Motives versus values – I

When we talk about making career and life choices, we speak a ton about values. Values are important as they indicate what matters to us. They are aspirational and uplifting.

However, in doing so, we miss the boat on forces that are probably more important – motives. Motives indicate natural propensities – they are what drive or energize us.

I think of the tension between values and motives as the tension between the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala. Values are what we think we ought to do. And, motives are what we gravitate toward.

The first question, before we understand this tension, is – what are these motives? Prior research on motives by Yale psychologist David Mclelland pointed to 3 motives – Achievement, Affiliation and Power. Power is often viewed as a “dark” word and does have a dark side to it. So, I think of it as a mix of power and impact.

Then, Dan Pink’s excellent book on “Drive” pointed to Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. (H/T Jon Lee for the image)

Both, separately, made sense to me. But, I hadn’t thought about reconciling these views until recently. A wise (and good) friend and former Professor from graduate school released his research on what makes successful (and unsuccessful) careers in a book. In doing so, he combined the above schools of thought to discuss 5 motives –  Achievement, Affiliation, Power, Autonomy and Purpose.

It is one of those simple ideas that completely shifted my perspective on the topic.

The reason having a complete list (to the extent possible) matters is because identifying what your motives are is critical to have a fulfilled, happy life. We all often see a conflict rife in both ourselves and others – we say we really care about something (relationships or learning) but we end up spending our time doing something else (seeking promotions or indulging in corporate politics). That conflict can drive many of us nuts.

And, yet, that is a classic example of the conflict between values and motives. We’ll aim to cover this in detail tomorrow.

Until then, a big thank you to Prof Carter Cast for setting this perspective for me. For a thoughtful, honest and well researched book on how careers are made and unmade, do check out his book “The Right (and Wrong) Stuff.”

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