The 5 Core Human Drives (Which Does Your Business Sell?)

Recently, I’ve been reading The Personal MBA (by Josh Kaufman), and my thoughts are so far that it’s an interesting book, but it’s definitely aimed towards folks who have had zero experience in the arena of self-employment.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t valuable, it’s just that each section reads a little too quickly and won’t dive into topics deeply (if that is what you are looking for).

That being said, there are some great fundamental discussions in the book.

I wanted to discuss the section on core human drives, and hear your thoughts about this categorization of what people want.

How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices

To make things even more ‘meta,’ the section on core human drives was originally based off of a passage in Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices (by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria).

In it, Lawrence and Nohria discuss 4 drives that have a profound influence on our decisions and actions:

  • The Drive to Acquire
  • The Drive to Bond
  • The Drive to Learn
  • The Drive to Defend

To which Kaufman add’s a 5th in the form of:

  • The Drive to Feel

The question is, what do these drives actually mean, and how to they pertain to YOUR business?

The Drive to Acquire

People tend to have a natural desire to obtain physical objects, as well an “immaterial” conquests such as status, power, and influence.

Many businesses are built on these and related desires.

Fine clothing retailers, brokerages, consulting companies, Italians who make extremely fast (and pretty) cars: if a company aims to fulfill your desire to be richer, more notable, or more influential, they are selling you on your drive to acquire.

The Drive to Bond

Human beings are social animals.

We all, on some level, seek to feel valued and cared about through forming relationships with others.

The dating service industry is an all too obvious example of this, but one can also look to more general offerings in the world of business: any business that offers something that aids you in being more well-liked or highly regarded falls in here.

Kaufman also cites examples like restaurants as being apart of this drive (the community aspect & the importance of restaurants in the realm of dating).

The Drive to Learn

As different as we may be, all of us seek to satiate our thirst of curiosity.

Look at colleges (which, let’s be honest, are businesses), training programs, book publishers, and many more business types that offer knowledge as their product.

If you are selling new information (newspapers), new experiences, or the ability to be competent in a new skill, you are selling the drive to learn.

The Drive to Defend

Possibly the one drive that seems undeniably apart of all of our psyches: we all desire to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

We also seek to secure and maintain our property, which is why businesses like alarm system companies, insurance agencies, legal services and even martial arts training sell this security to us.

Any business that seeks to eliminate a danger or promises to prevent bad outcomes is selling on this drive to defend.

The Drive to Feel

This is the last drive that Kaufman has added on to the original four.

He describes it as:

The desire for new sensory stimulus, intense emotional experiences, pleasure, excitement, entertainment, and anticipation.

I agree with him on this, because offerings like concerts (and music in general), games, movies, and athletics all offer these new experiences, and they don’t necessarily pertain to “learning” something new.

Any business that offers this form of excitement and pleasure discovery is selling the drive to feel.

What Do You Think?

Kaufman describes these drives as important because he believes that:

Whenever a group of people have an unmet need in one of more of these areas, a market will form to satisfy their need.

And where a market is formed, businesses can thrive.

At the end of the day, do you believe that all businesses sell some combination of:

  • status/power
  • love
  • knowledge
  • protection
  • pleasure/excitement

…Or is this summation leaving something out?

I’ve wondered what you all think about business offerings that fall in the “boring” category: do steel mills or paper companies (typically selling to other businesses) sell on these drives?

Or are the drives really only applicable to selling to “regular folk”, or your traditional customer?

Thanks for reading, please share this post if you enjoyed it.

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is a marketer and (embarrassingly infrequent) writer. Previously, he led content marketing on Shopify’s growth team and was executive editor on the communications team.