Motive as a filter

Something to try the next time you’re considering a product or a service: spend a little time thinking about the motive behind it. It’s something that’s easy to skip entirely, especially when we’re busy evaluating a thing by its far more obvious and surface-level criteria. But motive is really important, and I think it can be an effective filter for making good decisions about how we spend our money and attention (and whom we support along the way).

Using email as an example, many people—even principled, well-meaning people—use Gmail. The evaluation criteria for Gmail might be as simple as “it’s free, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s easy to set up and use.” All totally fair. But when you run it through the motive filter, you begin to uncover some interesting stuff. What’s Google’s motive for providing free email? Is it that they just want people to be able to communicate easily with one another, or is it that a major advertising conglomerate with a twelve-figure annual revenue stands to benefit tremendously by consuming and using all of your inbound and outbound communication? In comparison, Fastmail is a company that has focused solely on email for 25 years. Fastmail’s motive is far more reasonable: to sustain a business that provides fast, reliable email. When I apply the motive filter to both Gmail and Fastmail, it’s pretty clear which service I’m going to use.

(This post isn’t intended to be an advertisement for Fastmail, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention that you can save ten percent off your first year if you’re interested in using the very best email provider with a pure motive.)

The motive filter works for all kinds of things. Consider the motive behind the sources you trust for news: are they seeking to inform and share facts, or to persuade with opinions? How about the motive of your favorite tech reviewer: are they aiming to educate and help you make an informed decision, or have they been compensated to push specific products?

The filter even helps with choosing things like open source software. Some projects are motivated by the simple desire to solve a very specific problem, while others are the freemium gateway to a pricey officially-hosted version of the same software.

It can probably also help with things like relationships. Though in that space, it’s equally important for you to check your own motives, too. (And that’s all of the space I’m going to devote to that item. 😅)

Whatever the case, give it a try. If you’re a nice person with pure motives, it’s all too easy to assume that everyone else’s motives are pure, too. So it can be especially helpful to undertake the exercise of evaluating the motives behind things, and using your conclusions as a filter in your decision-making.

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