Prestige or Purpose – that is the question?


A few weeks ago I decided to watch a movie called “The Prestige” – for those of you that have not seen this EPIC film that was directed in 2006 here is a short storyline. In the end of the Nineteenth Century, in London, Robert Angier, his beloved wife Julia McCullough and Alfred Borden are friends and assistants of a magician. When Julia accidentally dies during a performance, Robert blames Alfred for her death and they become enemies. Both become famous and rival magicians, sabotaging the performances of the other on stage. When Alfred performs a successful trick, Robert becomes obsessed trying to disclose the secret of his competitor with tragic consequences.

So, at the end of the movie I could not help but think exactly what is Prestige in our now world. The Oxford dictionary has its definition as: “prestige, /prɛˈstiː(d)ʒ/, noun: prestige; widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality.”

Chad Albrecht from the Huntsman School of Business wrote an article on productivity and prestige in business ethics research. Based on a survey that was administered to 320 business ethics scholars worldwide, the authors report a ranking of 15 business schools that are perceived to be leaders in the field of business ethics. Based on these same survey results, the authors investigated which factors may have the strongest relationship to individual publication productivity and perceptions of institutional prestige within business ethics research. The results provided several surprising findings that suggest the business ethics field may be anomalous in academe in terms of the emergence of productivity and prestige.

Efficiency at doing a certain task, in the workplace or otherwise, is strongly influenced by how motivated individuals are. Exploring new ways to motivate employees is often at the top of a company’s agenda. Traditionally identified motivators in Western economies primarily include salary and prestige, often complemented by meaning, creation, challenge, ownership and identity.

Whether in our private or professional life, every day we complete a certain amount of tasks, some of which are more or less pleasurable to do. Of course, when motivated or stimulated to do certain tasks, we often complete them faster, better and without procrastination, even when the tasks themselves are not very pleasurable. Motivation in general comes from a wide range of personal or social factors, such as financial compensation (salary), recognition by the colleagues or superiors (prestige), or satisfaction coming from personal achievements. It comes as no surprise that employers and companies are systematically seeking new ways to stimulate their employees towards being more productive and happier at the same time. In conditions of radical social and cultural changes, in particular those related to the emerging knowledge economy, enterprises are facing new challenges to motivate and retain key workforce, which is the focus factor of competitiveness in the market.


So while perceived prestige in the industry continues to be an important factor, it seems that priorities have certainly shifted in the marketplace, and people today are most concerned now with finding a workplace that suits their lifestyle and personality.

It really does not matter what is motivating you, but recognise it. It is exhausting to deny your true motivations. If you are motivated by money, growth, possessions, your family, partner and friends – that’s great. Accept it. Run with it. Maximise those desires. Work hard, get paid, do it again. When you harness your motivations, you can achieve a lot. It’s a source of energy, and gives your work purpose.

But ask the question frequently, “What’s motivating me right now?” Your motivations change on a regular basis. At some points you will be motivated by the work, and at others you will want the kudos and applause. Whatever it is, pay, prestige or process, embrace the motivation at that moment. Let it fuel your passion, your prestige may well become the motivational factor and energy behind your purpose.

Final thoughts; ‘find something more important than you are,’ philosopher Dan Dennett once said in discussing the secret of happiness, ‘and dedicate your life to it.’ But how, exactly, do we find that? Surely, it isn’t by luck. I myself am a firm believer in the power of curiosity and choice as the engine of fulfilment, but precisely how you arrive at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery. Still, there are certain factors and certain choices on your journey that make it easier and more worthwhile……

Matt Dillon once said:

‘Fame is part of me and my life as an actor. I enjoy the creative aspects of my life as an actor. I enjoy directing and acting as well. But the bottom line for me is not prestige and power. It’s about having an exciting, creative life.’