I recently had a conversation with a colleague at work about personal motivation. What exactly motivated him and in general what motivates others? He mentioned that in his past he had taken a class that broke down motivation into three categories; Power, Affiliation and Achievement. I did some searching on the web, and I think he was refering to David McClelland’s research into motivational thinking. He proposed that human motivation fell into one of these three categories. Specifically:

  • Power Motive: Individuals who are motivated by power, seek out circumstances that provide influence, control and impact over others. They derive a great deal of satisfaction from being perceived as leaders and like to draw attention to themselves.
  • Affiliation Motive: These individuals seek out mutual friendships; they seek to develop and work hard to maintain close, warm relationships. They avoid conflict and will try to build consensus at all times.
  • Achievement Motive: These individuals will seek to differentiate themselves from others by showing that their efforts and results are superior to those of their peers. Such individuals take personal responsibility for their performance and strive to do better than anyone else.

McClelland also wrote a book Human Motivation in 1988 which I have not read but is now on my ever expanding reading list. I’ve also started reading a paper based on McMclelland’s work by Laura Schmidt and Irene Hanson Frieze from the University of Pittsburg. There was also a Harvard Business Review OnTopic series that included an article by Mr. McClelland, which I shall be reading this weekend.

From an initial look, if I were to put myself into a category I think I am motivated by Affliation, at least from a professional point of view. I do find I am motivated to somewhat by the other two motives, but to a much less degree.

What motivates you?

I’ll revisit this topic after my readings.


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