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Mixed Motivations

a236ff2b-d102-486f-8de9-053dd6a697b4Salish Sea

From my perch on an island in the Salish Sea, I’ve been thinking about a trend.
I’m curious about what motivates great works.
Is there interest in doing good only when other interests are served?
Are we in a new era?
I was raised in a time of supposed purity. People undertook noble causes for the purest of reasons. Service to the purpose was all, personal advancement apparently never a factor.
Examples? We watched leaders like Peter Lougheed and Tommy Douglas give selflessly to their respective Provinces and create lasting legacies built on uncontaminated foresight – no taint of personal reward. Sure, after his political career, Lougheed succeeded to a lucrative law practice, board positions and the exercise of great influence.
Various leaders did good works, and they seemed selfless but we don’t know.
Now those in public office are almost presumed to be there for reasons other than the overall good. In this era of low trust, enquirers search for base motivations for public acts.
Brian Mulroney and the Stevie Cameron book “On the Take”. A sordid tale unfolded of alleged passing of cash from questionable characters to our then prime minister for jet orders.
Now enterprises in order to demonstrate good citizenship become sponsors and try to wring the greatest corporate advantage out of the “giving”. And there are others who donate as “anonymous”.
There’s a continuum of apparent selflessness through to acceptance of a quid pro quo to shameless exploitation.
Is there more of a bias in the mix these days? Is it moving towards more blatant advantage? Does that concern you, finding balance? Are you more or less disposed to contribute and sponsor because of the dynamics?

Here’s a situation where there was a mix of self interest and helping someone. Would this be unacceptable in another epoch?
A sculptor of some renown in Squamish reluctantly recognized the inevitable. He knew he was going to have to relocate his beloved wife Beth to Vancouver to be closer to medical resources. She’s grappling with later stage MS. As both are 72, that was profound upsetting their ordered lives.
Al created out of a capacious studio/yard – many quirky works scattered about. Their houseful of tasteful appointments was next door. Now he and Beth were – out of necessity – headed for a condo close to Vancouver General.
His primary Vancouver dealer paid him a visit as the impending and required change came clear.
“Al, you know you’ve got to go…”
“Lance, I know, I’m having a hard time facing up to dismantling the studio and dealing with the house. The kids are harping on it.”
“I’d like to make you an offer. I’ll get it going for you. I think what is needed is to make inventory and warehouse all your finished sculpture from here. There are people who can deal with large scale moves of equipment like yours if we can find a smaller studio for you near the new place and others who can sell the excess. And I’ll go through the house and organize a sale here.”
“Wow, that would break the dam!”
“But I’m going to get something out of it. I want to take the sculpture with a 65% gallery share on eventual sale to recognize the cost of warehousing and dealing with it in bulk. And I want first dibs on all the house stuff you don’t want for your new place or to pass to the kids. I can put some of it through my antiquities business. But I’ll price it all on the basis of what it will go for in a sale out here in Squamish.”
Al thought about it. No question it was an immediate and great spur to dealing with a situation. It bothered him a bit that there would be some profit in it for Lance – but nobody else had offered a way out of his dilemma.
“Let’s do it. Now.”
Good as his word, Lance presided over the household effects sale 6 weeks later. It went off spectacularly. Gossip buzzed about how he’d high graded the house. But neighbours and friends made off with coveted lamps and bowls. Generally, the sale was a huge success and allowed Al to make a move he’d been slow to launch, even as the house was listed and the condo had been bought.
In this case it appears that all parties were happy with the outcome. Is this differently perceived now than it would have been in the past?

We’ve just been watching the Olympics. Many sports – basketball, hockey, now golf – attract the world’s best even though they’re not amateurs, as was once required. Many other competitors have “interesting” sponsorships. And certainly expect to cash in later. But it makes for a riveting gathering of the best in the world for games of the highest order. And Rio really defied the sceptics, didn’t they?
The whole scene was full of confusing motivations. Well orchestrated, professional “amateurs” jousting in high quality events in excellent new stadia, and a brand new golf course: elite sport shows while desperation and crime rule the favelas a few miles away. Maybe the organizers recognize that a good show will create overall benefit to the country that outweighs the contradictions.
Great things don’t happen anymore for pure and selfless reasons – not in my experience. I’d like to know what you think. It seems like events are actuated by mixed motivations, some altruistic, some serving more personal or corporate needs, some for self aggrandizement.

It’s complicated. When does one aspect – the commercial – enter without being deemed inappropriate? Are there rules for navigating and giving weight to mixed motives? There are times when self serving moves cloaked in “giving” are despised. And others, like the story of Al above, when the greater good would not prevail but for a solution that recognizes we live in interesting times.

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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