Understanding the 'drivers'
We do not come into the world with a brain devoid of any "software". How could we? If, for example, we did not have a built–in programme to "learn", we would not develop our mental capacity.
With successive generations, our mental software has extended. A combination of Darwinian evolution over the last 1.7 million years since Zinjanthropus man, and our brain's ability to improve both rationality and memory ,has enabled modern Homo sapiens to emerge. Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria have explored the development in their book "Driven"
This first section on building self–understanding draws heavily on their work.
There are four drivers: –
- To acquire;
- To bond;
- To learn;
- To defend.
The fundamental aim of acquisition is to get as much as you can – food, water, shelter, sex, cash. The scarcer the object, the greater its perceived value; the more it becomes coveted and collected. The drive for bonding springs from a different evolutionary concept – the understanding that bringing up a family required profound social collaboration. Gradually concepts of love, trust, belonging, friendship and alliance enter the fabric. Learning pushes us to explore, examine and be curious. This is the need to fill in gaps, to explain and provide a reason for events. Perhaps religion is the most extraordinary example of this drive. Anthropologists have not found a single culture that does not have a creation and an afterlife story. This is especially extraordinary given there is no hard evidence for such beliefs. I find it no less interesting that no culture has been found that has not sought to express itself in artistic form, through paintings, songs or stories. The fourth driver is to defend – threaten us, and alarm, fear, anger, the need to fight or flee is triggered. At the milder level this can lead just to caution or anxiety, it can lead us to try harder. We need security.
These four drivers are imbedded in our psyche, so that our subliminal impulse is always to get as much as we can as quickly as we can. In many ways we are programmed to act as we would have done a million years ago. Our rationality has not yet completely caught up with our instincts. It is as though two states of being are in competition – our biological make–up and our rational mind. Understanding helps the rationality to catch up. That is why it matters .
Our instincts are ruled by million year old biological needs and coping with these instincts is the role for rationality in the very different context of the 21st century. "Understanding" is the wellspring of rationality, important when we look at the catastrophes such insatiable drivers can cause when unfettered by understanding and reason, or when goaded by our own subliminal fears and anxieties.
Let's take each one in turn, let's look at what Lawrence and Nohria call the Dark Side of the Drivers.
To summarise so far: we are governed by four drivers pre–programmed into our minds at birth and influenced, in all probability, by nothing except our genetic make–up.
This, in turn, is largely the result of our inheritance. Little else influences our genes except the degree of stress experienced by our mothers during pregnancy.
Each driver is distinct and separate from others. Each has the potential for good or for harm. Ideally they need to be "managed" by our understanding and rationality, ideally they are kept in balance, and ideally our ordering of our lives leads to fulfilment in terms of acquiring, bonding, learning and defending. Unfortunately we are not taught about these drivers, nor how to organise and plan our lives so that we keep them in balance.
As most of us spend more than half of our lives at work, it is vital that managers and leaders seek to satisfy their own four drivers, and also to provide the context and opportunity for their workforce similarly to lead fulfilled lives in each of the four key areas. Everyone will bring the same four drivers to the workplace – once we understand that, we can also start to see how we should manage the organisation and its people. We can start to anticipate the consequences of thwarting such drivers. And finally we can see how we have outlined the four basic building blocks of each individual and their psyche. These will form the background to our later review of behaviour, learning theory, communication, the difference between men and women, and finding personal fulfilment and happiness.
Now, let's explore the implications of the four drivers for organisations.