Would you travel 10,000 miles for a single conversation?

Yes, the journey has begun.  Right now it’s taking me to Milan, Italy, via Zurich, Switzerland, seeking to find some motivation. Actually, the journey began quite some time ago.  It started when a graduate student lamented to me about not wanting to read complicated journal articles that seemed to be sinisterly crafted to confuse students and impress fellow PhDs.  I couldn’t offer much of a rebuttal to the rather straightforward idea that a motivation text that had practical and applied value was sorely needed. In the spirit of Berliner (1992), and countless other scholars who have advocated that the most reliable evidence-based findings are useless unless embraced by practitioners, the idea for Motivation for Learning and Performance was spawned.

Personally, I was disenchanted about the usual narrative style of traditional textbooks that presented countless descriptions of esoteric theory, devoid of what Mayer (2002) calls meaningful learning, the type of knowledge that people find valuable and useful.  Surely, a basic principle of promoting interest in learners is to make the material personally relevant.   Lacking relevance the probability of retention or application of the knowledge is nominal at best. 

But the publishing gap was wider.  A review of existing texts revealed that most books were generally written to address either maladaptive classroom behavior, or crafted for aspiring experimental psychologists, typically studying animal behavior.   There wasn’t much in between, and no text used the latest scientific evidence to address the fundamental principles of motivation from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Nothing existed to show learners how to maintain performance momentum in the face of obstacles, regardless of the context.  The gap needed to be filled.

So, you may be wondering why go across the globe to find motivation?  When conceiving the idea for the book I thought, what could be a better way to diagnosis, assess, and mediate issues of motivation than by talking to people about how they deal with their own motivational challenges.  Most people when motivating themselves or others look at the clues at hand and try to make sense of the evidence, using strategies of one kind or another that ultimately either accelerate success or impede their personal progress. 

I also thought what if I could talk to people from all walks of life, the type we encounter daily at work, school, or even in our own living room. I vetted the idea to a few colleagues and received positive feedback, but as they say on late night infomercials, “but wait there’s more.”  What if I spoke to people that have reached the pinnacle of success, or the depths of failure in their own disciplines and lives? Surely this approach would engage the reader and create some personal relevance.  Simultaneously, I could discuss researched-based practices, but instead of using fabricated case studies, I elected to use real people to bridge the research to practice link. The premise of the book was solidified, and the journey began.

The reason for going to Milan was to speak with what I call a “motivational leader”, an individual who has demonstrated many of the adaptive motivational strategies revealed by scientific evidence to be helpful to accelerate learning or performance.  One such leader is Mr. Alec Torelli, a professional poker play, who has twice played at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.  For the uninformed, the payout to the winner at the final table in Las Vegas is in excess of $2,000,000! When I asked my former Italian language instructor and Alec’s wife Ambra, “Why should I interview Alec?” she responded “he travels the globe in seek of high-stakes action.”  Ambra added, “We never know where we will be, Macau, Cannes, Monte Carlo, it changes day to day.”

Clearly I was intrigued, wondering what exactly might motivate someone to dedicate their waking hours to playing poker, risking fortunes, but for what purpose?  Money alone, fame, fortune, or none of the above? I quickly concluded that figuring out Alec was simple, he likely was driven by money, also known as being highly extrinsically motivated.  However, a brief phone screen with Alec revealed something very, very different.  Now you know my motivation to travel 10,000 miles to conduct a 45-minute interview.

Stay tuned for the details to find out why Alec is such an intriguing guy and learn why his story was certainly worth the trip.



Berliner, D. C. (1992). Telling the stories of educational psychology. Educational Psychologist27(2), 143-161.

Mayer, R. E. (2002). Rote versus meaningful learning. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 226-232.