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The zeitgeist of motivational posters

(MoneyWatch) I have always hated motivational posters. If I never see another picture of an eagle, rowing crew, sharpened pencil or mountain climber gracing someone's office walls, it won't be too soon. One of my all-time favorite websites,, has thrived for years in the business of parodying the ubiquitous black-bordered words of wisdom; one of their "Demotivators" reads:

If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a pretty easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

But there's a new company putting a current, real-world, edgy and in some cases PG-13-rated twist on the idea, and it seems to be waking up the tired business of inspirational artwork. The company, Startup Vitamins, has been blitzing Facebook -- and getting plenty of attention -- with ads featuring its most popular poster, "Get [Expletive] Done."

I contacted the company and spoke to founder and CEO Lauris Liberts to get his take on how his products are, well, signs of the times. The razor-sharp investigative journalist in me wondered if I could draw some conclusions about what today's business leaders are thinking based on which posters sell best. (Is that deep and incisive, or what?)

Liberts (whose own incentive to succeed is a story in itself -- he came here from Latvia and had to build a sustainable business on a deadline in order to be allowed to stay in the U.S.), told me that his company's top three selling slogans are the aforementioned "Get [Expletive] Done," followed by "Always Deliver More" and "Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat."

We chatted about what might be gleaned from what his customers -- many of them high-flying household name brands -- are choosing to hang in their digs. My highly subjective conclusion was that nailing up quaint frames of philosophical rah-rah doesn't cut it anymore (I never thought it did). While Startup Vitamins does sell some posters of the more general, idealistic variety, the most popular ones tend to be very literal, and all about execution.

Where the classic (a polite way of saying anachronistic) pep-art offers aspirational gems about the value of teamwork, attitude and leadership, Libert's motivators get to the point: Move quickly, focus on innovation, eliminate obstacles. They're more about daily action than daily affirmation.

None of this is to say that companies and their leaders don't still have high ideals and deep thoughts -- the great ones usually do. It's just that those grander ideals and thoughts don't come to them through wall art.

Of course, as business/sociology studies go, my poster-based exploration is intentionally light-hearted and superficial. Yet it's not entirely without merit; the things we surround ourselves with every day do say something about us. And if Startup Vitamin's growth is any indication, many of today's business winners seem to be surrounding themselves with real-life, no bull[expletive] messaging.

Yes, at the end of the day they are still motivational posters, but they are geared more toward things that need to be done than things that are good to believe.

What's your take on motivational messages? Believer? Baloney? Heard any you think are actually useful, or others you find particularly funny or ridiculous? Please share. Then, as another poster says, "Get to work -- you aren't being paid to believe in the power of your dreams."

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