Imagining motivation without money

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In a world saturated with television and radio signals, Juneau would not be the first choice of residence for anyone with ambitions for a career in broadcasting. It may serve as a stepping stone while working hard to open new doors. But if opportunities don't materialize, disappointment may become a reverse motivator that suggests looking for another line of work.

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So when Bill Legere of the Capital Community Broadcasting Inc. was named 2007 Alaska Broadcaster of the Year, the lesson may be about patience. Legere has been with CCBI for more than 20 years. After all that time it would be easy to imagine the enviable negotiating position he's now sitting in; except he has no serious interests in leaving CCBI or Juneau.

What motivates someone like Legere to excel in his chosen profession? He received the highest annual honor from his Alaska Broadcasters Association peers that's made up of 115 licensed broadcasting stations. Of those, 60 percent are commercially run, that is, in business to make a profit. CCBI, though, is a nonprofit corporation. So his focus seems unrelated to the profit motive that's considered the primary driver behind the wheel of progress traveling along the free market system.

Monetary incentives are supposedly a key to business and individual success. But that's business talking, and just because we live in a world dominated by capitalism doesn't mean there aren't competing psychologies at work in the human mind.

The fact is there are dozens of nonprofit organizations that serve our community well, plus many public servants whose success isn't measured by the bottom line. Does that suggest the motivation behind people such as Legere is an unselfish desire to place the health of the community first?

The problem with this line of thinking is that it falls into the binary trap of right and wrong, all too commonly extrapolated to "us against them." It reduces the discussion to an economic debate between capitalism and socialism.

Capitalism serves best those who have a superior grasp of its economic model. It also thrives by mobilizing the competitive nature that resides somewhere in all of us. Ironically, those who are on top of the system seem to fear competition when it comes to ideas that challenge any of its guiding maxims.

Socialism doesn't solve the dilemma though. It also narrowly imagines another economic model of how society should function. It wants to displace the entrepreneurs with state run businesses in a classless community. But economic equality is still about money.

What any economy is blind to is the idea that we are people before we become spokes in the wheel of fortunes to be made or spread around As psychological creatures, the factors that motivate our daily efforts are much more diverse than money managers generally imagine. The human spirit shouldn't be reduced to intelligence centered on the hub of financial decision making.

We're quick to recognize that students in our schools display a wide range of unique talents. What is it that motivates the aspiring artist or musician? Isn't it the love of the game that initiates the competitive drive of a young athlete? Is it a passionate search for truth that inspires one to dream of becoming a lawyer? What curiosities lead some of our youth deep into the wonders of science? Can we imagine that a mysterious calling might inspire a few to embark on a lifelong spiritual journey?

Perhaps we need to stop imagining life through an economic model to gain a broader perspective on why people rise to prominence. The idea that we're all created equal has nothing to do with the false gods of the economy. But it may indeed be related to what motivates us to seek our unique way to contribute to the society we live in.

So as we acknowledge Legere's contributions to Juneau and his profession, let's not imagine we understand what force drives him to succeed. Instead, by wondering about the different possibilities hidden behind the gleam in his eye, we might start to wonder about the depth of our own spirit and transcend the life of apparent mediocrity in the hands of a world driven by dollars and cents.

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