Does Anything Truly Motivate Geeks?

If you’ve ever known a geek, you may be asking yourself “does anything truly motivate geeks?” and honestly, it’s a valid question. Something that both geeks and managers constantly struggle with. Managers struggle to keep their geeks motivated to their projects and tasks, and geeks struggle to stay motivated to their projects and tasks, even if they may be boring and they really don’t care. Chapter 5 of our book is dedicated completely to what works and what doesn’t work for motivating or not motivating geeks.

Motivation - I just don't care
Motivation – I just don’t care

As the meme shows above, a lot of times it isn’t that we’re lazy, most of the times we just honestly don’t care, at all, about anything.

Before we dive into the chapter, I would like to have a clear definition of the word “motivate” so it’s very clear what the actual definition is to think about it as we go through what works and doesn’t. According to, to motivate means: “to provide with a motive or motives; incite; impel.

Very early in the chapter, the author stresses that normal things that you think of as being motivational just don’t work for geeks. Then they dive into main categories of things that don’t work for geeks, such as: Cash Bonuses, Unqualified Appreciation, Parties, Formal Awards, and Threats.

Cash Bonuses:

Cash bonuses don’t normally work for geeks. We honestly most of the time don’t really care about money, more than money, we care about truth, logic, and the right reasons for doing something. Money is great to have, and we’ll take all of it that we can get, but it’s not going to motivate us to get a project done that we don’t care about, or think is problematic.

Unqualified Appreciation:

A lot of these answers keep going back to honesty and truth. We don’t like taking credit for things that we didn’t do, or weren’t apart of. When we do something right, we do like appreciation, it’s not our favorite thing (because we don’t like attention), but it’s much more acceptable than when it was unqualified in the first place.


As some in our class have mentioned, it really depends on what KIND of party. We like parties where there are geeks, or food, or both…but we aren’t typically viewed as outgoing social beings, we much prefer staying in the corner and talking to other geeks about our latest programming project, or the last big bug we squashed after 14 hours of straight programming on that one problem.

Formal Awards:

Once again, it’s really not that we don’t like recognition at all, but we don’t like being put up in front of a lot of people. Especially if we have to give a speech after an award, just forget it.


Threats really aren’t a big deal to most of us geeks. Most of the time, they don’t really have that much to threaten us with, and if they did…we really don’t care.

I also interviewed Hunter Smith who agreed that most of the above “motivators” would work for him in most situations. But they don’t work for geeks. So, is there anything then that DOES motivate us? That seems like a pretty exhausting list of things most people LIKE to motivate them.

Here is a list from the book of some stuff that DOES motivate us: Right Answers, Challenging Puzzles, Meaningful Questions, Competition, and Food.

Right Answers:
Did I mention that we love truth and logic? We are in pursuit of truth! So having right answers motivates us, and drives us to do better.

Challenging Puzzles:
We love challenges. We love anything that isn’t emotional. Challenges are just pure logic, so we love them. We love trying to solve anything and everything (even women, which doesn’t work, by the way). We like having extremely difficult challenges that make us dive deep into our brain and try to solve extremely complicated questions and problems. It drives us.

Meaningful Questions:
We don’t like dumb stupid questions that you could have Googled and found the answer to. We like questions that are challenging and make us think. We like questions that have a deep meaning, and not just dumb questions about how our day went.

For most geeks, competition drives us. We like comparing our performance to the performance of others to make ourselves feel better about how we’re doing.

Most people are motivated by food, and that includes geeks. We LOVE food.

So what if none of these “motivators for geeks” work? Well…there’s one more truth not mentioned in the book.

Motivation - Sometimes There Just Isn't Any
Motivation – Sometimes There Just Isn’t Any

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