Thursday, January 12, 2012

Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria

In Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, Harvard Business School professors Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria present a unified theory of human motivation. They identify the following four primary drives, each unique and separate from each other in significant ways such that they cannot be reduced further, and which together form the basis for other drives. They are:

D1. The drive to acquire. This drive includes the desire for objects of value and unique experiences, status and influence. Sexual conquest would fall under this desire, while sexual intimacy would be D2.

D2. The drive to bond and form long-term relationships.

D3. The drive to learn, to increase our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

D4. The drive to defend our self, our loved ones, our possessions, our community and our beliefs.

The authors begin by attempting to explain their background, and how the narrowed focus of the vertical scientific disciplines have been unable to arrive at a unified theory of why we do what we do. By tracing back to earliest humanity, when the great leap in human intelligence and/or society occurred, they point to a biological basis for the drives that was reinforced by successful evolution.

Each of the four drives has a positive and negative side. In moderation, each drive aids survival, and can help the species to thrive and to be happy. However, when carried to extremes, each drive can be destructive.

In the final part of the book, the authors point out how knowledge of their four drives can be used to build environments where people can prosper and thrive, meeting each of their four primary drives, and they point out two case businesses as case studies. They discuss HP as a model of a company that embraced all four of the drives to create a successful culture. The “HP Way” was based on the principles of individual ownership and responsibility, collaboration within groups, knowledge sharing, and a sense of community.

Unfortunately, Driven teeters awkwardly between a scholarly work and a book aimed at the mass market. On one hand, they try to build a solid case for why their four drives are necessary and sufficient based on studies in various fields. On the other hand, they then make a series of unsupported off-the-cuff remarks that greatly undermine their credibility. The writing itself is quite dry, and they spend far too much time talking about their credentials and editorializing.

Key ideas: Humans have four primary drives, the drive to acquire, bond, learn and defend that are all critical for our survival and success. Although the relative intensity of each drive will vary from person to person, we require all four to be met, and a successful business or social environment will address all four needs. Defending our beliefs is a core drive. In the same way that we rise to the defense of our community, we defend the ideas that we have adopted when they are threatened.

It is interesting to compare Driven with Drive by Daniel Pink. Pink talks about the need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and also addresses the need for payment as well. However, his goal is to identify the situations in which intrinsic motivation can flourish, assuming that the basic need for compensation has been addressed. Pink perhaps pays too little attention to the need to acquire/gain status, but his thesis is that those are primarily extrinsic motivations that science has shown to have a negative or at best neutral impact of creative thinking.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook version from Audible.

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