Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 13, 2012

Guest Article: “Our Motives: Affirmation or Contribution?” by Doug Rice

Filed under: goals,motivation — Paul McCord @ 9:17 am

Our Motives: Affirmation or Contribution?
by Doug Rice

I’m going to get a little philosophical on you today. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were having a discussion about art and why people create it. I, being the optimistically naive idealist that I am, suggested that artists produce art in order to make a contribution to the world. He disagreed–suggesting instead that artists produce art in order to affirm their own self-worth. Even though they may say they want to make a contribution to bettering humanity, they really just want to validate the quality of their work. Which theory is true?

You are an artist. Did you ever think of yourself that way? Well, it’s true. If you are in business–if you are producing something to be consumed by others–you are an artist. Your product, your service, whatever it is you sell–that is your art. So, why do YOU make what you make?

Are you in business to validate the quality of your work. Do you sell what you sell so that people will find value and worth in your brand? Or, do you sell what you sell to make your customers, your community, and your world better off than they were when they found you? Are you seeking affirmation or contribution?

Why Not Both?

I think that the discussion my friend and I were having is kind of silly. It rests on the rather hefty assumption that seeking affirmation and seeking contribution are mutually exclusive. They aren’t. They can coexist. You can have your cake and eat it too. We were making a false dichotomy.

You see, I think that the reason we create art (or the reason that we’re in business)–at its base–is to offer something to the world. We want to leave this place better off than it was when we got here. But, we do crave affirmation of the value we provide. The affirmation, though, isn’t selfish in nature. It serves only to inform us that we really have made a contribution.

Think about it, if you ever make something that no one appreciates, can you really say that you’ve done them any good? No, I don’t think so. The validation of our work is important, not for making us feel better, but rather for showing us that we have truthfully made a difference in the life of another.

You want people to fall in love with your brand. You want people to attach meaning and value to it. And it’s not about your ego. It’s not about affirming that you are a great business person putting out great product. No, it’s about signaling to you that you’ve adequately contributed something to your customers. You’ve really made a difference.

Affirmation or contribution? Silly question. Affirmation is merely proof that you’ve made a contribution.

Doug Rice is the creator of the Small Business Storyteller blog which is dedicated to helping small business owners tell their stories on the web.


  1. Interesting ideas Doug. I’ll throw some gasoline on the fire. Instead of both, how about neither affirmation nor contribution. Granted, what I do for a living can be regarded as helping people in their businesses, and ultimately helping them help their consuming customers, but that may be somewhat altruistic. It almost implies that I would do what I do even if I were not getting paid. I love what I do but would not do it for free.

    You see, I feel that I do contribute. There are no grand gestures designed to gain lots of recognition and thanks. But instead, they are small things that help individuals who need help. So many people struggle with small issues that have big impact on their lives. If I can do one thing to alleviate some of the pressure, one thing to make some pain go away, one thing to make someone’s life better, it will have been well worth my time.

    I do what I do for a living because working allows me to live. Living allows me to do things for people who need help. When I leave this world I want to be remembered for caring about others. I want to be remembered for helping people in need. I could not care less about being remembered for what I have done in business.


    Comment by Marc Zazeela — August 14, 2012 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

    • “I do what I do for a living because working allows me to live.” Great comment, Marc. You touch on a different issue entirely–the meaning of work. Some people enter into work to find a hybrid of an income and a platform for personal and professional fulfillment. Others are content to take as much money as they can to finance an enjoyable life outside of work.

      I think both approaches are equally legitimate. But, more and more, I see people who are looking to find some kind of meaning in their work. A lot of people DO want to be remembered for what they’ve done in business–or in their roles as educators, non-profit operators, scientists, artists, police officers, web developers, you name it. People are identifying with their careers. Is this a good thing or bad thing? I don’t know.

      But I do know that I fall into this camp. I can’t help it. I can’t take a job seriously that I’m doing just for the paycheck. I wish that I could, because I would probably be a lot richer, and I would be able to do a lot more social good with that money. But, try as I may to argue my way out of the perspective, I can’t help but think that my work is part of my self.

      Comment by Douglas E Rice (@douglaserice) — August 15, 2012 @ 6:54 am | Reply

  2. […] Guest Article: “Our Motives: Affirmation or Contribution?” by Doug Rice ( […]

    Pingback by Gratitude 140: Affirmation « Perpetual Gratitude: A Photographic Diary — August 27, 2012 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

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