Inspiration vs Motivation

“In life you need either inspiration or desperation.”  Tony Robbins

We have inspirational speakers and motivational quotes. Or is it the other way around?
Are these two words actually interchangeable?
Sure, they have similarities, but their root cause and tangible effects in business are actually quite different. That’s why I’d like to clear up the confusion; because it’s not just about semantics, it’s the practical application of these two words that will sustain our company culture!


An underlying cause or motive for an action is the definition of motivation. Its Latin root means to move. In other words, we need a motive to move. This motive pulls us towards the outcome we desire. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that motivates us to venture out in the rain. However, to sustain motivation requires willpower and discipline until our goal is reached.
The problem is that on arrival, we’ll require a new motivational carrot or stick dangling in the distance to revive our will to move again. Also, if our willpower or discipline were to wane at any point on our adventure, perhaps if we thought the effort outweighed the outcome, then poof – goodbye motivation!

Just like that gym membership New Year’s resolution: You’re completely motivated to lose those five Christmas kilograms to look sharp in that Armani suit you recently bought. Your willpower wakes you before dawn and relocates your half-asleep body to a treadmill down the road. You kickoff well, but by the second month you’re making excuses about the weather and aching muscles as your will fades. You skip a day, a week, a month – then in denial start saying “what gym membership?”

“Motivation is required when you’re not aligned with your highest values.” Tony Teegarden

Moving to the boardroom, the prevailing question company’s ask is: how do we get more productivity from our employees, knowing that greater revenue and ultimately profit will be the result?
The 20th century answered this by paving the way with motivational stepping stones: would you work harder and longer for a financial bonus, a status bump, or perhaps even over the fear of being fired?
This status quo may seem like an obvious way to increase motivation only because we haven’t questioned its longevity and therefore value. History has proven that these kind of motivational techniques are short-lived and end up costing company’s more money to sustain by consistently having to dangle tastier treats in front of their people to keep productivity high. These can even result in de-motivating employees if; they become expected, if some employees consistently don’t achieve, or if a negative outcome is constantly reinforced – like being fired.


Enter inspiration. Where motivation relies on the pull of external ‘sweeties and nasties’, inspiration is fuelled by an internal force. Defined as a feeling of enthusiasm we get from something or someone, which sparks creative ideas. Inspiration is then an emotion which drives us to do or create the extraordinary. I believe it occurs naturally when we experience something congruent with who we are or what we deeply believe in. We are inspired by BIG visions and actions that connect with us personally.

Imagine being back at the gym, except now you have a persistent internal drive to be an Olympic track athlete, after seeing Usain Bolt break multiple world records. All you can think about is standing on a podium wearing a gold medal, feeling the elation while your national anthem plays. Now you go to the gym with a completely different focus and energy. Every workout becomes a mantra to achieving your big picture. You feel in sync with your highest aspirations – you are inspired!

“Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and carry it through to its conclusion, and inspiration is when an idea gets hold of you and carries you where you are intended to go.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

The beauty of inspiration is that once it’s sparked it doesn’t fade easily, even if our will does. It has long-term drive, regardless of how we feel one day to the next, our bigger vision remains ignited and steadfast.

The big hairy question is how do we light this inspirational spark in our businesses and get employees to bring the best of their inspired selves to work?
The answer is to step 1: create a clear vision (the why) to support everyone in the business work towards a unified purpose. And step 2: build a deliberate company culture (the how), outlining exactly how to operate as a collective organism.
The big idea is to grow a team that feels the congruence between the company’s vision and values with their own, sparking their inspiration naturally. In other words, if I as an employee align what I value with what the company values, I feel congruent and inspired and engaged to bring my best to work for the mutual benefit of both. This values alignment process triggers inspiration.

Like most things that have enduring value, this mutually supporting symbiosis takes time to build. The long-term payoff for culture-focused companies are greatly improved employee productivity and loyalty, leading to impressive growth and financial success.
This decade has amplified this growing trend of moulding a deliberate company culture instead of it being merely happenstance. Companies like Amazon, Zappos and Starbucks are providing enduring proof of how inspiration is being fuelled by a culture-first approach, leading the way for others to see the value of this business philosophy. The important point they highlight is to start by creating an intentional company culture, and then aligning it with your people’s values to spark inspiration.

The leadership challenge today is to inspire people, not simply to motivate them.” Nancy J. Adler


So, in the left corner we have motivation; the short-term external butt-kicker to get things done now. In the right corner – inspiration; the big vision internal driver that sustains high productivity. Who do you think should win?

Despite having built my business around inspiration, I believe they should kiss cheeks and support each other. Short-term motivation is needed in certain instances, but not without first having the watchful eye of inspiration to ensure everyone is moving towards the big vision.
When motivation is linked to the inspiration of why you do what you do, then our actions become more internally aligned. And improving productivity at work, like hitting the gym before sunrise, magically becomes a more pleasurable and effortless experience.

winspire Written by:


  1. nicky felbert
    October 30, 2017

    What a great article! It clearly shows what we need to do with Millennials.

  2. Juanita Caprari
    October 31, 2017

    Great article that invites further motivation and inspiration into one’s purpose and work, and provides more clarity to distinguish between these two forces. Thank you!

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