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Motivation Goes Way Beyond Money

Nitin Nohria: The best organizations allow human beings to acquire things that they value, to feel like a part of a team, to make sure the work they are doing is meaningful and that they have ways of defending their interests.

A lot of people believe that what motivates people is just money.  A colleague of mine, Paul Lawrence, and I, by studying some of the most recent research on what goes on in the human brain, have found that human beings are very deeply motivated by four primary drives. 

There is the drive to acquire, which is insatiable and therefore people always want more.  But equally, there is the drive to bond. People like to form relationships with each other. It’s something that we of course all see in children.  But even human beings are unique in that they form relationships with small groups, with large groups and even with abstract entities like organizations and nations.  

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.  

Finally, human beings have a deep motivation to defend.  They defend anything that they value, whether it be ideas, groups, possessions. So these four drives we think in combination is what really explains human nature. And organizations and leaders who are effective are those who attend to all four of these drives.  If you privilege one drive over others, you may get a lot, but you also leave a lot of human motivation, if you will, on the table.  

So the best organizations in my experience are organizations that simultaneously allow human beings and their employees in their companies to feel like they can achieve the things that they want to achieve in terms of realizing the desire to acquire things that they value, to feel like a part of a team, to feel like really part of an organization, to make sure that the work they are doing is meaningful and feels like it has a purpose.  But people also need to feel like the organization is fair if they feel that they have been harmed that they have due process and ways of defending their interests.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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