The Driving Force Behind Harvard Business School

Nitin Nohria argues the four basic drives innate in human nature--to acquire, bond, learn and defend--must be balanced within any organizational structure. Nohria is putting this theory into practice as dean of Harvard Business School.

What's the Big Idea?


Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria has written or co-written dozens of books and articles that delve into the heart of what motivates human behavior in the business context. A particularly noteworthy example is Driven (2001), in which Nohria argues that every person, from the CEO of a company to the most junior employee, brings an innate "set of mental equipment to work each and every day." These four drives are as follows:

  • The drive to acquire objects and experiences that improve our status relative to others
  • The drive to bond with others in long-term relationships of mutually caring commitment
  • The drive to learn and make sense of the world and ourselves
  • The drive to defend ourselves, our loved ones, our beliefs, and resources from harm
  • The key to harnessing these forces in the workplace is to design jobs that create a successful balance between all, or most, of these drives. For instance, if employees have interlocking tasks, Nohria argues, "their bonds of trust will facilitate their joint task performance."

    To further illustrate this point, Nohria examines in detail the U.S. auto industry's toxic relationship with labor, which was exposed by competition from Japanese companies that were ultimately more successful at balancing the drives of their workforce, and therefore gained a competitive advantage. In other words, while the American approach appealed "almost exclusively to the acquiring drive of its constituent groups, the Japanese methods went far beyond by appealing to all four drives." 

    What's the Significance?

    Having theorized about these concepts, Nohria has been tasked with implementing them at Harvard Business School since he became dean in July, 2010. Big Think asked Nohria how he has been able to put his own theories of power and leadership to work. Watch here:


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