Paul R. Lawrence is a Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School, where he served nine years as chairman of the Organizational Behavior area and also as chairman of both the MBA and AMP programs. His research, published in 25 books and numerous articles, has dealt with the human aspects of management, organizational change, organization design, human nature, and leadership. His 1967 book, Organization and Environment (written with Professor Jay Lorsch), added "contingency theory" to the vocabulary of students of organizational behavior. Recently he has, with others, made a comparative study of Soviet management practices that was published in 1990 as Behind the Factory Walls: Decision Making in Soviet and U.S. Enterprises.
Question: What is Renewed Darwinian theory?
Paul Lawrence: Well, this addresses questions that have been on the minds of humans since we have had history. It is: "What are the fundamental roots of our behavior as human beings? What makes us tick?" is one way to put it. And I was lucky enough to discover that Darwin built quite a good deal about human behavior at this level of basics that has been amazingly ignored by the academics. And they focused entirely on his first book, which was "The Origin of Species" and ignored his book that I have been looking called, "The Descent of Man."
So I was very fortunate to be able to draw on his insights as well as current findings from neuroscience and how the brain works to build what is a pretty fresh theory of human behavior which I feel is necessary to underlie and pin up and base... build a better theory of leadership upon it.
What I’ve come up with is what I call the "Renewed Darwinian" [theory] because it is a renewed version of Darwin. It doesn’t have much to do with the common version in the public that Darwin is all about the survival of the meanest and the fittest... and the most ruthless to survive is the way it works. And they all use that way of thinking when they talk about living in a Darwinian world, as you will notice in print.
Anyway, I came up with the idea that we have other drives than simply a drive to gain resources, to acquire to look after our narrow self-interests. And that is the insight that has allowed me to say: "Well, what else?" So I argue that we all humans are born with four basic drives, ultimate motives, which we have because they were essential for our basic survival. These aren’t just icing on the cake, these are four drives that we have proven over the eons are necessary for our species to thrive as a whole species and they are encoded in our DNA and we sense them and feel them mostly by the emotional messages we get from our subconscious as we witness the world around us.
Question: What are these four drives?
Paul Lawrence: The first is the drive to acquire, to possess, to own things that are necessary, resources for our very survival and things that go even beyond survival, to enhance our status as individuals. The second is a drive to defend our resources, to protect them from hazards, not only... obviously we are protecting our body, but also our possessions, our loved ones, even our beliefs when they are under attack. The third is the drive to bond in long term, caring, mutual-caring relationships with other humans—this is essential to our survival as acquiring food to eat. And the fourth is the drive to "comprehend," to understand, to create, to make sense out of the world and to be able to build the, kind of knowledge that allows us to cope with out everyday life.
Question: How do these drives shape behavior?
Paul Lawrence: So think of any individual. We go through the day looking around us, seeing what’s going on, and really thinking what does this mean to me? How am I going to react to this situation? Should I run away, go forward, embrace it, think it’s terrible? We have to evaluate, we have to have criteria to judge what these events around us mean to ourselves in order to figure out how to respond. And that’s what our brain does for us. And if we can learn how to lead, to behave in ways that do justice for all four of these basic drives, we turn out to be what people consider a content, happy, satisfied, successful person who feels their life had had meaning. And we can’t do it if we only pay attention just to the drive to acquire.
If I’d see a beautiful meal but I’m going to have to knock down this nice lady in front of me to get to the meal, well, how do I do it? One, it would be nice to have, and the other is I don’t really see myself as banging people over the head in order to get what I want. So how can I find some what to do justice to both my desire to have a good meal and have a friendly relationship with this person that’s in the way.
Recorded on July 28, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller