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While discussing how people are motivated the other day I spoke to the group about the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. This law comes from Economics. Simply stated it means that as we increase consumption of a product – while keeping consumption of other products constant – there is a decline in the marginal utility we derive from consuming each additional unit of that product.

What does that have to do with motivation, one might ask. Plenty! Because this law relates to the satisfaction of needs. Take the example of a buffet at a large hotel. There are a zillion things spread out in front of you. If you happen to be hungry, the first part of the meal gives you immense satisfaction as you really needed that food. But as you eat more and more, the resultant satisfaction from the food you eat actually drops. The first helping is brilliant, the second pretty good but when you move for the third or fourth ( depending on your appetite) you feel satiated. No amount of persuasion will make you have some more!

Even in today’s world when consumerism has become so strong and people can, by and large, afford much more, this law still applies. The excitement of buying the videocamera you longed for needs to be experienced to be believed. For the first few days, you rush about shooting almost everything in sight. After some time, the novelty wears off.

There then comes a time when you don’t even know where it is kept. But this does not stop you from wanting to buy the very latest model when it is announced!

The first house, the first car- you name it, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility applies. For most of us, needs drive us, as long as we live. People buy things for many reasons. Because it is useful to them. Because their neighbours have one. Because there is a big discount going. Whatever.

We buy to satisfy a social need. To show that we have arrived. To flaunt what we have. Interestingly, money by itself really has no value. Money has value for the things it can buy for us.

Of course, needs vary from person to person. Some are content with relatively less while as for others even buying more than most may still leave their need unsatiated.

Mahatma Gandhi so rightly said ” Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”.

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This is the 75 th of the “A Step A Day “series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.