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Spitzer's Eight Desires


Explanations > Needs > Spitzer's Eight Desires

Power | Activity | Recognition | Affiliation | Competence | Ownership | Meaning | Achievement |  So what?


Author Dean Spitzer identified eight 'desires of motivation' that may drive people in different ways. This are described and discussed below.


People are motivated by acquiring and wielding power. They like feeling powerful, perhaps as an echo of neonatal sensations of omipotence. People with high power needs like to be in charge.

The desire for power can also be seen in feelings of powerlessness which are often linked to feelings of inferiority and inadequacy.

Sometimes this can spill over into bullying where hurting others gives pleasure from the use of power.

Power at work often aligns with position, expertise and personal charisma. Empowerment of individuals is often desirable to let them get their work done.

Note: McClelland includes the need for power. It also indicates a high need for Control.


We have an innate need to keep active and constantly seek stimulation. This is particularly true of some people who are motivated by action and dislike sitting around waiting or engaging in frustrating planning and preparation.

People with a high action need are great for getting things done but may not be the best leaders.

The action desire also reflects the need for novelty.


A need for recognition is a social need where we feel good when others acknowledge our existence and praise us.

People with a high need for recognition appreciate guidance and support, with frequent feedback. They can hence seem rather 'needy.' With this recognition, they can make solid team members.

Recognition is close to Maslow's need for esteem. It also plays to the need for a sense of identity.


When we are affiliated, we are linked to other people or institutions, bonding our identity to them. This makes us feel a part of a greater whole, as in neonatal sensations of unity.

Where you work is important, and the brand of the company becomes a part of you, as well you a part of it. This is socially important too, as we boast about our employer (or not).

Note: McClelland includes the need for Affiliation. It is also close to Maslow's need for belonging and plays to the need for a sense of identity.


A need for competence linked to the need to achieve, although it can also exist independently. People need to feel that they are expert in something (for academics, this may be enough, with no need for other achievement or recognition).

People with a high need for competence often work hard to achieve it and become experts in one or more fields. When they apply this, they can be very good employees, though their thirst for learning can at time be a significant distraction.

Sometimes work environments do not help people feel competent as evaluations compare them endlessly with others and there is always pressure to improve. It is also easy to get trapped in the wrong job, where you get a poor reputation and hence find it difficult to move elsewhere.


People with a high need for ownership like to be involved in decisions and may thus make good leaders, as long as they do not hug resources and responsibility too tightly.

Psychological ownership that we bond with the things we own, valuing them more highly than their true market worth.

In our society, what we own is often linked to 'goodness' and worth. This has led to materialism and a consumer culture that some consider unhealthy, yet which is at the heart of a thriving economy.

Ownership can also be linked to psychoanalytic notion of desire, with overtones of erotic possession.

In business, it is desirable to have employees who 'own' their objectives and their work, being self-motivated to deliver and achieve.


We all need to have a sense of meaning in our lives. Often this is not noticed until we lose things that give us meaning, such as our jobs and loves ones.

Depression is a state where individual find it hard to see meaning in their lives.

The need for meaning is related to the need for a sense of identity and to Maslow's need for self-actualization.


The need for achievement is connected with a sense of success that can be quite transitory, leading people with a high need for achievement into almost obsessive repetition of achievement.

People with a high need for achievement can make splendid employees, although if they grab the glory from others (especially others who also have a high need for achievement) they can become very unpopular.

Note: McClelland includes the need for achievement.

So what?

If you can identify what motivates people then you can use these principles to get them to do what you want them to do.

Spitzer also recommends addressing demotivators, including office politics and internal competition, unclear rules and objectives, destructive criticism, etc. He does not propose accepting poor performance -- far from it -- recommending addressing this with integrity and alacrity.

Other recommendation include employee involvement, designing motivating processes, eliminating boring work, teamwork, open communication, training and intrinsic recognition.

See also

McClelland's Acquired Needs Theory


Spitzer, D.R. (1995). SuperMotivation: A Blueprint for Energizing Your Organization from Top to Bottom, AMACOM


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