What’s the Difference Between Motivation and Inspiration?

Ken Larson

Ken Larson

People seem surprised when I tell them I don’t believe in ‘motivation’. After all, I am an executive coach … isn’t motivating what I’m supposed to be doing?

To me, the answer is not motivation but rather inspiration. The whole idea of motivation is passé — there is nothing that I (or anyone for that matter) can do or say that will motivate you with any sort of lasting results. I believe you either have the motivation to succeed, or you don’t. In other words, motivation is dead. It doesn’t work anymore because it’s based on fear of failure and what you think you should be doing, not what you’re passionate about.

My goal as a coach is to create and embed inspiration — a force that comes from within yourself guided by your own desire to succeed.

When it comes to the success of your company, there are four levels of inspiration:

  • The individual
  • The team
  • The organization
  • And the organization’s clients/customers

Let me explain.


“Inspiration begins with the individual, not the organization. “- Coach Ken Larson

Inspired and empowered employees are the ones who propel the organization in new directions and to new heights.

But how does one inspire others if one is not first inspired? The first step to creating a contagiously inspirational culture is self-generated inspiration. And if your people aren’t actively choosing to inspire themselves, then by default they’re relying on someone or something else to motivate them. Can you afford this risk in your company?

This is a recipe for disaster in any organization.

Organizations that constantly battle motivational challenges stand to gain a positive culture shift once the inspirational paradigm is embraced, adopted, applied, and fostered. The motivational paradigm is outdated — it’s based on doing things to people, short term results, and calling upon people’s fear of failure to motivate them to perform (i.e. do this or you’re fired, do this if you want a raise).

As a result, people work the course of least resistance.

The inspiration paradigm is the opposite.

It’s based on doing things for people, long term engagement and productivity, and calling upon people’s inner strengths and wisdom.

For inspired people, work becomes meaningful, and they become happier and more productive.

Once on track, the self-inspiring person begins to infect others through their renewed energy and enthusiasm. Truly connecting with the organization’s cause and purpose puts people into position to connect with others in a caring fashion, and it spreads — self-inspiring individuals create self-inspiring teams.


The most overused, misunderstood, and underutilized term in any organization today is “teamwork.”

No individual or organization got where they are today on their own. Any result, whether organizational or individual, came from a combined effort of many — collective strengths, experience, and wisdom.

Teams are only as strong as the individuals within those teams.

If you ask people why their team isn’t performing, you’re likely to encounter a few who point fingers and blame everyone and everything else. It’s been my experience that the finger-pointers are usually the biggest part of the problem. And if you can strengthen those individuals, you can strengthen the team.


Teams of inspired individuals will inspire the organization. And inspired organizations rise above their competitors and attract and retain loyal customers.

The synergy that results becomes palpable and enjoyable. Inspiration becomes a part of the company’s identity and high performance becomes a by-product instead of the focus.


This is the highest level of inspiration. Once the first three levels are achieved and inspiration is ingrained in your company identity and culture, you can focus on the impact you create for your clients and customers.

If you’re able to inspire the people who buy from you, they will not only feel like they’re a part of something truly special, but will likely remain loyal customers for years.

Forbes surveyed 2,175 consumers with the goals of
a) identifying America’s 25 most inspiring companies and
b) uncovering if there is a correlation between successful companies and those that inspire their consumers.

The survey found that when consumers are inspired by a company:

  • 86% of them would recommend the company to friends and family.
  • 71% reported they would spend more with that company.
  • 92% would share their experience with others.
company inspiration effects on consumers

When the drivers of inspiration are activated, it elevates employee engagement that shows up in the customer experience, proving the correlation between inspiration and success.

To initiate the inspiration paradigm shift, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who inspires you and what do/did they do to inspire you?
  • What do you engage in that inspires you (i.e. read, get outdoors, enjoy art, spend time with loved ones)?
  • And finally, what are you doing to position yourself to inspire others?

My mission in life to inspire the champion in all of us — if you’re ready to start creating a contagious, high-performing culture within your own organization, let’s talk.