What Drives You? Understanding
Do you really understand what motivates you? Everyone
knows how important it is to know yourself,
yet few people do. Really understanding your motivations
is a life-long challenge. Part of the problem lies in
the fact that motivations are subconscious, so deeply
embedded that we dont get a good look at them. They
are experienced as instinctive.
Are there basic drives that are common to all human
beings? Which ones are driving us in our daily lives?
How are they influencing the choices you make?
It used to be that people looked to Freuds psychodynamic
theory for explanations: we are driven by sex and power.
But surely there is more than that. More recently, Maslow
helped us to understand our basic needs for shelter, food,
clothing, ego and belonging. Then he told us that only
a few of us would become self-actualized.
David McClelland outlined three basic motivations
in the 50s: the drive to achieve, the drive for power,
and the drive to affiliate with others. His theory has
been widely applied to understanding motivations at work.
Another psychologist in the 30s, Edouard Spranger,
proposed that we seek to satisfy our interests in six
areas: theoretical, utilitarian, aesthetic, social, individualistic,
and traditional or religious. While this helps explain
our areas of interests, it doesnt address the underlying
drives or motivations.
There is a new theory that proposes all humans have
four basic drives in common. These four drives have been
present since the beginnings of our species and have help
in our survival. These four basic drives are embedded
in our genetic DNA and remain very much active in us today.
Four Basic Human Drives
The four basic drives are:
In a recent book on motivation, Driven: How Human Nature
Shapes Our Choices (Jossey Bass, 2001), authors Paul R.
Lawrence and Nitin Nohria explain this new theory on basic
drives in humans. These two Harvard Business School professors
draw evidence for their four-drive theory from evolutionary
psychology and Darwin as well as from social sciences and
- The drive to acquire
- The drive to bond
- The drive to learn
- The drive to defend
Human beings are driven to seek ways to fulfill all
four drives because these drives are the product of the
species common evolutionary heritage: they increase
the ability of our genes to survive.
The Balancing Act
- The drive to acquire objects
and experiences that improve our status relative to
others: This is defined as a drive to seek, take,
control and retain objects and personal experiences.
In the course of evolution humans have been selected
naturally for this drive by survival pressures, based
on the basic needs for food, fluid, shelter, and sexual
People are driven to acquire both material and positional
goods. Both goods and social status are important
here. The drive to acquire is rarely satisfied; you
can always want more and always seek ever greater
- The drive to bond with
others in long-term relationships of mutual care and
commitment: Humans have an innate drive to form social
relationships and develop commitments with others
that is fulfilled only when the attachment is mutual.
Groups of individuals who were bonded to one another
had a better chance of surviving environmental threats
than group that were not. This drive draws humans
into cooperation with others.
- The drive to learn and
to make sense of the world and of ourselves: Humans
have an innate drive to satisfy their curiosity, to
know, to comprehend, to believe, to appreciate, to
develop understandings or representations of their
environment and of themselves through a reflective
process. This drive without doubt has enabled mankind
to survive the elements and has given humans distinct
advantages over other creatures.
- The drive to defend ourselves, our loved ones,
our beliefs, and our resources from harm: Humans have
an innate drive to defend themselves and their valued
accomplishments whenever they perceive them to be
endangered. The fundamental emotion manifested by
this subconscious drive is alarm, which in turn triggers
fear or anger. This drive has obvious survival value.
This may have been the first drive to have evolved
in earlier human species.
The drive to defend manifests itself in modern life
in many ways. Much of human activity is generated
by this drive. It is activated by perceived threats
to body, possession and one’s bonded relationships,
and also by threats to one’s own cognitive representations
of one’s environment and of one’s self identity.
The four drives are innate and universal, found in some
physical form in the brains of all human beings. The drives
are independent even though they are highly interactive
with each other.
Each drive also has a dark side, as when
the drive to acquire becomes excessively competitive and
diminishes respect for others, or when the drive to defend
ones current thinking diminishes the drive to learn
These four drives exist in each of us, and determine
the choices we make. In some people, one drive will be
more developed than others, creating an imbalance. In
some jobs, some drives will be emphasized more than others.
Understanding how each of these drives shows up in
your life can help you understand how and why you make
the choices you make. Working with your coach can help
you understand yourself better. You may be relying too
much on your drive to acquire, or placing too much emphasis
in the drive to bond, while neglecting your drive to learn.
Often the drive to defend can overwhelm other important
drives that must be satisfied in order to have a well-balanced
Which drives are guiding your choices? Which drive
do you neglect? The key is in knowing that all four drives
are basic to human nature and a balanced life must include
some satisfaction in all four areas.
The challenge is to find a course forward that
fulfils all of our basic drives in some creative, balanced
The way forward must be to use the best side
of each drive to check the dark, excessive potential of
human nature (Lawrence & Nohria, p. 283).
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