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Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

To Motivate or Not to Demotivate

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Some people tell me that "you cannot motivate a person". You can only "remove the impediments that prevent a person from being motivated". Or, in other words, "you can only eliminate demotivation".


Well, I don't agree!

Can you make a person happy? Or can you only eliminate the things that make her unhappy?

Can you make a person laugh? Or can you only eliminate the things that make him cry?

These sound like silly questions. But I have been told a number of times now that trying to motivate people is a bad idea. Yet, I simply could not imagine this to be true, given the fact that it is quite possible to (try to) make people happy, or to (try to) make them laugh.

Fortunately, I came across this article on Harvard Business Review. It appears that researcher Frederick Herzberg found out (fifty years ago already) that motivation and demotivation are two very different things:

The things that make people satisfied and motivated on the job are different in kind from the things that make them dissatisfied.

Ask workers what makes them unhappy at work, and you’ll hear about an annoying boss, a low salary, an uncomfortable work space, or stupid rules. Managed badly, environmental factors make people miserable, and they can certainly be demotivating. But even if managed brilliantly, they don’t motivate anybody to work much harder or smarter. People are motivated, instead, by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility. These intrinsic factors answer people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement.

So, it turns out that I'm right after all. Yay!! You cannot motivate a person by "eliminating demotivation". Only taking away the things that make people dissatisfied, will simply result in people having neutral feelings towards their jobs. But that's not enough. You also have to introduce things that motivate them. I have depicted this in another blog post as a Motivational Balance Sheet. The stuff that demotivates people (and I know they can always name something...) are on the left side of this balance sheet (which is personal and different for every employee). The things that motivate them are on the right side.


Motivating people means: removing things from the left side and adding things to the right side of the balance sheet.

The idea that you cannot motivate a person is wrong. I suspect that it has grown out of failed "motivational" initiatives like company slogans, posters, pep talks, performance reviews, and coffee cups with the text "teamwork" printed on it. I agree that those practices are probably not the best way to motivate most people. But there are bad ways and good ways to do things. And it's the manager's job to find out what the good ones are...

Note: Frederick Herzberg also tells us that motivation is an intrinsic thing, which means that you actually cannot directly motivate a person. You can only try to influence their motivation. That's true. But it also applies to people's demotivation. And therefore I only consider it just a semantical issue, that bears no relationship to the motivation-vs-demotivation issue.

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Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Chris Spagnuolo replied on Wed, 2008/10/22 - 11:20am

Hi Jurgen. Organizations try so many different tactics to motivate others and themselves and continually fail. I think it’s because they overcomplicate what motivation is. I think if you boil it down to it’s essentials, in order to truly motivate yourself or others, you can do two simple things:

1. Make it enjoyable
2. Use positive public pressure

I recently wrote a post about this. You can check it out at

harry maton replied on Wed, 2009/03/04 - 11:51am

This just word interpretation, motivation or not demotivation, they are pretty much the same thing only that motivations sounds a little bit better. You have great arguments in this article, that's exactly how I think, a rewards program is a great motivator for employees if built accurately.

john green green replied on Fri, 2009/11/27 - 12:04pm

These sound like silly questions. But I have been told a number of times now that trying to motivate people is a bad idea. Yet, I simply could not imagine this to be true, given the fact that it is quite possible to (try to) make people happy, or to (try to) make them laugh.
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