How to Get Ordinary People to Be Extraordinary

The biggest misconception you can make in business – or life – is that the people around you are somehow limited in ways that make it impossible for them to rise past a certain level. If you perceive this to be true, the limitation lies in you, not them. While there is no magic formula for helping people move past their limitations, I’d like to suggest a strategy that has worked in the past:

Add meaning in addition to money

We all need money, and some people are endlessly motivated by getting more money. But for most people, the promise of money is not enough to bring out their very best. People won’t work twice as hard to increase their salary by 3.7%. People won’t soar past their “limitations” to earn $1,957 instead of $1,899.

But if you give someone the chance to both support their family and change the world for the better, amazing things happen. Suddenly, working late feels good. You are part of something bigger than yourself. Instead of simply selling another widget, you are doing what you were born to do.

There are many ways to add meaning…

Make a meaningful connection to a social good

On an ongoing basis, you could give one or two percent of your company’s revenues to build schools in Africa or to support underprivileged students in towns close to each of your offices. If you do this, don’t treat the money as abstract numbers. Encourage employees to visit these schools and bring back photos and anecdotes about the differences your support is making in the lives of others.

Give one day each quarter as an awesome volunteer force

Giving away money can make a big difference, but it sometimes fails to give the donor much satisfaction. Send $75 to Megacharity and you may never understand what difference your donation made versus their $325 million budget. But if four times a year everyone in your office spends a day building a house for Habitat for Humanity or volunteering at the local food bank, you will be able to look into the eyes of the people you are helping.

Reinvent your industry

Not all meaning comes from social good. Being a pioneer can feel just as good. Our world is rife with opportunities to replace outdated business models with much more responsive and flexible approaches. I imagine that all the people involved in these projects long felt grateful that they helped to: put the first man on the moon, invent the first personal computer, create the first profitable e-commerce site in their industry, or even bring a fresh new retail store to their town’s Main Street.

Instead of waiting for some dynamic startup to disrupt your industry, why not band your colleagues together and disrupt your own industry?

  • Completely eliminate the practices that drive your customers crazy.
  • Dramatically reduce the complexity customers face.
  • Cut prices by 90 percent (or more). Yes, it’s sometimes possible.
  • Make stupid objects smart.
  • Be utterly transparent, showing both customers and employees how you make money and how your entire firm is performing.
  • Make loyalty dramatically easier than disloyalty.

Radical goals are what inspire people to rise past their limitations. They add meaning to an endeavor.

Best of all, reinvent your industry to include social good

If you go to the trouble of radically re-thinking how your company and industry works, why not also consider ways that you can both make money and help others? Build altruism into the very fabric of your culture. Embrace the opposite of self-promotion; if you help other people reach their goals, your reputation will grow based on your deeds rather than your words. Replace greed with generosity; the more you help others, the more people will embrace your services and you will do well by doing good.

Many of us know in our bones that our way of life is not sustainable. I mean this on many levels… “I can’t keep driving 45 minutes each day in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 30 more years”… “I can’t keep marketing sugar water as though it is the key to happiness”… “I can’t keep pretending that money is enough to make me happy”… “I can’t accept that my entire career will never be more than sucking up to managers so I can get a 2.3% raise.”

We all have different conceptions of what is meaningful. Figure out what is meaningful to the people around you, and you will discover the path to making extraordinary things happen. Check on Slideshare fore 20 more ideas to get your imagination flowing.


Written by Bruce Kasanoff. Bruce helps companies harness the potential of altruism to power business growth and career success. Learn more at Kasanoff.com. He is the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk, a simple little book about doing well by doing good. To always see Bruce’s articles on LinkedIn, please click the FOLLOW button above or below. Twitter = @BruceKasanoff. This story originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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4 thoughts on “How to Get Ordinary People to Be Extraordinary

  1. Great! People want to know what they do, but more importantly why they do it. Every job has a larger relevance. Most people have the desire to be more, and that sometimes comes in social good, sometimes a small raise but as you mentioned a raise is not enough. As the money increases so does spend. To maintain the new quality of life, one must earn more. It is a vicious circle really.

  2. This post is great…was actually thinking about this the other day. It is all too often that we stereotype people or assume that they are moulded for a certain life and that their success has a ceiling. The difficult part is finding ways to make sure that they remove their self-imposed ceiling for success and help them to strive for more…useful tips!

    1. You got that right. In fact, ourselves most of the times is the biggest thing that hinder our life quality development. It is not easy to help them remove their self-imposed ceiling for success and help them to strive for more, but, we should give ‘an extra mile’ for our good intention, never give up.

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