Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices

By Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria

Review by Alice Waagen, Workforce Learning

As a student of what drives people, I can honestly recommend “Driven,” an engaging an insightful book that can help managers and leaders who are wrestling with motivating their workforce.

The authors, both professors at Harvard Business School—Paul Lawrence is a professor of Organizational Behavior and Nitin Nohria is a professor of Business Administration—are seasoned academicians with impeccable credentials.

Their goal in writing “Driven,” they explain, was to come up with a unifying theory of motivation that would apply to all humans everywhere. By synthesizing previously divergent models of human behavior from evolutionary biology with the various behavioral sciences (economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science), the authors have given us fresh insight into this murky area.

The resulting theory of motivation looks at the four drives we all have in common as biological entities sharing the same evolutionary path: the drives to acquire, bond, learn, and defend.

Lawrence and Nohria state in the book’s first chapter: “We propose that the dynamic interplay within the brain among just these four drives alongside the cognitive centers, in active adaptation to changing environments, can largely account for the vicissitudes of human experience, for both individuals and societies.

“We propose that the four drives exist as hard-wired mental modules in the brain of all modern humans as primary drives, not derived from one another. This means that fulfilling one drive does not fulfill any of the others. Sometimes the four drives act together in complementary ways; at other times they are in conflict with each other. The drives significantly influence but clearly do not totally determine particular behaviors.”

Consider the opening section, which discusses the evolution of the human mind.

Lawrence and Nohria explain that the foundational underpinnings for their theory of these drives lie in the work of Charles Darwin and his theory of human evolution. Stated simply, Darwin’s theory of variety, selection, and retention shows that over time, species retained those genetic characteristics that promoted their survival and lost those genes that had little value for genetic survival.

Applying Darwin’s theory of natural selection and retention to human brain evolutions, Lawrence and Nohria hypothesize that the drives to acquire, bond, learn, and defend are now wired into our brain’s limbic system and now provide the ultimate motives for the choices we make in how we behave in response to cues in our environment.

The next section of the book is devoted to chapters on each of the four drives.

Each chapter describes in detail the reason why the drive supported human survival and was retained in our genetic makeup.

The authors give case studies and examples of how the drive has played out in everyday life as well as the positive and negative influences the drive has on our behavior.

In the third section of the book, the authors provide chapters on how these drives interact with culture, emotions, and human skills.

The remainder of the book covers some of the serious questions this model evokes, such as the implications of the four-drives theory on organizational life.

Of course, throughout the book, Lawrence and Nohria call for further research and testing of the four-drives model. And I wholeheartedly agree with them that much more thought needs to be put into the four-drives model and how it influences our behavior in the workplace.

However, though I find the four drives of motivation thought-provoking, I struggle with how to apply it to the daily interactions in the workplace.

I anticipate other academic and organizational researchers who examine our business world can help translate this theory into applications and implications for leadership.

Click here to learn more about Driven.