Summary of Driven by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Driven by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria

Every day we are faced with decisions. The choices we make are sometimes well thought out whilst at other times, they are done in haste without thinking about consequences. Have you ever stopped to consider why? What drives you to make a decision or take a specific action? 

According to the authors of this book, every human possesses four drives that fuel our decisions. However, these drives evolved when our ancestors were faced with very different situations. Early humans were primarily concerned with food, survival and reproduction. So, how do these drives affect our behaviour now that there is so much more to be concerned about? Is our behaviour really based on primitive drives?

In this book summary readers will discover:

  • The evolution of the human brain
  • The four drives of human behaviour
  • How the four drives come together to determine our behaviour
  • How companies can use knowledge of the four drives to their advantage

Key lesson one: The evolution of the human brain

Have you ever heard of the Great Leap? Well, it is what scientists use to describe the change that occurred in our ancestors approximately  75 000 to 100 000 years ago. This was when humans started showing an improvement in their hunting strategies and in how they built their shelters. The reason for these changes are not known for certain but numerous theories exist.

One of these theories suggests that the increase in the brain size of humans is the reason for the Great Leap. This increase resulted in the human brain being almost three times larger than those of our closest ancestors. The theory states that due to the larger brain, humans developed different systems in our memory. These are the episodic system, mimetic system, mythic system and theoretic system. 

The episodic system deals with the basic form of memory we share with other animals. The mimetic system allows us to copy the behaviour of others in order to learn. The mythic and theoretic systems developed alongside language in humans. This is what makes humans truly intelligent as it enabled us to share our knowledge and capture it by developing written language. 

While this theory might explain what sets humans apart from their ancestors, it still does not quite explain the Great Leap. There are enough gaps to make it possible for more theories to pop up over time. There are even theories that suggest that our genes might have a role in it. One such study to examine the skills encoded in our genes asked participants of all ages to identify the environment they would like to live in from a series of photos. None of the participants chose the desert even though they had never experienced it before. Researchers concluded that this indicates that we have some sort of sense for unsuitable environments. This, of course, would be indicative of survival instinct. These innate instincts may be a better explanation for the Great Leap as they enabled humans to survive better.

The most plausible reason for the Great Leap, however, may lie in the four drives of human nature. There are four things that motivate humans. The drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn and the drive to defend. Before the Great Leap, only two drives were present, the drive to acquire and the drive to defend. The development of the other two drives to bond and learn is what set humans apart from other animals and what led to their development and ultimately their success as a species.

Key lesson two: The four drives of human behaviour

The drive to acquire

This drive is one of the strongest drives that humans have. It can explain our sometimes irrational behaviour as it often dominates our rational thinking. The drive to acquire is not limited to material goods, it is what makes us want a good social status as well. Therefore, an acquisition of a fancy car not only exhibits your wealth but also your status.

Early humans, of course, had a different way to exhibit social status. Maybe they got to eat first or get the first pick of the food. In this manner, they also had a better chance of survival and reproduction. Surprisingly, this is what may also drive us to eat a large amount of fatty foods, even when we know it may not be the healthiest option. Our ancestors had to eat when food was available because they did not know when their next meal would be. 

This drive is also what makes humans want more than others. This gets worse if we begging to compete with those that surround us but that is exactly what the drive to acquire is. It motivates us to compete, we want to have more than others.

The drive to bond

The desire to bond developed as a result of reproduction. It made humans more likely to produce offspring if a bond existed between partners. Raising a child takes work, and if there is more care than just the mother, the chances of survival are higher. Personal relationships, however, are guided by both our drive to bond and our drive to acquire. 

A good way to explain this comes from team sports. The desire to bond is exhibited by the relationships you have with your teammates and this is further strengthened by the desire to acquire that will help the team compete. As much as these two drives work together in this example, sometimes they can compete with each other. Just imagine if you owned a company and had great relationships with your employees but you have to let a few of them go. You have to pick one drive to follow and that is not an easy task. 

The drive to bond is a beautiful thing that has strengthened humans for centuries. However, it has also had some unfortunate effects. You see, the drive to bond is also what brings groups of like-minded people together and sometimes they feel superior to other groups. This is where discrimination begins and the ugliness of us versus them thinking come into play.

The drive to learn

Information gaps are what leads to human curiosity and this is what fuels our drive to learn. Every time we identify an information gap, our drive to learn awakens. It is what happens when we see a magician do a trick and we need to figure out how they did it. Not knowing something makes us feel slightly uncomfortable and the feeling won’t subside until we have the necessary information. 

The drive to learn is also what inspired cultures to develop legends and stories about the afterlife. People needed to have an explanation for the unknown. But what actually makes the drive to learn so important to the great leap is that it makes us work more efficiently and allows us to make predictions – particularly the outcomes of our decisions. This enables us to learn from our past mistakes as we remember what we have done before and are less likely to do it again if the outcome was negative. 

The drive to defend

The drive to defend is one of the most primal instincts we have. The fight or flight response is one that is automatically triggered when we feel threatened. The drive to defend can motivate us to act in different ways depending on which other drive is also triggered. If the drive to acquire is also triggered such as when our possessions are being threatened by a thief, the physical changes in our body motivates us to run. If the drive to bond is triggered, most likely when you argue with someone you care for, the drive to defend motivates you to argue. 

The drive to defend has a pretty big dark side though – it is what drives conflict and war. It is not what causes war, as that is mostly the drive to acquire, but the drive to defend is what fuels it. 

Key lesson three: How the four drives come together to determine our behaviour

Now that you know about the four drives and what they do, it is time to journey through how they influence our behaviour. The one thing that binds them all together is our emotions. Our emotions stem from our drives, the drive to bond is satisfied when we feel loved and we feel proud when the drive to learn is fulfilled. However, emotions are complex and there are so many different ways of experiencing them. Likewise, our behaviour is a result of the complex interaction between our drives, emotions and other neural pathways.

To understand how this works, consider an example. When you see an item that you want on sale, the information is passed on to the limbic system of the brain where it is processed. This is where the drives are also located. It is then connected to an emotion that is based on which drive is activated. In this example, the drive to acquire may be linked with excitement. This information is then passed to the prefrontal cortex where decisions are made and will determine how you react to the information. The prefrontal cortex also links with your long term memory and can therefore evaluate your past experiences before a decision is made. Once the decision is made, it travels back through the limbic system and to the motor centres of your body to physically perform the action of purchasing the item. 

This is how our drives, emotions and neural pathways work together to bring about a behaviour. 

Key lesson four: How companies can use knowledge of the four drives to their advantage

Knowledge about the four drives can be a huge advantage – understanding them is even better. Why? Because then you can use them to your benefit. If companies know of the four drive, they will be more efficient because they know how to motivate their employees. 

Employees are most productive and efficient when all their drives are satisfied. Therefore, a successful company will provide an environment that does just that. This can be accomplished by allowing employees to work together to satisfy the drive to bond but not to compete. They also should be able to acquire new skills and information satisfying the drive to learn. 

Companies also need to be mindful that they can use the drives to their advantage when it comes to the customers as well. A product or service may satisfy a customer’s drive to acquire but customer care, learning about the product and the quality of the product will satisfy their other drives as well. 

Knowing this, companies can strengthen their performance both within the company amongst employees and outside the company with customers.

The key takeaway from Driven is:

Four drives influence our decisions and behaviour. The drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn and the drive to defend. These drives have evolved alongside humans, first stemming from our need to survive and then setting us apart as intelligent beings. Understanding these drives leads you to understand not only your actions but how to satisfy the people around you by satisfying their drives.

How can I implement the lessons learned in Driven:

If you are battling with a decision, use your knowledge about your drives to try and figure out which drives are competing with each other. Or maybe you have continuously made bad choices and need to make a change. Use what you have learned in your past experiences and correlate them to your drives to see where you have gone wrong. You might be surprised about what you learn about your past behaviour.

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