Seth Godin’s blog is one of my favs.  He’s also written 13 books offering insight into marketing, work, and life.  I haven’t read any of them.  But his blog regularly rings true.

Today’s blog post is exclusively Seth’s – talking about money.  Enjoy.

Everyone tells themself a different story about money, but there’s no doubt at all that the story we tell ourselves changes our behavior.

Consider the curve above relating to how people react in situations that cost money.

A musician is standing on a street corner playing real good for free. Most people walk on by (3). That same musician playing at a bar with a $5 cover gets a bit more attention. Put him into a concert hall at $40 and suddenly it’s an event.

Pay someone minimum wage or a low intern stipend (4) and they treat the work like a job. Don’t expect that worker to put in extra effort or conquer her fear–the message is that her effort was bought and paid for and wasn’t worth very much to the boss… and so she reciprocates in kind. The same sort of thing can happen in a class that’s easy to get into and that doesn’t cost much–a Learning Annex sort of thing. Easy to start, cheap to try–not much effort as a result.

It’s interesting to me to see what happens to people who pay a lot or get paid well (2,5). The kids at Harvard Law School, for example, or a third-year associate at a law firm. Here, we see all nighters, heroic, career-risking efforts and all sorts of personal investment. And yet as we extend the curve to situations where the rules of rational money are suspended, something happens–people get fearful again. Don’t look to Oprah or JK Rowling or the Donald to bet it all–the huge amount of money they could earn (or could pay) to play at the next level (1 & 6) isn’t enough to get them out of their comfort zone. Money ceases to be a motivator for everyone at some point.

Most interesting of all is the long black line at zero (3). The curve goes wild here, like dividing by zero. At zero, at the place where no money changes hands, we see volunteer labor and free exchange. In these situations, sometimes we see extraordinary effort, the stuff that wins Nobel prizes. Just about every great, brave or beautiful thing in our culture was created by someone who didn’t do it for money. We see the local volunteer putting in insane hours even though no one is watching. We hear the magical song or read the amazing poem that no one got paid to write. And sometimes, though, we see very little, just a trolling comment or a half-hearted bit of commentary. Remove money from the story and we’re in a whole new category. The most vivid way to think about this is the difference between a mutually-agreed upon romantic date and one in which money changes hands.

All worth thinking about when you consider how much to charge for a gig, what tuition ought to be, what motivates job creators or whether or not a form of art disappears when the business model for that art goes away.


What’s your experience with how money impacts motivation or the creation of something great?