in terms of, you know, direction, strategy, how you run the organization. And then you've got, you know, on top of that, if you're working in a system, on a systems issue, governments are not easy at all to work with. As we know, they're probably causing a number of frustrations that you talked about earlier.

So you're sort of suddenly being pulled in all these different motivational directions. Right. And I think the... when I, when I haven't done a good job at STiR, the years or the times when I felt I wasn't doing such a good job, I almost assumed that was just the way it had to be. And I felt like I was [00:31:00] being just like a puppet being pulled... not a puppet, that's strong, but almost this kind of thing pulled in so many different directions by all these forces.

And you almost felt like the game was to try and compromise and, and almost by... not by committee, but try to reconcile these different pressures around you. I think where things got...the best years were the ones, where I could sort of align the motivator, understand the motivations of all these stakeholders around me and actually align them in a coherent direction and story and build people... end up buying into that story and build that movement around it as well.

So I still personally, how, how different I feel is when, when you can create that motivation alignment. And when you, when you can't, I think it really feels night and day.

Laura: So, what advice would you have for social entrepreneurs in terms of this, you know, finding that alignment or, or almost just digging out what these motivators might be for all of these different, you know, all these people who are pulling you in all these directions, as you say, what would be some advice either from [00:32:00] your experience or from now, from the research that you've been conducting over all this time to start to create that alignment?

Sharath: Yeah. So I think the first thing is just be kind to yourself. Um, and you know, I was really, really very, very moved by what you said about other entrepreneurs who are getting so frustrated. And I think we should acknowledge, right. This is the toughest thing you can possibly do. I can definitely say that with real confidence.

I mean, you've been through almost a decade in this role, compared to even say a commercial startup, right. And I'm just giving an example on funding. You know, you get, you have an idea, you raise X amount, you know, X million in a funding round. No one tells you you can spend, you know, $50,000 on this particular part. You can't do another one.

If you're taking grant funding, that is. Already, even just the way your, your funding is set up, usually creates divergence, right? Because there are different funding streams that will have a slightly different vested interest in your success. So it's much more complicated, bizarrely, than it is to do a conventional startup.

So I think first just being aware of that and realizing the [00:33:00] complexity just might put your mind to rest initially. But I'm creating a motivational app called Intrinsic Labs that I mentioned where... I really want to try and work with social entrepreneurs to create different methods and models for understanding motivation of their key stakeholders, much more clearly and explicitly.

And being able to map them with their strategies for system change. Cause I think if you can get that motivational alignment, right. Everything can really move in the right direction. So just to give you a real example, to make it a bit like, less abstract, we realized that what was happening in education was there was a lot of money and focus and resources being focused on these technical seeds, right?

The, the curriculum, the assessment centers, the reading programs, and those things are critically important. But. Very little resource, money or time was spent on the soil, actually getting teachers to want to teach, building relationships, the role modeling of these different levels. I think governments realize that.

So we were able to start a conversation with government [00:34:00] saying, you know, this really feels like a weak link for you from your own priorities. How can we help you? And we were one of the few people who could have that sort of expertise. We were then able to bring our donors and our board into those conversations with governments as well.

So they can see the need. That wasn't something that was immediately obvious. Right? So we started to do that and we start to link this whole approach to how countries are thinking about that development. And the idea of this was all geared to helping a new generation learn, to learn and succeed in the... in a new century in the workforce and as citizens.

And immediately the coherence, everything we did, it started to become much easier to manage. And we were singing off the same hymn sheet. We were trying to measure the same things. That divergence was much less strong, but it took a while. I think one thing I'd like to be able to do is make this much more of a standard way of working in our sector and giving tools and methods and some real case studies of social entrepreneurs to try and create that alignment there.

Laura: I'll speak just for myself, but I think for [00:35:00] many others, we can't wait for that. Whoever's listening to this. How can we continuously keep an eye on the work that you're doing with the lab? I know you also mentioned there's a book in the works. How can we keep tabs on all of this great work?

Sharath: So, so the book is coming out next year.

It's called "Intrinsic" and it's been published by the Hachette group. Um, It'll be out in May next year. So I'll keep you updated on that. But, um, I'm also doing a podcast series on the wider topic of intrinsic motivation. I will get into some of the topics around entrepreneurship in NGO course as well, but the easiest way to follow me is on, on LinkedIn, under Sharath Jeevan.

And I try and keep updated with some of the thinking and what's going on there. But really, I know you and I have talked about this, but yeah, I'd love to see whether there's some really practical projects we can do. I love the work you're doing with The Spaceship and with all the work around acceleration of social enterprises.

And I'd love to see if there's a way to link up and perhaps work with a small number of entrepreneurs initially, to look at how we can get [00:36:00] their motivational alignment right. Because it feels like... I know many people in the, in the space, I think it's probably similar to what you said at the beginning... who are thinking of leaving, right?

Honestly, because they're so stressed and COVID has of course, added to that stress where they're feeling so demotivated and so despondent because of just the different pressures under them. And they feel it's relentless, it's from multiple directions and it's almost like living a life that's fundamentally out of harmony.

It's like you're being pulled and pulled and pulled. And instead, I think there's a much better way, which is much more holistic, that really tries to drive to why you wanted to become a social entrepreneur in the first place, builds on that motivation and creates alignment around everyone you're working with as well as in whatever system you're operating as well.

So I think there's a huge prize if we can get this right. What I guess I'm looking for now is, is... brave and pioneering social entrepreneurs who are open to working with me on that journey. Uh, and some partners like yourselves for supporting those in that [00:37:00] ecosystem. So we can create models together that really can help the whole space flourish and succeed.

Laura: I, for one, can't wait to see what happens as we explore that together. I think it's, as you said, you know, there are too few entrepreneurs who are focused on those wicked problems, those systemic problems. And I think one of the big... at least in my opinion, one of the big factors is this disconnect and it is... in your own words, it is one of the toughest jobs.

And so if it's one of the toughest jobs for kind problems, how are we going to start tackling more and more of these wicked problems? And I think, I think you're onto something when it comes to seeking that alignment. And as someone who's also been in this space and starting to feel the gray hairs popping on my head and the exhaustion and the dark circles under my eyes and starting to think, yeah, how, how am I going to, you know, start sleeping regularly and start enjoying this process a little bit more and keeping that [00:38:00] motivation up. On a personal note, I just, I'm very excited to see what, what can happen as you dig into that space and as I cannot wait to help in any way that we can to continue digging in that space and, and finding some gems.

Sharath: Yeah, thanks, Laura. I know there's a whole irony with this, right?

Because I mean the kind of background you have and many people in the space have now they could be doing kind of almost anything, right? I'm sure you traded off much more money, you know, conventional success, all of those kinds of things to do it for really strong intrinsic reasons. But I think we've got to do something in that space and that means working together as, as social entrepreneurs, as funders, influencers in the space, etc., just to try to create that environment in a way that is really intrinsically motivated. Because there's no point if you bring in, we've done a pretty good job over the last, I'd say 15, 20 years of bringing more talent into our sector.

The world of social entrepreneurship. Groups like Skoll, you know, all of those sort of the attention and social entrepreneurs have gotten, it's really helped in that regard, but it's a, it's a wasted investment if it just leads to a lot of people [00:39:00] getting disillusioned and burnt out. And I'm deeply worried about what these trends will do, because it just means this will become much less attractive for young people that already might be cynical and perhaps less, um, less engaged with this, these kinds of ideas to begin with.

How do we really make this, the profession of calling and a real career where you can flourish and achieve something, but not, you know, not have the dark circles under your eyes, as you said.

Laura: Yeah. Well, not at the detriment of all these other things. It's, it's so true. And in a... I don't know... if I would have known... what it has taken... I don't know if I would have gone down the same path. I'd like to think I would have... but I'm not sure that I would.

And if I were to do it all over again, it, it depends on the day, really. It depends on what's happened that day, but, but as you said, I think it's, I think for future generations that, how do we make this a profess- like the, the calling the profession of choice, because as we know there's no shortage of problems. There's one for all of us. I mean, there's no [00:40:00] problems when it comes to, um, not having enough problems. So that's a good place for us to start. I think.

Sharath:  Along those lines that if we, we do want to make it, this, this, this sort of calling, something that we really want to try to, to make, you know,  a real professional choice... I just wonder how we can get that alignment.

 It sort of feels like a lot of... when I talked to many other social entrepreneurs, that they still get that core joy from solving a problem and serving a beneficiary, right. It's like the teacher and the child, ultimately the teacher's joy comes from the child engaging and building the relationship from learning.

It's not, that's not the problem. It's not that people don't get satisfaction from, from that, that deep connect of helping, you know, back to the idea of purpose, of helping and serving others. There's no better profession, right. Or career out there that you and I could could imagine that can do that. It's just that we put all these kinds of other obstacles and blinds around, you know, to, to prevent us from having that underlying motivation.

And my [00:41:00] sector structure doesn't help in that regard. So how do we try and restructure, re-imagine our sector and the ecosystem we support. We provide social entrepreneurs to directly get that benefit from serving and helping others. And at the heart, it's a very, very simple thing. But we've created all this kind of, um, all these bells and whistles around that, that, that stop us from drawing that deep intrinsic motivation as social entrepreneurs.

Laura: It's almost like going back to basics going back to that, that intrinsic, that sense deep inside yourself that once ignited that fire. It's like, how do we go back to that square one as much as possible and refuel ourselves. Um, or at least that's the visual that I'm, I'm drawing out in my mind when you say that.

Sharath: Yeah. Refueling sounds great. I think it would be very helpful for many people right now.

Laura: I so appreciate you taking the time with us. This was such an, I have to say a motivating conversation for me and I knew it would be, Sharath. This is a conversation to be continued and I can't wait to see what comes of it.

Thank you so much for taking the [00:42:00] time.

Sharath: That's a real pleasure. Thanks, Laura.

Clement: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Spaceship Podcast, all part of our wider impact entrepreneurship program. Now if you're curious to learn more or if you're thinking about solving big problems through business, be sure to check out thespaceship.org. Thank you and see you next time on the show.

That was Laura Francois and Clement Hochart of The Spaceship Podcast.

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The Spaceship Podcast is part of an Impact Entrepreneurship Masterclass called The Spaceship. We're enabling status quo rebels to tackle our world's toughest problems through business. This podcast is where we bring the theory to life by featuring thought leaders and impact entrepreneurs from around the world.
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