I'm reading a book that goes into a simple way of thinking about motivation. Motivation is split into two categories. There are things people are motivated by, and things motivated for. You may be motivated by credibility (who is making a request), emotion (how does it make you feel), or logic (can you see why it is important and does it make sense?).

Then you are motivated for the outcome, which can be recognition (good job!), achievement (here's a trophy), or power (here's money and influence). It looks like this, and you'll have variable scores.

Recognition Achievement Power

Logic and credibility are what I'm personally motivated by the most. However Recognition and Achievement are not clearly distinct for me. I understand how they are different but they seem intertwined to the point they are not able to be separated. This is a challenge for me and now I need to explore how they are different and distinct. I had similar confusion thinking about praise and gratitude.

What is Recognition?

The best definition I found is fairly powerful: acknowledgment of something's existence, validity, or legality. When I read this the words that sticks out to me are acknowledgement and existence. Recognition is about reinforcing your existence and value in the world. But more importantly I think it's about self-perception.

Even being self-perception, the value and importance of knowing where we belong cannot be understated. With our existence assured, our confidence blossoms and we are able to bring our best selves into any situation. I know how often I don't put my best efforts and self into a situation because I'm unsteady. I don't know if there is any level of recognition that can change that feeling. Is recognition the best tool to use to demonstrate someone belongs?

What is Achievement?

Back to the dictionary, where I find: a thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill.

The word "successfully" is where these lines get blurred. How do you define success? Who gets to say whether things are truly successful or not. Rarely is that in our control, unless we're working in a lab with very clearly defined criteria. I work in the software world, where our best ideas of success ultimately come down to how well our software improves our users's lives. Sometimes that can take years to really understand.

We get celebrated when our achievements seem successful. It's perception and they really may not be, while some of our best work is ignored because we struggle to qualify success. I recently had knee surgery and the surgeon was quick to call it a success even before I could put weight back on my knee. After months of physical therapy and reporting little improvement he couldn't accept that deep in my knee copious amounts of popcorn were being made. He was unwilling to give up his achievement.


Achievements feel like possessions, recognition feels like belonging. Maybe that's the only difference, I'm still not sure. If you get recognized for some work can that recognition be taken away? People will remember the recognition given separately and differently from it being taken away, depending upon the magnitude. Compare Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff for an exaggerated example of this.

The differences between achievement and recognition are still difficult for me to articulate. I feel it's important to understand this so I can help others, and myself, accomplish more and do it with more zeal. What's your take?