There are many books that I have read over the years that had a profound influence on me, and are almost unknown. I don't know exactly what that says about me, but in any event, I've decided to blog about them and to let you know why I thought they were cool - and maybe you'll read them too. This is the first installment of such books: Driven. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that Paul Lawrence was a wonderful colleague when I was teaching at Harvard Business School and Nitin Nohria is a dear friend. I think their book does the best job I have ever seen of a reasonably complex and empathetic profile of human motivation that is neither the narrow "economic man" nor some fluffy utopian rant on the "true" motives of people. (The inspiration for this entry was my friend Jim McGee's post from 9/9/9 on what motivates creative talent. Thanks Jim.)
Instead, this book navigates the Scylla of excessive rationality and the Charybdis of naive emotionalism deftly. It states that as people we are "driven" by four fundamental motivations: acquiring, bonding, learning, and defending. The best "incentive" system acknowledges all four, and creates mechanisms to support each of them. These four currencies are not substitutable. If I make a ton of money, and learn nothing, and bond to no one, the system - over time, and in the main - will fail. Anything can work for a while, but will it survive? They argue only if there is balance.
When we think about great institutions we see that they provide across all four dimensions. There is "reasonable" compensation (of course, what's reasonable differs by industry), bonding to the culture of the firm and colleagues at work; learning - whether it is in the creation of new trading instruments of the characters in Pixar, and the ability to "defend" and not be ostracized or shunned or laid off at the first sign of trouble. Each of these motivators come into play, and the strong firm cultures have figured these out - either by intuition or conscious design.
In any event, I recommend the book wholeheartedly in general, and especially during this down-market. The pillars of learning, bonding and defending are important even when "acquiring" may be un-fillable due to weak market conditions. As a leader, what is more useful than knowing what really "drives" people? Not much, I don't think"¦