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After 20 years working for Fortune 100 corporations, I learned no one is irreplaceable. So who replaced Mozart?

Try this: Go to LinkedIn and check the profile of some of your contacts. I bet most of them will just enumerate functions performed in different organizations, not necessarily what makes them unique. This is a just a consequence of the factory-like education we received: we have a function and we are replaceable.

The vast majority of companies, as education systems, talk about finding, developing, and keeping talents. But at the same time, they compartmentalize talents within a function or a special education program, and therefore, once talents leave, they find the next ones to replace them. It is just a matter of performing specific tasks within a specific function.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Henry Ford. Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. Nikola Tesla. Michael Phelps. Barack Obama. William Kankwamba. These individuals – and many others – impacted the world in their unique way, and therefore, they are irreplaceable. There might be other musicians, inventors, mathematicians, or athletes and they will be remembered by their own legacy, not necessarily in the same way as these individuals.

We have little idea of what it takes to become an Olympic Gold Medal, or create a new industry, or transform an entire community, or make a difference as President of the United States. We just get to know the outcomes: the beautiful songs, the emotion of winning the gold medal, the improved communities, the results of a developed potential. What these individuals have in common is an internal force, an intrinsic motivation, an internal locus of control, a grit that keeps them going regardless of what other people say or the circumstances they live, because they loved what they do.

Intrinsic motivation is “the kind of push coming from an internal reason, like your own passion, a pleasure in the task itself, a higher end, a moral value, a sense of rightness.” Extrinsic motivation is “the kind of push coming from an external reason, like a monetary prize, a voucher or a travel reward” or, in the case of the education system, grades.

No one replaced Mozart, and no one will. Each human being has a unique talent to contribute to the world in their lifetime. The only ones that understand their potential and how to nurture it are the individuals themselves. Thus, the importance of the education system focusing on developing students’ intrinsic motivation and consequently fostering their potential is paramount. How many times have you heard from someone “I’d love to do this or that, but I have to work to pay my bills”? What if they have developed intrinsic motivation while at school? Their lives could be much different today. The good news – there is plenty of scientific research proving intrinsic motivation can be developed at any age.



In Daniel Pink’s research about what motivates people, he found that there are three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy is being self-directed, the ability to make our own decisions. Charles Duhigg shares in his book Smarter, Faster, Better: “a group of Columbia University psychologists wrote in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences in 2010, ‘the need for control is a biological imperative.’ When people believe they are in control, research shows that they work harder, are more resilient and push themselves more. Each choice – no matter how small – reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy,” the Columbia researchers published. People who has an intrinsic motivation understand that effort brings rewards. The pre-requisite to practicing the intrinsic motivation skill is “believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings.”

Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self-determination that gets us going.”

Therefore, we need to deliberately empower students to plan, take action, make decisions, change courses of action, and transform themselves while guiding them towards becoming autonomous learners.

Having the control of their learning motivates students to achieve mastery, the “I-can-do-this” attitude. In this journey to get better at something, students develop key skills, such as resilience. Autonomy and mastery combined to a purpose is the ultimate intrinsic motivation force that will keep students learning regardless of the resources they have access to. The journey is no longer a pain when students have their own destination!

In our experience working with over 30,000 students in public school systems of five different countries, we can affirm intrinsic motivation can be developed (check the stories in this link.) Some students have access to all resources available for learning, some don’t. Nevertheless, they perform at top levels in standardized tests. Why? It is easier to foster students’ talents than to fix their deficiencies and try to adapt them to the education system! We call it Autonomous Learning, a learning system that helps students to reach autonomy step by step, discover their purpose, and find their path to master what is necessary to make them successful in their future profession and in life.

Students can learn to develop intrinsic motivation, grit, internal locus of control, or any other scientific name you want to give it. We can help them through an autonomous learning approach and foster them to discover what makes their contribution unique and valuable to the world. An undeveloped talent is just a potential-to-be talent.

If every person could impact the world in a unique way as Mozart, we would definitively be a more advanced society. Where do you start? You can start by transforming your own practices as an educator, a parent, or a leader. Philosopher Marcus Aurelius advices us on the way: “waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

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