David C. McClelland

American psychologist (1917–1998)

David Clarence McClelland (May 20, 1917 – March 27, 1998) was an American psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, noted for his work on motivation need theory.

David McClelland.


  • Understanding human motivation ought to be a good thing. It should help us to find out what we really want so that we can avoid chasing rainbows that are not for us. It should open up opportunities for self-development if we apply motivational principles to pursuing our goals in life.
    • David C. McClelland (1978). "Managing motivation to expand human freedom". American Psychologist. 33 (3): 201
  • Whatever the source of the leader's ideas, he cannot inspire his people unless he expresses vivid goals which in some sense they want. Of course, the more closely he meets their needs, the less "persuasive" he has to be, but in no case does it make sense to speak as if his role is force submission. Rather it is to strengthen and uplift, to make people feel that they are the origins, not the pawns, of the socio-political system.
    • David C. McClelland in: Robert A. Portnoy (1986), Leadership: what every leader should know about people. p. 16
  • Outstanding American men seem to see power as something you use in order to correct someone who's wrong, to change them, to show them you see more in this situation than the boss does. Outstanding American women, on the other hand, see power as a resource, something you can use to get people together, to gain commitment.
    • David C. McClelland (1998) in: Katherine Adams, "Interview by David C. McClelland , in Competency, vol. 4 no.3, Spring 1997, pp.18–23; Republished in orientamento.it, 19/11/2015
  • The outstanding people realised that the job involved more than just writing a good strategic plan. It was also important that top management should understand the plan and be prepared to adopt it. Consequently, the best strategists made sure that executives were involved in decisions at an early stage. The less outstanding people didn’t see this, and it had been overlooked by the experts. But, as soon as we showed them our findings, they could see that it made sense.
    • David C. McClelland (1998) in: Katherine Adams, "Interview by David C. McClelland , in Competency, vol. 4 no.3, Spring 1997, pp.18–23; Republished in orientamento.it, 19/11/2015

The Achieving Society, 1961


David C. McClelland. The Achieving Society, 1961. Simon and Schuster, 532 p.

  • Explaining economic growth - The achievement motive : how it is measured and its economics effects - Achieving societies in the modern world - Achieving societies in the past - Other psychological factors in economic development - Entrepreneurial behavior - Characteristics of entrepreneurs - The spirit of Hermes - Sources of n achievement - Accelerating economic growth.
    • Book abstract
  • It is important, therefore, to understand at the outset the simplicity of this book - what it can accomplish and what it cannot. What it does try to do is to isolate certain psychological factors and to demonstrate rigorously by quantitative scientific methods that these factors are generally important in economic development.
    • p. ix
  • From the top of the campanile, or Giotto's bell tower, in Florence, one can look out over the city in all directions, past the stone banking houses where the rich Medici lived, past the art galleries they patronized, past the magnificent cathedral and churches their money helped to build, and on to the Tuscan vineyards where the contadino works the soil as hard and efficiently as he probably ever did. The city below is busy with life. The university halls, the shops, the restaurants are crowded. The sound of Vespas, the "wasps" of the machine age, fills the air, but Florence is not today what it once was, the center in the 15th century of a great civilization, one of the most extraordinary the world has ever known. Why? ­­What produced the Renaissance in Italy, of which Florence was the center? How did it happen that such a small population base could produce, in the short span of a few generations, great historical figures first in commerce and literature, then in architecture, sculpture and painting, and finally in science and music? Why subsequently did Northern Italy decline in importance both commercially and artistically until at the present time it is not particularly distinguished as compared with many other regions of the world? Certainly the people appear to be working as hard and energetically as ever. Was it just luck or a peculiar combination of circumstances? Historians have been fascinated by such questions ever since they began writing history, because the rise and fall of Florence or the whole of Northern Italy is by no means an isolated phenomenon.
    • p. 1; lead paragraph, about the problem
  • This book will not take as its province all kinds of cultural growth — artistic, philosophical, military — but will try to shed some light on a narrower problem, namely, the reasons for economic growth and decline. The way wealth is distributed is a matter of special interest, partly because it may well be basic to growth in other cultural areas and partly because it has become so uneven in the past century that curiosity has been aroused.
    • p. 1
  • The modern economist has become even more insistent in his belief that the ultimate forces underlying economic development lie, strictly speaking, outside the economic sphere. As Meir and Baldwin put it, half humorously, “economic development is much too serious to be left to economists.” (1957, p. 119)
    • p. 11
  • [In The Achieving Society, 'need for achievement' is uncovered by having individuals write stories based on pictures they see] the stories represented short samples of the things people are most likely to think about or imagine when they are in a state of heightened motivation having to do with achievement. It may be worth considering for a moment why fantasy as a type of behavior has many advantages over any other type of behavior for sensitively reflecting the effects of motivational arousal. In fantasy anything is at least symbolically possible... Overt action, on the other hand, is much more constrained by limits set by reality or by the person's abilities. Furthermore, fantasy is more easily influenced than other kinds of behavior.
    • p. 40; As cited in: Kevin Hindle, ‎Kim Klyver (2011), Handbook of Research on New Venture Creation, p. 74-75
  • Psychologically speaking, what such findings seem to mean is that an achievement is not only more frequently present in stories from more rapidly developing countries but when it is present, it is more apt to be “means” oriented rather than goal oriented. The achievement sequence more often dwells on obstacles to success and specific means of overcoming them, rather than on the goal itself, the desire for it, and the emotions surrounding attaining or failing to attain it. The adaptive quality of such a concern with means is obvious: a people who think in terms of ways of overcoming obstacles would seem more likely to find ways of overcoming them in fact.
    • p. 104-5
  • At any rate that is precisely what happens: the “means” oriented stories come from countries which have managed to overcome the obstacles to economic achievement more successfully than other countries… These results serve to direct our attention as social scientists away from an exclusive concern with the external events in history to the “internal” psychological concerns that in the long run determine what happens in history
    • p. 104-5
  • Practically all theorists agree that entrepreneurship involves, by definition, taking risks of some kind.
    • p. 210
  • The entrepreneurial role appears to call for decision-making under uncertainty.
    • p. 210
  • Dynamic restlessness and concern with time would appear to go with high w Achievement and static "classicism" with low n Achievement, but on closer examination many flaws in the analogy are evident.
    • p. 301
  • One study suggests that the most effective way to increase n Achievement may be to try simply and directly to alter the nature of an individual’s fantasies.
    • p. 417

Quotes about David McClelland

  • McClelland [McClelland, D.C. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand] observed that the amount of achievement imagery in children’s books predicted the economic development of societies. He argued that achievement imagery is an indicator of a motivational climate, and when children grow up in a society that emphasizes the striving for achievement, they will be more economically productive later on. We tested McClelland’s hypothesis by coding school textbooks for achievement imagery from two German federal states (Baden-Württemberg and Bremen) with pronounced differences in economic and educational conditions. As expected, the schoolbooks from the state with the more advantageous conditions contained more achievement imagery.
    • Stefan Engeser, Falko Rheinberg, and Matthias Möller. "Achievement motive imagery in German schoolbooks: A pilot study testing McClelland’s hypothesis." Journal of Research in Personality 43.1 (2009): 110-113.
  • 1961: David McClelland’s The Achieving Society — discusses the need for achievement (first identified by Henry A. Murray), need to excel, to perform against standards, and to win; McClelland extended his theory to other acquired needs such as need for power and need for affiliation.
    • Nicholas J. Beutell. "Chronology of Management Theory," in: Eric H. Kessler ed., Encyclopedia of management theory. Sage Publications, 2013. p. 937
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