Influence vs. Inspiration vs. Motivation: Understanding the difference

Some INFLUENCE thesaurus entries:

effect result
shape power
mold outcome
charm force
act upon determining factor


divine guidance
thought intuition
idea inhalation

Many times, an artist or writer will be asked, “Who are your influencers?” In reality, apart from an ongoing relationship with a mentor, the word inspiration better fits a question of style.

Inspiration doesn’t have intent. We take our inspiration and do what we will with it. Influence has a goal, and end game. You can be someone’s inspiration without knowing you are. Influencing others requires a conscience awareness of the influence actions from the influencer. Inspiration is passive. Influence is active and intentional.

Motivation vs. Influence

Another word that frequently enters our vernacular and is used interchangeably with influence is “motivate.” There is again a difference here. Motivating’ requires giving someone a ‘motive’, usually self-interest or self-preservation along the lines; while influencing is a higher-level skill that makes the desired action their idea.

One adage says,

Motivation gets you going. Influence is what makes you go in a particular direction.

But aren’t we as humans always motivated, even if that motivation is to sit on the couch, eating potato chips, and watching soap operas? Something is driving our deepest affections, whether that is to veg-out or train for a marathon. Influence is what takes us in a particular direction

Influence Wins
Influence is the primary ingredient needed to move others toward an objective. Influence best happens when it is intrinsic, as extrinsic motivation is fleeting. Money, perks, and extra time off are temporary and are not tied to the actual task at hand. Those motivated by them can quickly disassociate from the mission as soon as better money, perks and extra time is offered by a less noble cause or objective. But…let someone understand THE WHY and they will see the objective itself as vital. In this case they will be influenced to join arms and march the streets of Selma for no pay while in fact putting themselves in danger. Build THE WHY into a team and you’ll have a soldier risking his life to get a fellow injured soldier out of harms way. At that moment, he won’t be thinking about a medal as motivation, rather the influence that has been poured into him will take hold as he risks life and limb to not leave any man behind.