Lust, fear and greed: The business version


George is Keeping an Eye On You!
Image by peasap via Flickr

This post is a tribute to a mentor of mine, Alan “Big Al” Johnson. Big Al should be credited for the idea of lust, fear and greed… at least that is how I remember it. Big Al was ahead of his time in understanding human behavior in the business world or maybe just too raw in his explanation, but that is what you get from a poet.

Lust, fear and greed are three of the most powerful drivers of people in business and thus business itself. If you are someone are trying to created action or movement inside an organization, this framework/theory may help.  I will explain each component of lust, fear and greed and then describe how the conceptual framework could help.

Lust

Have you ever been in a meeting when someone says, “I love that idea” or “We HAVE to do this”. Well witness the lust of a business professional. The object of lust could be noble like a competitive advantage or differentiation or could be that my peer CEO has a corporate jet, so I want one too. What ever the object, one thing holds, this is a powerful force of human behavior and drives both rational and irrational business decisions.

Fear

Fear is most likely the reaction to competitive pressures like missing out on an opportunity or being trampled — “The competition is close to locking up an exclusive on a technology for 6 months, we have to move faster!” Fear can also be related to costs overruns as well — “costs are increasing faster than expected, we need to figure this out before it gets out of control.” Fear can also be personal, such as fearing that your management will see you in a bad light because of a recent failure.

Greed

Greed is the easiest to comprehend and see in action. Most of the time it is related to the accumulation of wealth either for the company or personally. There is also the greed of power, which can either manifest in infighting of business units or actual managers.

The bottom line:

The take away is that these are very power forces individually, but I have a theory that nothing really happens until at least two of these forces are at work in the same situation. As an example, for a project to get funded “greed” must be at play (ROI or positive NPV), but it will not be initiated unless either lust or fear are present. You might see this manifest with a competitive response to a competitor’s move or an executive that wants badly to be in a new market. What I have found helpful is in using the simple terminology of lust, fear and greed to understand and deal with a situation. If I am trying to drive action or change, then I know that at least two forces need to be at work.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a great example or story to share? Please comment.

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One thought on “Lust, fear and greed: The business version

  1. great post..I’ve heard this somewhere before. What about meaning (i.e. relation to personal ethos)? Fear, lust, and greed all are certainly motivations but can be somewhat superficial vs. deeper thus creating short term change but not long term change.

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