Is there a right and wrong way to go about motivating people?

The movie Whiplash gives an insightful look at the power of motivation, raising numerous questions in the process

I watched the movie Whiplash recently. It’s the story of Andrew Neimann, a promising young drummer who enrols at a cut-throat music school where he hopes, under the mentoring of stop-at-nothing instructor Terence Fletcher, to become one of the true great jazz drummers.

It is a fascinating story that delves deeply into the question of motivation: How do we bring the best out of people?

Fletcher, played by the brilliant J.K. Simmons, was fierce, relentless, and uncompromising with all his students, but especially Neimann.

I found myself wincing at times at the sheer brutality his approach. He, quite literally, broke Neimann on numerous occasions. He pushed him—both physically and psychologically—to the limits and far, far beyond.

It felt cruel. It felt wrong.

And yet.

And yet, there’s no denying that his approach caused Neimann to develop his drumming abilities to whole new levels.

He became great. Undeniably great.

But, in the process, he lost his girlfriend, had no friends (or time for them), and a poor relationship with all his extended family.

It all raised numerous questions in my mind:

  • Is a cruel, brutal, no sympathy environment necessary to produce elite level performance?
  • Is psychological pain the price of greatness?
  • Does it take emotional scarring and physical extremes to motivate people to reach extraordinary heights?
  • Would Neimann have reached the levels he reached if he was trained in a more encouraging environment?

On that last question, I like to think so. But I don’t know.

So often when you read about the path people take to end up at the top of their profession—whether sport, music, or business—I find myself thinking, I could never take that path.

The sheer level of commitment and devotion necessary to be truly elite at anything is mind-blowing. I know it’s beyond me. I wouldn’t want to make those sacrifices.

The price is too high.

I’m quite happy with my normal, average, non-elite life!

I am inspired by the greatness of others. And I’m ever fascinated by just what human beings can accomplish when they put their minds to it. But I just don’t think I‘m wired to push boundaries in quite the same way.

Truthfully, I don’t think most of us can.

Not that we should settle or stop growing or challenging ourselves.

Greatness is found in being true to who we are. It can be disheartening to look at the success of others when we compare it to ourselves. But success for me is not the same as it is for you.

If everyone on the planet had the same motivation towards elite performance, I don’t think the world would function.

We’re not all meant to be elite musicians or sportspeople.


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True perfection

The unlived life