Jacob is an artist. More specifically he’s a professional painter and graphic designer. He currently favors mural work over the often unappreciated tedium required by smaller canvases.

During an after-dinner discussion about life, the world, and everything, he commented that more often than not his pro bono clients get his better work and tend to be more happy with the final result. While not terribly shocking, it is a bit counter intuitive. I would have thought paying clients would provide the leverage necessary to elicit truly great work from him. And while that may sometimes be the case, it turns out that money isn’t the best motivator. Gasp.

So if money isn’t the best way to motivate an artist, and if Seth Godin is correct in his assessment that Knowledge Workers are at their essence artists, what’s the best way to motivate the elite of today’s work force?

Let’s look back to Jacob. His pro bono clients often get a sweet deal because when he takes them on as clients, they have to sacrifice their urgency. They care enough to wait. They’re passionate enough about their project to let it fully develop. Jacob accomplishes this by allowing himself the luxury of only working on their project when he feels inspired to do so. And in between moments of inspiration, the project stews in his artist brain, steeping in the creative juices that are the byproduct of his paying clients projects.

It’s quite simple really. We’re at our very best when both our intellect and our emotions are engaged. And while money can sometimes redirect our attention, it can’t maintain a hold on both our thoughts and feelings for very long.

So, next time you have the opportunity to hire an artist (or knowledge worker, or marketer, or story teller), make sure you have the right currency to maintain a hold on their intellect and emotions. Make sure you have enough passion to pay them.