Harnessing the Four Drives

Human beings are very deeply motivated by four primary drives.  The drive to acquire, which is insatiable and therefore people always want more.  But equally, the drive to bond, people like to form relationships with each other.

Human beings also have a deep desire to create meaning and to understand the world around them.  This is what leads both to things like science and religion, which are ways of organizing and thinking about the world.  And finally, human beings have a deep motivation to defend.  They defend anything that they value.

So, one of the organizations that I think does a great job of balancing all four of these drives, is Harvard Business School.   This is an organization in which you can do remarkably well if you’re very, very successful.  We have faculty members who are entrepreneurial in the best sense of the word and there is no limit to what they can accomplish in terms of their drive to achieve at Harvard Business School.  

At the same time, we have always been a remarkably collegial place.  This is a culture that makes you feel like you’re a part of a community, where you can truly belong.  We have many institutions that support that, all the way from teaching groups that early on create a culture in which faculty members learn that  they can share with each other the ways in which they teach, the ideas of how to teach best are not their own and that they share with each other they will in fact become better teachers themselves.  So we create a great culture in which people learn how to bond with the organization and to team with each other.  

We’re certainly a place that has always has a distinctive mission and a purpose.  We have a mission statement about educating leaders who make a difference in the world.  And we are an organization that has always been very thoughtful about allowing people to feel that if they ever feel aggrieved, that they will be heard, that they will be listened to, that there’s enough psychological safety that people can in fact express any grievance that they have so that their drive to defend is well taken care of as well. 


Human beings are very deeply motivated by four primary drives: to acquire, to bond, to create meaning and defend. One of the organizations that does a great job of balancing all four of these drives is Harvard Business School.

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