Five Questions for Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria

by Sean Silverthorne

HBS Working Knowledge editor Sean Silverthorne conducted an email interview with Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria about their new book, Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices.

Silverthorne: How did the concept of the four-drive framework come about? Was there a defining moment?

Lawrence and Nohria: The key moment really came when we clearly framed the question, "What basic mental drives do all humans have as members of the same species?" Once the question was sharply posed and carefully considered, drawing on our lifetime of experience with people at work, the answer suddenly seemed obvious.

Q: Customers are ruled by these four drives, just like everyone else. So what product, or product strategy, is needed to attract the four-drive customer?

A: Those who study brands have found that great brands are based on a strong emotional connection between the consumer and the product. In four-drive terms, we would argue that brands would be stronger to the extent they come to represent an implicit promise to the customer that can be trusted, a promise that to some extent addresses all four primary drives.

Take Coca-Cola, for example. What makes the brand so powerful is that it evokes emotional memories that touch on all of our drives. Memories of a hot day when all you wanted to acquire was an ice-cold Coke; memories of your first date when you shared a Coke; memories of World War II when Coca-Cola became a symbol of the freedom you wanted to defend, and finally the memory that the product was safe to drink.

Q: What can any manager or business leader take away from reading Driven?

A: All managers and business leaders need to get things done through people. It is hard to be a great leader without understanding what drives and motivates the people you need to lead. What managers must take away from this book is that the jobs in their organization will only be fulfilling to their employees if they provide opportunities to reasonably satisfy all four drives.

Jobs must be designed so that people can acquire some of the things they desire—money, fame, mobility. They must also allow people to interact and bond with each other—to feel the camaraderie of being a part of a team. They must enable people to keep learning and to find ways of exercising their curiosity and expressing their own ideas—to feel like they can innovate and grow. Finally, people must feel assured that they can defend their achievements—that they will be listened to if they feel aggrieved or abused.

Jobs that reasonably fulfill all 4 drives are the building blocks of healthy organizations. It is also important to make sure that all other social relationships inside and outside the organization are responsive to the four drives. Within the firm inter-unit relationships must be both competitive and cooperative, enabling units to compete fairly with each other for limited resources and defend their interests, yet cooperate with and learn from each other because they share the bonds of being a part of the same firm.

The same spirit must be brought to relationships between the firm and its external constituencies such as suppliers, customers, and regulators. Leaders that are able to ensure that all their relationships address the four drives are more likely to succeed than those that don't.

Q: You contend that each of the four drives was created by evolution to improve the odds of gene survival. But even a formidable species such as the dinosaur can be wiped out by an unexpected development. What is the primary threat, competitive or internally, to the perfect four-drive company?

A: Running a four-drive company is like riding a unicycle-it takes a lot of work to maintain the balance among these four drives. The primary threat to a perfect four-drive company is to avoid letting any one drive become too dominant. This is especially true when a firm receives an external shock—such as the events of September 11.

Q: In the real world, who are the best examples of four-drive leaders, and why?

A: Some of the best examples we know of four-drive leaders are people like Bill Hewlett and David Packard who founded H-P and (surprise, surprise) Jack Welch of GE. These leaders were all able to create and sustain a corporate culture that allowed their employees opportunities to express and fulfill all four drives.

They were hard drivers of performance-constantly pushing their companies to win and acquire greater market share. Witness for example, Jack Welch's motto: #1 or #2 or else fix, sell, or close. Yet, they reinforced a strong bond between the company and its employees as in the H-P Way or GE as the "boundaryless company." They celebrated and promoted innovation—encouraging employees from the shop floor to the highest executive suites to keep learning from each other and from outsiders and constantly look for new ideas.

H-P exhorted its employees to generate at least 30% of its revenue in any year from new products introduced in the last three years and Jack Welch encouraged his employees through a company wide Work-Out process to find a better way every day. These leaders were also fierce defenders of their companies, quick and forceful in defending their company against the media, Wall Street, and the competition.