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Motivating Creative People – Personal Values

Enneagram diagram

Image by Sandra Renshaw

Manager: “I just don’t understand it. I’ve tried everything, but he still doesn’t get it. He just carries on doing the opposite of what he’s supposed to do.”

Me: “Well I’ve heard a lot about why you want him to do it, and a lot of reasons why he ‘should’ do it. But the question I haven’t heard the answer to is ‘What’s in it for him?'”

(Long silence.)

Manager: “That’s a very good question.”

I’m in no danger of breaking confidentiality by telling you this conversation – I’ve had it hundreds of times, with managers at all levels, in many different companies. And I hope it doesn’t suggest that I’m a particularly brilliant coach – it is a good question, but I didn’t invent it. And the main reason it occurs to me when it doesn’t occur to a manager is that he or she is immersed in the situation, while I’m in the position of a privileged outsider. To the manager, it’s obvious why a particular outcome is important – for the company, for the team, even for the individual concerned. He or she can’t understand why the team member in question doesn’t take it as seriously.

Sometimes the situation can be resolved by explaining exactly what, why and how things should be done differently. But at other times the employee carries on regardless, apparently oblivious to the manager’s threats and entreaties. Words like ‘difficult’, ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’ start to be bandied about.

It’s time to look at things differently.

The basic problem is one of empathy. It is partly down to the situation – because the manager sees the big picture clearly and is under so much pressure to deliver results, it’s easy to forget that others may not have the same understanding or urgency. But it’s also down to a fundamental blindspot of human beings – it’s so easy for each of us to assume that everyone has the same values and priorities that we do.

Why do some people spend all their time slaving away in an office to amass money and status, while others renounce all worldly possessions and live in a monastery on one meal a day? Why do some people travel the world as serial vagabonds while others live in the same place all their lives? What drives some people to seek out danger and adventure while others plump for a quiet life at all costs? What makes someone spend their whole life in the library, in pursuit of arcane knowledge, while others dedicate their lives to relieving poverty and suffering? How come some people get up early to work, even at weekends, while others are content to take it easy?

Because we all have different personal motivations – otherwise known as values. Or rather, we may well share many of the same values, but may not rank them in quite the same way. Most of us value fun and enjoyment, but some of us may think they should be saved for the evenings and weekends, whereas others expect to enjoy themselves every day, even at work. Most of us value knowledge, but not all of us want to do a Ph.D. And so on.

Recognising and respecting other people’s values is often the key to happiness in relationships. And it’s critical to success if your job involves managing or influencing people. ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’ works a treat – as long as the others in question are exactly like you. For example, a manager or creative director may be a self-confident individual who has little need for praise from other people. All well and good, until he starts managing people who do value praise and recognition. There is a danger that the manager will fail to get the best performance out of them. They may learn to live without praise, or become resigned to it – but it’s unlikely that they’ll get really fired up without it. By contrast, a really skilful and creative manager recognises that different people have different values – and will be prepared to dish out praise if he thinks it will raise performance.

So should you mollycoddle people and treat them with kid gloves? Of course not. Nobody gets everything all their own way, especially at work. But if you’re serious about getting top performance out of everyone on your team, surely it makes sense to look for the ‘hot buttons’ that will get them fired up to give you 100% commitment?

It may make sense, but how can you do this without a degree in psychology?

The Enneagram – A Tool for Understanding Others’ Motivations

The Enneagram is the one personality typing system that I find practically useful on a day-to-day basis. Not only is it very accurate and powerful, but the Enneagram diagram makes the system easy to remember and apply.

What makes the Enneagram so powerful? For me, it’s the fact that each of the personality types is not just a list of traits, but is based on core values and motivations. For example, point Eight, known as the Boss or Leader, values power and control. This leads the typical Eight to seek leadership roles, shouldering responsibility and challenging others to be ‘top dog’. When lacking self-awareness they can also abuse their power, becoming an overbearing bully. The character traits – such as responsibility, bravery and aggression – are really side-effects of the motivation to seek out power.

Last year I wrote a series about the Enneagram for Liz Strauss’s Successful Blog, which you can download as a free e-book. I won’t describe the types in detail here – I’ll just highlight the core values at the heart of each of the nine Enneagram types, before suggesting ways that you can use these to influence people around you. If that whets your appetite then you can read the e-book for a fuller explanation.

The Heart Types – Emotional Values


Image by Sandra Renshaw

Two – The Helper

Twos value generosity, in themselves and others. They believe we should all help each other as much as possible. They are happy to provide help and support – but they are only human, so they also value appreciation. If you really want to motivate a Two, remember to say ‘thank you‘ and show how much you appreciate their kindness.

Three – The Performer

Threes value success, the more public and prominent the better. They believe life is a competition, with winners and losers. They are very focused on achieving their goals, and don’t mind cutting a few corners along the way – in their world, image is reality. To motivate a Three, make sure you provide public recognition of their achievements.

Four – The Romantic

Fours value authenticity. They believe the most important thing in life is to be true to yourself. They have a highly original style and don’t mind being perceived as outsiders. To motivate a Four, give them the opportunity to express themselves in an originalway. Make them feel unique and special.

The Head Types – Intellectual Values

Enneagram Head Types

Image by Sandra Renshaw

Five – The Observer

Fives value knowledge. They believe knowledge is power. They are avid readers and lifelong learners. To motivate a Five, give them opportunities to learn and investigate topics in depth. Treat them as respected authorities.

Six – The Guardian

Sixes value security. They believe there is safety in numbers. They are excellent team players and fiercely loyal to the group. To motivate a Six, give them opportunities to bond with the team and reassure themselves that dangers have been blocked off. Let them know you appreciate their loyalty and take every chance to show solidarity with them.

Seven – The Optimist

Sevens value pleasure and possibilities. They believe life is for living to the full, enjoying every moment. They can be relied on to look on the bright side, suggest new options and jolly everyone along. To motivate a Seven, give them plenty of variety and emphasise the fun to be had in a task. Allow them to put their ideas into action.

The Body Types – Instinctive Values

Enneagram Body Types

Image by Sandra Renshaw

Eight – The Leader

Eights value power. They believe you have to fight for what you want in life. They make excellent leaders or formidable opponents, depending on how they perceive you. To motivate an Eight, give them opportunities to take charge and demonstrate their effectiveness. You must also earn their respect by showing you can stand up to them.

Nine – The Peacemaker

Nines value peace and harmony. They believe life would be much easier if we could all learn to get on better together. They are self-effacing, but skilful diplomats, intervening where needed to restore harmony within a group. To motivate a Nine, show how a course of action will promote balance and mutual understanding. Don’t force them to step into the limelight.

One – The Achiever

One’s value achievement, as defined by their own high standards. They believe hard work and discipline are necessary for success. They are perfectionists, which is great sometimes but a pain in the behind at others. To motivate a One, show them you value their diligence and that you hold everyone to high standards. Be scrupulously fair.

Using Personal Motivations to Influence People

Looking at the Enneagram types, it’s as if each person has made a fundamental decision about what is most important in life, and acts accordingly. And the weird thing is, other people have made different decisions to you. This is why they don’t always ‘get it’, no matter how many times you tell them. Once you realise this, a lot of the apparent weirdness about other people disappears. It becomes a lot easier to get on with them. If you are a manager and you spot someone’s Enneagram type, then it gives you a lot more options for helping them and getting the best out of them:

Get to know people

Look at them (without staring). Listen to them (without interrupting). Notice what brings them alive – when they become enthusiastic, animated, productive. What does this tell you about their personal values? And what about the times when they shut down, withdraw, give you lip service or start complaining? What does that tell you about their motivation?

Assume that everything they do and say makes complete sense

This frees you to look at them as they are, instead of as you think they should be. And once you do that, you can start to notice all kinds of things you didn’t see before.

Don’t stick labels on them

We’ve all been there. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t find yourself labelling people, especially when problems arise. It’s easy to see others as ‘difficult’, ‘lazy’, ‘obstructive’ and so on. The trouble is, this makes life more difficult for you. If someone is just plain ‘difficult’ then there’s nothing you can do to influence them, short of rebuilding their personality. But if you take the label off and ask yourself ‘what are they motivated by?’ Then you have an opportunity to use their personal motivations to influence them.

Trade in their currency

It doesn’t matter how many dollars you have in your pocket if you’re in a London restaurant. Unless you can pay in sterling you’ll be doing the washing-up. And have you ever tried to give Yen to a New York cab driver? Think of personal values the same way. Why bother praising somebody who just wants to work on an interesting challenge? A pay rise won’t compensate someone for having their ideas blocked at every turn.

Try ‘trading in their currency’ by speaking to their personal values. Supposing you were looking for someone to take on a difficult or boring task. Talking to an Eight, you might say ‘I need someone to take a lead here’. To a Two, you might emphasise ‘how helpful it would be’ if someone were to take it on. To a Three, you would make it clear that if they did a good job ‘it wouldn’t go unrecognised’. To a One, you could say ‘I’m asking you because I need someone I can rely on to do it properly’. And so on.


Treat people the way you’ve always treated them and they will respond the way they’ve always responded. If you get stuck, ask yourself ‘What does this person least expect me to do?’. Try doing something new – and notice the results. Be creative.

You and Your Values

Do you recognise your personal values in any of the Enneagram types?

Can you see how others around you are motivated by different values?

Have you ever had to manage or work with somebody who had very different personal values to you? What was the most constructive thing you did in that situation?

Would you like your team to be more motivated and creative?

And if you’d like some help motivating your team to produce stellar work, ask me about running my popular motivation training workshop How to Motivate Creative People (Including Yourself) for your organisation.


  1. Damn but you write long stuff. GOOD stuff. But long! But GOOD! Damn!

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Figuring Out What You Really Sell

  2. Excellent stuff! I’ve been studying the enneagram for about 4 years, and it’s helped me tremendously in not taking other people’s “stuff” as a personal attack. In fact, I find that I do a lot of “informal coaching” for my friends, family and coworkers in helping them break out of their tightly-formed perspectives.

    The “assume everything they say and do makes sense” item is HUGE. I think Clarence Thomson wrote something about not knowing the “inner geography of the other person’s world,” and how if you could see that, you’d understand how and why what they’re doing and saying makes sense to them.

    Again, very good stuff!

  3. My goodness, what an amazing post. Great stuff, Mark (as always).

    Knowing what makes a person tick is vital. In a review, I once asked an employee what he did as a creative outlet (since he was facing some creative frustration at work). I forget his answer, but he mentioned that he always wished he knew how to play the guitar. So I bought him a guitar and lessons.

    You would have thought it was a five figure bonus.

  4. Thanks for the great comments.

    James — glad you think I haven’t sacrificed quality for quantity!

    Kat — ‘Clarence Thomson wrote something about not knowing the “inner geography of the other person’s world,” and how if you could see that, you’d understand how and why what they’re doing and saying makes sense to them.’ — wonderful stuff, thanks for sharing. Who was it who said ‘to know all is to forgive all’?

    Tim — brilliant example! Can I use it in the e-book version? (Inevitably, there will be an e-book …)

  5. If you want to get much deeper into the enneagram types and how they interrelate / project amongst each other (especially in the workplace and in relationships), I highly recommend Helen Palmer’s “The Enneagram in Love and Work.” Invaluable if you spend the time and effort. Also check out interactive workshops and “oral tradition” teachings – they’re the best!

  6. Thanks Rick, I agree that’s an excellent book, one of my favourites. Helen Palmer’s book titled simply “The Enneagram” is also really good. I’ve been on some workshops with Helen Palmer’s students and found it a wonderful way to learn about the Enneagram, myself and others.

  7. Thanks for the post – I’ve got some trouble at work and just needed to read this. I think it will help a lot. Thanks!

    Ulla Hennig’s last blog post..Simply the Best

  8. My pleasure Ulla, glad it was helpful.

  9. I think you may have sold yourself slightly short on this one Mark – I think most of this could be applied to anyone, regardless their creativity or their job. Some really sound advice here and I’ll be passing it around.

    Also, I’m often lurking and passing your advice on without commenting so thanks for sharing these insights – your new ebook was of great use to a friend, thank you!

    Helen-LG’s last blog post..Felix’s Machines

  10. Thanks Helen! I agree that this post is especially applicable to all kinds of people — you don’t have to be creative to be difficult! 🙂

    Glad to hear it was helpful to your friend.

  11. “you don’t have to be creative to be difficult!”
    haha, can I get that on a bumper sticker?!
    I think that’s going to be my version of the old staple ‘you don’t have to be mad to work here … but it helps!’

    Helen-LG’s last blog post..BBC News: LG thinks small to fight downturn

  12. Wishful Thinking bumper stickers … now there’s a business opportunity I hadn’t considered. 😉

  13. I do really love breaking down how people work, what motivates them and how to get the best out of them. I like this approach and see similarities to the Myers Brigg format of letters too.

    So interesting and now I need to better understand how to use it and appeal to each type in everything I do.



  1. […] This is a further article in the “Motivations’ series published by Mark McGuiness; you can find it here. […]

  2. […] di Wishfull Thinking: Come motivare le persone creative, La gioia del lavoro, Premi per il lavoro, Valori personali, Pressione degli altri e Trovare il giusto […]

  3. […] This is a further article in the “Motivations’ series published by Mark McGuiness; you can find it here. […]