The 25 Drives Grid - Shiftup

The 25 Drives Grid

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What motivates your customers to use your product? What drives your employees to embrace your ideas? Which human needs and desires can we trigger when we want people to do something different?

Human motivation is an essential topic for product managers and change leaders. Without motivation, clients won’t consider trying out our products, and co-workers won’t be interested in changing their ways of working. And while there are several motivational models available, I found them hard to use as tools within product management and change leadership. So, I came up with something different.

In this article, I explain how I came up with the 25 Drives Grid.

25 Drives Grid

Theories versus Tools

Let’s begin with the idea that there are . Some models are theories (abstract models). Their purpose is to describe something about reality. Other models are tools (concrete models). Their goal is to help people to get something done. Tools are not theories, and theories are not tools. Quantum mechanics is a theory (for physicals at the subatomic scale). Kendall Jenner is a tool (for showing off fashion items).

We can consider colors as an example. Scientists and academics can tell you all about and the differences between the CMYK, RGB, and HSV color models (generic systems describing colors in general). But tool vendors sometimes offer color palettes, which are limited sets of colors created for specific purposes. The have a different goal than the . Academics don’t care much about color palettes because a palette simplifies a space that is actually rather complex. The colors to pick from a virtually limitless supply depend entirely on the purpose of the palette. (The Farrow & Ball color palette has thirteen colors of greens and only one kind of orange. Within the context of wall paints, that makes total sense. There is much more demand for green rooms than for orange rooms.)

Color Theory vs. Color Tool

The 25 Drives Grid is a tool, not a theory. It’s a palette of human drives that I created specifically for the context of product managers and change agents. That being said, like paint vendors seeking inspiration in color theory, I allowed myself to be inspired by motivational theory.

The Hierarchy of Needs

It seems impossible to discuss human motivation without at least a reference to . This theoretical model depicts five levels of human needs (later expanded to eight), with basic human needs at the bottom and personal growth near the top. The hierarchical aspect of Abraham Maslow’s model is alluring, but it has been widely criticized by other scientists and should not be taken too seriously. However, when taken as a simple overview of human drives, the model seems reasonably comprehensive.

The only drives that I couldn’t find in Maslow’s model are Influence, Ownership, Loyalty, and Exercise. On top of that, Maslow’s model offers little guidance regarding intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and needs vs. desires. This is an opportunity I have tried to address with my 25 Drives Grid. See below.

Self-Determination Theory

The second famous theoretical model is , proposed by Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan. SDT focuses on the degree to which human behavior is self-motivated and self-determined. The model offers Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness as the three basic human drives. You could say that the model is as abstract in terms of motivation as the RGB model is in terms of colors and that all human motivation could be an aspect or combination of one or more of the three primary drives. (Ownership? That might be part of Autonomy. Loyalty? That sits in Relatedness, for sure. Creativity? Hmm, maybe between Autonomy and Competence?)

From the perspective of a product manager and change leader, I find SDT too abstract. It doesn’t tell me anything about Beauty, Creativity, Certainty, or Justice, to name but a few. In my role, I need a tool that offers me suggestions with more specific choices for human drives. I need a concrete motivational palette, not an abstract motivational theory.


I guess that is the most popular book about human motivation ever written. Pink has claimed that he based his work on Self-Determination Theory, but I never understood why he replaced Relatedness with Purpose, which (to me) seem two entirely different drives. (Oh, and he also renamed Competence to Mastery.) Considering that Pink is a journalist, not a scientist, we should treat the Drive model as a tool, not as a theory.

Either way, with Daniel Pink’s Drive, I have the same reservations as I have with SDT. The motivators Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery are convenient shorthand and easy to remember for those who do inspirational talks, mentoring, and facilitation. That means the book Drive is a valuable tool for speakers and coaches. But for me, as a product manager and change leader, it’s hard to explain the success of Coca-Cola, Netflix, or Tinder and Grindr with just Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery.

16 Basic Desires

Based on studies involving thousands of people, as an alternative to SDT, professor Steven Reiss proposed his theory of . Reiss offered a model that is more extensive than the three-drive abstraction offered by Deci and Ryan. For this reason, I found it more useful in my job as a manager, and I have used it as the starting point for the exercise that is part of Management 3.0. (I had a brief chat with prof. Reiss a year before he passed away. He wasn’t very impressed with SDT, nor with Daniel Pink.)

However, despite the scope that seems deeper and broader, I still found that a couple of human drives were missing from the list of 16 desires. Beauty, Creativity, and Competence are a few that I cannot recognize directly in Reiss’ model. Granted, one can say that these “missing” drives are aspects or combinations of the 16 existing desires in the model, but I prefer to make my palette of human drives one step more concrete and valuable.


The last model that I want to highlight here is , a gamification framework developed by Yu-kai Chou, consisting of eight “core drives” (and a ninth one, Sensation, which is hidden). Octalysis is a tool, not a scientific model. It was created specifically within the context of gamification. Chou has developed Octalysis based on his extensive experience with games and the many reasons people love to play with and against each other.

On the one hand, as a gamification tool, I like Octalysis a lot, and I have promoted it for several years. On the other hand, the framework is not a perfect fit for my different purposes as a product manager and change leader. Scarcity and Avoidance are (in my opinion) not separate human drives but different perspectives on other drives. (For example, people can be driven by the loss of Freedom or the scarcity of Beauty.) On top of that, some critical drives are missing (such as the needs for Certainty, Safety, and Health), and considering them to be part of the other eight (or nine) core drives seems a bit of a stretch.

The Mashup

Anyone who has ever talked with design thinkers, or read some , knows that innovative products are often created by people who take their inspiration from many sources. These sources could be science, sports, business, arts, philosophy, or even astrology and witchcraft. The only thing that matters to design thinkers is, “Does an idea solve the customer’s problem?” (An excellent second question, rarely asked, would be, “Does the idea not create more problems than it solves?”) For my list of 24 drives, I took inspiration from three motivational theories and two motivational tools.

Human motivation is a complex topic. It is much more difficult than color theory. It is impossible to reduce the complexity of human motivation to something simple or (simplistic) without making choices in language and definitions. And comparing various theories and tools is difficult without knowing more of their backgrounds. (For example, is Steven Reiss’ “Independence” really the same as Deci/Ryan’s “Autonomy”?) Such evaluations are crucial when constructing a new theory, but they become irrelevant when you’re making a new tool. Remember, I’m making a motivational palette, not a motivational theory.

The Grid

I shared the results of my efforts on the social networks (without explaining my goal), and I received helpful feedback. I also got some pushback on my “non-academic approach” from a few readers who failed to understand that theories are created by academics, but tools are typically made by product designers. Nevertheless, the constructive feedback helped me make the final step: a visualization of the motivational palette that makes the 24 drives more useful.

In my visualization of the 24 drives, I evaluated them in two dimensions: intrinsic versus extrinsic and needs versus desires.

25 Drives Grid

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

A list of 24 human drives is interesting, but it’s too long to remember. So my next challenge was to find a way to categorize the drives and somehow place them in a more helpful arrangement. Fortunately, I already knew two ways of doing that.

The difference between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation has received a lot of support in scientific literature. Ryan and Deci :

Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable.

Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome.

Important: both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, when coupled with rewards, can easily lead to dysfunctional behaviors. This is a topic for another occasion.

I typically enjoy Food, Exercise, and Rest (on the left side of the 25 Drives Grid) for the activities themselves. I love eating in restaurants; I enjoy a good run, and it feels great dozing off in my bed. I do these things for the activities themselves, which makes them intrinsic drives. Alternatively, with Recognition, Influence, and Competence (on the right side), it is the other way around. When I care more about the outcomes, it makes them extrinsic drives. The activities I do to be recognized, to be influential, and to feel competent, might be enjoyable, but they quickly cease to be fun when I fail to achieve my intended outcomes.

In the 25 Drives Grid, for each of the 24 motivators, I made a personal decision whether they were more on the intrinsic side or the extrinsic side of the spectrum. These decisions are obviously subjective and context-dependent. You should feel free to make your own judgment, which should depend on the personalities of the people you’re thinking of and the environments in which they operate. Remember : behavior is a function of a person and their environment.


Needs vs. Desires

Another way to categorize the 24 drives is through the application of . Psychologist Frederick Herzberg suggested that what satisfies people (referred to as “motivators”) is not simply the opposite of what dissatisfies them (referred to as “hygiene factors”). Another way of saying this is that, with some drives, people are motivated to act when something can be gained (desires). With other drives, people are motivated to act when something is lacking (needs).

For example, Freedom, Certainty, and Health (at the bottom) aren’t things that normally motivate us. We expect to have them already and usually take them for granted. It is the absence of freedom, certainty, and health that, for many of us, is a reason to take action and try to restore them. They are needs. Conversely, Beauty, Competence, and Spirituality (at the top) typically drive us to gain something that we don’t already have yet. The lack of beauty, competence, or spirituality is not usually something that gets us moving. Their absence is the norm. They are desires.

Again, I invite you to disagree with my assessment and perform your own evaluations. Everything is context-dependent. For example, in rich countries, Food is something that is usually desired because our basic nutritional needs are already easily covered. Vice versa, Friendship is to me primarily a need, but I am aware of some people for whom making new friends seems to be a great desire.

The 25th Drive

So, what about the empty drive in the middle?

The visualization of the 24 drives in a five-by-five grid left me with one empty slot. I thought this was great. I see it as a visual reminder that the framework is meant to be adaptable. You are free to add another drive when you think it is insufficiently covered by the others. For example, some readers have suggested Control as a 25th drive. Personally, I think control is already covered by Ownership (control of stuff), Influence (control of others), Freedom (control of ourselves), and Certainty (control of future events). But hey, don’t let me hold you back.

The same applies to the other 24 drives. You can swap them out for others if that suits your needs (pun not intended). After all, I do this myself regularly with the color palettes in PowerPoint. And even though I paint many of the walls in my house with Farrow & Ball paints, for two of our rooms, I switched to competitor Little Greene because they have (including two kinds of orange!).


A few people have asked me, “24 drives seems too much for me. Can’t you make it simpler?” My answer to that is that simple models already exist (see above). I see no need to make yet another model consisting of only three or eight drives. If you don’t like SDT or Octalysis, you can use my list and throw out the 16 or 21 drives you don’t need. That should do it. (Twelve years ago, I did something similar when I created . It has ten drives.)

The goal of my efforts was not to make something simple; it was to make something useful. In order to be useful, a tool sometimes needs to be simple; other times, it needs to be complicated.

The 25 Drives Grid is a tool or a framework, just like Octalysis and Scrum are intended as tools. The grid is not a scientific endeavor, and it cannot be judged that way. I am a toolmaker, not a scientist. We are not here to discuss if these 24 drives are the best model of motivation. Human needs and desires are too complex to capture in just one picture. The better question is, “Can this framework be a useful tool for you as a product manager or change leader? (Or in some other context?)”

That’s for you to decide.

I will be using the grid to check which features on my backlog are supposed to trigger human motivators. And I will be using it to see how I can connect corporate change initiatives with intended behavioral change.

What can you use this framework for?

The 25 Drives Grid is part of The Versatile Organization workshop. I offer this model to teams and organizations to help with their self-improvement, lean-agile transformation, and customer engagement efforts. A PDF download of the template is available for all free members of Shiftup.

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