Wikipedia is an online library, written and edited collaboratively by about 70,000 people. Most of them volunteer to spend 30 hours a week, and have actively contributed to 38,000,000 articles in 290 languages! Linux and Apache are also examples of free and open source software, created and maintained by a group of volunteer developers.

Why do people volunteer to contribute without any pay? Daniel Pink, author of New York Times bestseller ‘Drive’, has questioned traditional theories of motivation, to study this. He points out in a TED talk, “10 years ago, you would not have found a single sober economist anywhere on earth, who would have predicted the Wikipedia model.” What really made it possible?

Research by Stacey Kuznetsov from New York University suggests that Wikipedia members are part of a community – a group of people who regularly interact with one another and share knowledge. There is a sense of purpose and they relish a sense of accomplishment on being able to contribute to a bigger cause. They believe they are making a difference.

This sense of purpose motivates individuals to achieve their goals. It is attached to a cause that goes beyond a person’s self-interest. The good news for workplaces is that, a sense of purpose doesn’t only mean social service or finding the cure for cancer. It can be about understanding the difference one makes at work – solving a customer’s problem, bringing about positive change within the organization, or even making a colleague happy.

So how can you infuse a sense of purpose into your work?

  • Do a self-assessment. Think about your values, ambitions, strengths, and weakness. Then, identify what you would like to do, and how/ where you can share your talents. An important step: move out of your comfort zone and try doing things you have never done before.
  • Understand the organization’s purpose. How does your action impact it? This insight can certainly boost your motivation. In fact, Steve Jobs is said to have used the purpose route to lure Pepsi executive John Sculley to join Apple by asking, “… do you want to come with me and change the world?”
  • Do things that give you meaning. You can find purpose in even small acts as well. Mentor new joinees. Volunteer under the organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. Or simply offer to help with the office picnic.
  • Build stronger work relationships. One of Gallup’s key findings is that the most engaged employees reported having a best friend at work. Think of all the interesting team meetings, lunches, and brainstorming sessions, that you have had and loved. It was your engagement with people that made the difference.

If the above suggestions seem like too much effort, listen to what Carol Dweck has to say. Popular for her research on growth mindset, she believes, “Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it.”

What are you willing to go that extra mile for?

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