If you had to sail across the ocean next week, having never sailed before, how would you do it? As captain of your yacht, you’d probably choose a destination, get a good crew of people who know what they’re doing, learn as much as you could to prepare, and then cross your fingers. With a deep breath you’d set sail into the abyss of uncertainty. Ultimately, most of your learning would happen in the waters and you’d quickly find out how much you don’t know. You would float on in a fog of vagueness, an uncomfortable flux. Eventually you’d get used to the ebb and flow of the waves against your boat. You’d learn that the ocean’s rhythm is the only thing that you can count on – its waves sometimes raging, sometimes soft, but ever-present. Perhaps you’d find a comfort in the normalcy of this constant change. Perhaps you’d learn ways to navigate the winds in your favour.

“[Working] in this type of environment where there’s so much unknown, …is really uncomfortable for a lot of people, and…it hasn’t been for me, because it’s all I’ve known, really.”

If you can relate to this unease, you’ve probably been part of a start-up before. You know it’s everything but smooth sailing: it’s chaotic, it’s exhausting, and not everyone’s stomach can take it. “…working at a start-up with no structure, with very little pay, …it’s difficult to do for a long period of time, …you have to be very comfortable with a lot of ambiguity” describes Anthony Morra. He was lucky in his entrepreneurial voyage because someone more experienced showed him the ropes. In the late 90s while his father was the Licensee for Kappa Canada, Anthony was running the warehouse at 16 years old. “So from him I learned a lot about what you should do in business, the type of decisions you should make. …And the way most people think about business is not the way my dad thought about business; completely different, but he knows what works, he’s been doing it for 30+ years with completely different industries. …So valuable life lessons and business lessons I learned from him,” Anthony shares. “[Working] in this type of environment where there’s so much unknown, …is really uncomfortable for a lot of people, and…it hasn’t been for me, because it’s all I’ve known, really,” he says. Acclimated to the ever-changing waters of start-ups, Anthony Morra is the CEO of Bladetech Hockey as well as part owner and Managing Director of BeaconForce Canada.

Photo by Alex Banman

In 2014 Anthony met Jeffrey Azzolin at a U of T Sports and Business Conference. Jeffrey was showcasing a prototype of a hockey blade using a new technology. “I wrote him an email the next day and said hey, like your idea, this is what I can do for you.” So the two started working together and built Bladetech Hockey. After countless emails, and plenty of unreturned phone calls, Anthony and Jeffrey got Bladetech into retailers, and landed their first NHL client, the equipment manager for the New York Islanders. Now they have several players from about a dozen teams using their blades. The Bladetech blade uses what’s called Flex-Force technology to increase the player’s speed and reduce injuries. Although unique, selling a niche product is not easy, it takes a lot of persuasion to get people to try something new in an established industry. Breaking into a tough market with Bladetech has helped prepare Anthony for a similar situation with BeaconForce. “There [are] a lot of things related to BeaconForce. Same thing: new technology, new company, no credibility, no validation or very little validation. …just getting [people] to try [our product] is difficult,” he says.

Photo by Alex Banman

Then in August 2017, Anthony received a phone call from his MBA colleagues in San Francisco, asking if he’d like to be involved in their new business. They had come up with BeaconForce, a technology that measures productivity at work in order to motivate employees to perform at their best. “They told me about what it is, and in about 10 minutes I was like yeah, I’m in.” So Anthony quit his full-time job and became the Managing Director for Canada and the East Coast of the United States. What was it about this start-up that made him jump ship so quickly?

“…you can’t motivate people, people think you can, you cannot. They’ve gotta be motivated, and you have to give them the right opportunities to be motivated.”

BeaconForce discovered a serious disconnect between what science teaches us about motivation, and how businesses motivate people. Looking at studies in behavioural science from the last 35 to 40 years we can understand why people enjoy the things they do, and why they do them. The activities people enjoy the most are ones that engage them in a task that offers them control and allows them space to think creatively. The problem in many workplaces today is “the model of management is about 100 to 150 years old. When Henry Ford was creating his Model Ts, he created this hierarchy in order to control people, basically [saying]: do this thing, to get this job done, and that’s it. So work has obviously evolved quite a bit since then, but management style has not,” Anthony points out. Many companies still operate from this dated mindset, and use fear or extra compensation to make sure people do what they want. Despite how powerful and effective punishments and rewards can be; they are only short-term motivators. You can’t create truly loyal employees with extrinsic motivation. The only true motivation we have, is the motivation that comes from within. The science shows what motivates people, but businesses aren’t using that information to motivate their employees. So BeaconForce created a technology to put behaviourial science into practice in the workplace.

Photo by Alex Banman

“Again you can’t motivate people, people think you can, you cannot. They’ve gotta be motivated, and you have to give them the right opportunities to be motivated. You have to create the right environment where their motivation can flourish,” says Anthony. BeaconForce has found there are seven factors that motivate us the most: clear goals, continuous feedback, social interaction, balanced challenge, sense of improvement, attitude to risk and sense of control. If the activity you are doing includes some or all of these motivators you will be motivated to keep doing it. BeaconForce measures people’s intrinsic motivation, the level of trust between employees and managers and employees and the company, and where people are relative to flow. Flow is defined as “your most productive state of mind, …[when] your challenges slightly outmatch your skill level,” Anthony explains. Using BeaconForce technology, employees answer one quick question (anonymously) per day. These results are analyzed over time and managers receive tips that they can implement to improve the team dynamic and the work environment. By encouraging personal growth, managers can stimulate employee motivation, and, in turn, increase overall productivity.

“…it’s being able to recognize things before most others and putting all these things that seem unrelated together…to create new opportunities.”

Anthony has his future mapped out and clear skies are in the forecast. He wants to take Bladetech to the next level by partnering with a manufacturer to make skates with Bladetech blades already in them. He also believes BeaconForce will be very successful; “with this change of technology, what we’re focusing on is the people actually, and that’s who often get lost. …So being able to do what we’re doing with people, I think is gonna make a huge impact on businesses and people’s lives.” Yet Anthony feels most fulfilled when he uses all his skills to accomplish his career goals; “Cuz it’s not just knowledge of business, …it’s being able to recognize things before most others and putting all these things that seem unrelated together…to create new opportunities.” He is currently working on a sports module for BeaconForce, blending together his interest in behavioural psychology and his love of sports. BeaconForce Sports will measure how stress affects performanceto help coaches motivate the players on their teams. He smiles confidently saying, “If I do all that, I’m gonna buy yacht, and…that’s it.”

Photo by Alex Banman

While sailing in the winds of change, we cannot predict all the treasures we will find, or hidden rocks we will hit. Learning with every change in current, we navigate in the rough waters and the smooth seas, purposefully steering towards our chosen port. When weather patterns and naysayers try to knock us off course, we adjust our sails and trust that the winds and the waves will carry us where we want to be. Guided by hope, we sail on.

To learn more about intrinsic motivation Anthony recommends Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink  and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

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