Thursday, January 17, 2008

What drives you ?

Some self-analysis for a change ....

What drives you as an individual to make specific choices and how do you act on them ?

Adam Smith, in The Wealth Of Nations, claims that it is the "invisible hand" that motivates individual behavior and when each person acts in his own self-interest, it benefits the society as a whole. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

This has been used by many economists as the foundation of the free-market theory - the market is self-regulating. However, when individuals act in their self-interest, how do we know if it is their short-term or long-term self-interest ? How does it benefit the society in the short-term and the long-term ?

The Katha Upanishad talks about two kinds of actions: preyas, the pleasant and shreyas, the good. Each individual makes choices based on what he perceives is his self-interest. Shreyas leads to long-term benefits, while preyas results in instant gratification with long-term results that may not be desirable.

The Gita discusses at length the benefits of dispassionate action - where you uncouple the outcome from the action by not being emotionally attached to the outcome. This gives the benefit of being able to pay full attention to the job at hand while not worrying about the outcome which may not be under your control.

Peter Drucker, in his classic HBR article, Managing Oneself, says that to lead a life of excellence, one should answer these questions:
What are my strengths ?
How do I work ?
What are my values ?
Where do I belong ?
What can I contribute ?

Most people make choices and act based on what is perceived as their self-interest.

Unless you can analyze and understand what drives you, you're going to be driven and suffer "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Hopefully, some of this framework helps in making the analysis of choices we make and actions we take.

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