Sometimes I make connections at the oddest time.  Sitting at stoplights.  In the shower.  While I'm cooking. 


I made a big one a few weeks ago that I've been following up ever since. 


Motivation is one of the thorniest issues in project management.  How do you keep your team as a whole and its members individually motivated?  We all know that lack of motivation is contagious - unhappiness spreads like wildfire.  So I'm always on the lookout for ways to understand what motivates individuals.


I've been watching social media reaction to Wonder Woman movie.  Most particularly, reaction of 30-somethings to the Antiope character (Wonder Woman's aunt - leader of the Amazon forces).  More to the point, reaction to the fact that Robin Wright played Antiope.  Robin Wright also played Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride - a movie that the 30-something grew up with.


The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  These women, who grew up admiring Princess Buttercup (brave and loyal) love that she 'grew up' to be a kick-ass take no prisoners warrior.


Rewind to many years ago.  I was pursuing my Master's degree from Stanford while working at a software company.  For a research project, I interviewed James Gosling (the creator of the Java language).  I signed out on my calendar, and when I returned I found a group of cynical Gen-Xers (the ones nothing could impress) waiting to hear all about the great man (and even to shake my hand, since I'd shaken James Gosling's).


What do these things have in common?  That's the connection.  These reactions showed me motivation.  The Princess Buttercup fans are motivated by playing with - and outgunning - the big boys.  For someone who loves this progression, I'd send them into situations where they could do battle and come out with the respect of the other players.  The James Gosling fans were all amazing programmers who wanted to turn the industry on its side - to show the world a whole new way of looking at things.  For those programmers, letting them loose on bleeding edge things - new ways of doing things that everyone can relate to - is the key to motivation.


So how to you find out?  You just ask "who's your hero?" .  (If this scares  anyone, they can substitute "who do you admire"). 


This question is also a great icebreaker for new teams.  It's an innocuous question that gets discussion flowing.  Don't limit the answer to real people - Batman vs. Superman can tell you plenty.  (Batman has no superpowers unless you count wealth - he's a superhero all on his own.  Batman supporters like to do things themselves - they're pull yourself up by your bootstrap folks.  Superman has super powers that he could use to rule the world, accumulate great wealth and power, become a sports hero - but he chooses to work anonymously for the greater good.  Superman fans like to do good things, to make the world better.)


I'll share my own so you can see - I count Grace Hopper (who made history in a world of men without worrying about whether other people thought she could - and of course she was a computer scientist ) and Tom Dorrance (who taught us all how to listen to horses - and a lot about listening to people at the same time).



So...who's your hero?