Digger’s Pillars of Motivation

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After my recent posts about Us-and-Themness, I got into an interesting online discussion with a music educator and barbershopper in Canada called J. R. Digger MacDougall (see some of his activities here and here) who shared the concepts he uses to analyse people’s motivations to join and then stay with an organisation. They intersect in some ways with the ideas from Maslow I have been writing about this year, but they slice through the conceptual plane at a somewhat different angle, and I thought that readers who weren’t in that particular group might enjoy mulling over them too.

He presented the concepts as four ‘pillars’, which is itself an apt metaphor to think of the support an organisation gives its members. If all four are in place, their commitment will be solid; if one is shaky or absent, it may continue, but will be more precarious; lose two and the whole shebang will collapse. And each of the four pillars has that useful quality that it presents some immediately practical considerations for an organisation to engage with; you can generate a to-do list from them quite readily.

But they also have depth. You can’t just generate your checklist and stop thinking about them. They invite you through the simple and practical into a more reflective space that can inform the way an organisation builds its ethos and culture.

The pillars are as follow:


Interest groups such as choirs (or sports clubs or business associations) have on the face of it an easy win to start with here: people self-select to join on the basis that they share a pre-existing attraction for the subject. But we can’t rest on our laurels about this, for three reasons.

First, because interests don’t emerge fully-formed without actual activity. Someone might know that they quite like the idea of something, but the strength of their interest will be dependent to a significant extent on how engaging they find the activity itself. Stimulating someone’s interest isn’t a matter of simply taking advantage of a pre-existing attraction, it involves developing that attraction into a fully-blown obsession.

Second, because any area that is sufficiently complex to get people interested has lots of sub-areas of specialisation. You need to get people excited about this particular approach to this particular repertoire, or they’ll wander off to join a different choir.

Third, because interests come in all kinds of dimensions other than a group’s primary subject matter. Any organisation needs people who are interested in publicity, management, developing projects - and people with these interests need to find ways to stimulate them.


In some ways this category lumps together all the areas covered by Maslow, whilst the other three pillars contain factors that are arguably treated with that typology. But you can see why Digger articulates this as a distinct category for the purposes of his model. At the practical, check-list end of its function, the group needs to be sure that would-be and existing members have what they require to participate fully successfully.

This pillar is where a choir’s induction process is developed. It is where questions of disability and access live. It can be an intensely practical pillar, where logistics of travel and hydration and the supply of music folders get organised. It is where systems meet individuals.

At the deeper level, there are questions of policy. What kind of needs is the choir prepared and/or able to meet? How much and what kind of training does it offer? An auditioned choir is, in one sense, choosing members on the basis of what kinds of skill needs they are not attempting to satisfy. These questions lead on nicely to the pillar of Values.


People need to feel that the ethos of the organisation shares their values. Again, it could be tempting to regard this as an easy win for musicians: we all believe music to be a valuable thing.

But within that general belief, there are some quite significant different ethics, and the tension between them can be a primary reason for the development of us-and-themness. Is the choir committed to high artistic and technical standards? Is its central mission community integration? Does it care more about pizzazz or exalted emotion in performance?

You can (and I like to) value all of these, but - in practice - what is the bottom line? What do you sacrifice when - inevitably - you can’t do everything?

I will come back to this one in a future post, as there is a lot more to be teased out of it.


People need to feel good about themselves. This is one I have mulled upon in the past in the context of Maslow, so I won’t go on at length here.

But I think it is worth pointing out how congruent the individual’s desire for self-esteem is with a choir’s imperative to use rehearsals to improve. Achieving things is a sure-fire way to earn the right to feel proud of yourself. ‘Hard work’ is only a grind when it either doesn’t seem to be making much difference or nobody notes and celebrates the difference it is making.

People who sing together deserve to feel good about themselves for making the effort to go out and make a difference to the world. This one genuinely is an easy win, and let’s not forget to make the most of it.

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