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David C. McClelland – The Achieving Society

“This book grew out of an attempt by a psychologist, trained in behavioral science methods, to isolate certain psychological factors and to demonstrate rigorously by quantitative methods that these factors are generally important in economic development. The scope of such an enterprise turned out to be truly alarming for one whose background in the social sciences was slight to begin with. It required specialized knowledge on everything from population problems, to coal imports in England from the 16th to the 19th century, to methods of computing rates of economic growth, to sources of children’s books, to management practices in Russia, Italy and Mexico, to the pottery of Ancient Greece and Pre-Incan Peru. Let me confess at the outset (for it will be obvious soon enough) that I have not managed to become a real professional in many of these areas of knowledge, though I have had the advantage of much expert advice and assistance. The dilemma of the “generalist” trying to acquire specialized knowledge in a hurry is nicely illustrated by what happened to me when I asked a colleague, an eminent Harvard historian, to recommend “a” book to me that would bring me up to date on English history. I also mentioned that as a budding scientist in college, I had unfortunately managed to escape all courses in history, so that my mind was practically a “tabula rasa” on the subject. He simply looked at me aghast, murmured “my God!” and turned away. Perhaps the self-taught scholar deserves such a response–at any rate he sometimes gets it–and so may this book among specialists on particular topics it had to cover in the search for the broadest possible test of the hypothesis that a particular psychological factor–the need for Achievement– is responsible for economic growth and decline.

The problem of covering so much intellectual territory is actually twofold. On the one hand, there is the strong probability of simple human error. For example, in the thousands of calculations on which this book is based, it is unlikely that no mistakes have been made. Not even the mechanical equipment that produced many of the numbers used proved infallible. It coughed at least once in some thousands of computations and refused to give one correlation it should have. Possibly in some places I have used incorrect or out-of-date data–e.g., on the electrical production of Pakistan or the location of 6th-century Greek vase remains. In others I may have overlooked an obviously better statistic or used an inadequate method of data analysis. For such errors, though I have tried hard to eliminate them, I apologize in advance and hope readers more expert than I will correct them. The only excuse is the sheer scope of the undertaking.”

David C. McClelland
The Achieving Society

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