Home > User Experience > What kind of designer are you? Finding out your ‘motivation code’. (part 1) | by Emily Niemann | Apr, 2021

What kind of designer are you? Finding out your ‘motivation code’. (part 1) | by Emily Niemann | Apr, 2021

What kind of designer are you? Finding out your ‘motivation code’. (part 1) | by Emily Niemann | Apr, 2021

Motivation Code by Todd Henry

I was recently recommended a book called “The Motivation Code” by Todd Henry, the creator behind the “Accidental Creative” podcast.

(I won’t be going into detail about the podcast but you should give it a listen!)

What I really want to talk about is the “motivation code” brought forward by Todd Henry.

According to Henry, it’s the hidden drivers within us that give us pure fulfillment and joy at work (and in life). It’s how each of us are hardwired. This means that you and I have different motivations and conditions in which we innately thrive.

source: Wharton

After decades of research involving 100,000+ interviews, the author uncovers 27 unique “motivational themes”. He compares these themes being as unique as “DNA”.

In order to find out your “official” code, you will need to take the full assessment provided in the book. The assessment will help you:

“understand the common themes in your moments of deep satisfaction and great achievement”.

No book? No worries. I’m going to guide you through a simplified version right here. With this step-by-step exercise, you will be equipped with knowing yourself more deeply and most importantly having a better handle of your career/personal goals so that your motivation code is being satisfied now and into the future. After this simple exercise, you will begin to produce a solid foundation for an action plan that is specific to you and your motivations.

Are you ready?

If you are on the go while reading this, I highly suggest you carve out time later to sit and jot down notes (having notes in front of me helped me crystalize my thoughts and circle patterns in a tactile way).

  • * Before starting this self-reflection exercise, please remember that it is absolute key that you extract memories that are important to YOU, not anyone else. Not your mother. Not your S.O. Not your boss. Not your teammate. YOU.
  • **I am going to also attach my own answers as an example, so you have a good idea of how to complete this exercise. (***Be mindful that the content of your responses may be wildly different from mine, and that’s O.K. and GOOD! This is YOUR motivation code after all. Just remember to follow the framework.)

1. Name an accomplishment that gave you deep satisfaction (this can be in the professional realm or outside of it- whatever comes to your mind!)

My response: “ I successfully managed our team in launching our tech product on ProductHunt.”

2. Describe what you actually did. Include concrete details that are specific to that past event.

My response: “I spent weeks researching the platform and understanding how to be successful on it. I acted as project manager, making sure all moving parts were being completed on schedule (landing page, social media promotion, attractive copywriting for our page, etc.).”

3. Explain in your own words what about the achievement was particularly enjoyable to you.

My response: “I enjoyed witnessing the project from start to finish. The win was clear-cut. We either got enough upvotes on the platform to be featured or we didn’t. The research I had done was worth it and I was happy to see my teammates and CEO happy. I was also proud to present to the whole organization about the marketing initiative and its success. This project was a highlight during my performance review.”

Now, repeat this process 2 more times (selecting 2 more achievements from your life and answering the same 3 questions above).

If you have the time, you can even do it 5 more times to get a more accurate picture of repeating patterns.

After the exercise, try to highlight any common keywords or sentiments found throughout your achievement stories. Do you see any patterns? What are they?

Do you see any repetition that stand out to you? For example, in my achievement story above, the word “success” is found repeatedly.

Now, let’s look at what kinds of “motivations” fall under each motivation family as grouped by the author.

Motivation Code by Todd Henry (the motivational families p.19)

By looking at this image, perhaps you have an idea of where your motivations might fall?

Throughout the exercises provided in the book, I discovered that my top 3 motivations stem from The ‘Achiever’ family — “Meet the Challenge” + “Bring to Completion” and the ‘Key Contributor’ family — “Be Central”. I’ll go into more detail about each of these motivations later in this post as well as later in this series.

‘Achiever’ family common characteristics:

・driven to persevere through challenges

・motivated to overcome obstacles and oppose an “enemy”

・want to complete tasks, even at the expense of eating and sleeping (<- this made me LOL, I can relate)

・engaged when making progress

‘Key Contributor’ family common characteristics:

・wants to be at the center of the action

・derives energy from being recognized for their contributions (yup.)

・driven to show how they’re unique from everyone else on the team (On point…I’m very guilty of this)

・finds motivation in growing their influence and ownership of teams and processes

1. Meet the Challenge

Meet the Challenge Visual source: free vectors

Those with “Meet the Challenge” as a top motivator are relentlessly persistent.

“For them, it’s not about whether they win or are seen as excellent, but that they manage to tackle the obstacle.”

Other common characteristics include:


I was surprised to see this because I do not view myself as one with a competitive nature. I do not care about sports or which team wins. But, this line really resonated with me: “they seek challenges everywhere, even in places where they don’t exist.” This explains this habit I have (at and outside work!) of making things more complicated when they really shouldn’t be (a blessing and a curse?).

・eyes on the prize

They are good at focusing on just the essential elements necessary to accomplish something- they don’t get lost in details. These individuals might stick with a strategy longer than others because they know they can make it work somehow. They want to prove they can do it.

・fueled by high stakes

Even though they may not like it, they work well under pressure and are good at performing under tight deadlines. This tends to add a “do-or-die” layer to work. You can count on these people to get the job done because they know the project demands uncompromising results.

Now, for the not-so-good stuff that comes with this motivation…

Henry accompanies all 27 motivations with their “shadow side” or unintended pitfalls.

For this particular motivation, as the need to achieve results presides, unfortunate consequences arise.

・routine tasks are considered a bore and a chore

They struggle to do work that doesn’t feel like a challenge. Routine maintenance, repetitive tasks, admin work are terribly unbearable. It is hard to keep them engaged while performing routine tasks.

As a designer, I admittedly attest to this pitfall. I personally find it excruciatingly difficult to keep myself engaged and motivated when naming each and every one of my layers, groups, icons in my designs for handoff.

Not only is this true in a work setting, but you will find me putting “organizational” cleaning at the very bottom of my priority list at home. Interestingly, I even bring this motivation into the kitchen. I will be more motivated to cook something that looks difficult to cook or something I’ve never cooked before.

・excessive tunnel vision

They are obsessed with proving they can achieve whatever goal it is that everything else around them gets filtered through that challenge.

The author expands on this ‘weakness’, relating it to how this behavior can negatively affect team dynamics. I found this snippet quite valuable as when I am in “tunnel vision mode”, I fail to realize how my actions are affecting those around me. Henry elaborates by saying imagine if a manager had this motivation.

They would tend to ignore or brush aside teammates that are not directly involved in that ‘challenge’ and those teammates will then feel neglected or not valued.

(GASP. As I aspire to be a lead/manager one day, this is crucial to know about myself!!!)

・unhealthy levels of stress

Often needing to perform under pressure, they struggle with relaxation. Knowing that they have not yet conquered their challenge, down time is usually filled with thoughts of the unfinished work.

I specifically remember that in my achievement story I shared earlier, I skipped eating dinner with the team because my mind was so preoccupied with the challenge at hand.

It also comes to mind that when I have a design project that has not been resolved, I have trouble sleeping. At 4 am or so I might have a whirlwind of ideas racing through my head. I could wait until a more reasonable hour to put my ideas onto paper…but, unable to rest while knowing I had the ideas fresh in my mind, I switch the light on and sketch all my ideas down in my notebook.

If not, stay tuned. In part 2, I’ll share the characteristics of the “Bring to completion” motivation and some tips on how to make sense of your own achievement stories.

Your homework

In the meantime, if you only had a chance to do a few achievement stories, I highly encourage you to take some time to reflect and come up with some more (professional or non-professional!)


I hope this exercise helped you in some way and I hope to share with you even more insights as I dig deeper into Todd Henry’s book.

Note, the content regarding each motivation can be found in the book. I take no credit for how these motivations are described.

I aim to share 1) the insights I found valuable to myself 2) my personal life experiences that relate to what Henry talks about

Hope to catch you in part 2!

Have a productive (but also mentally and physically healthy!) rest of the week.

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