Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)
Most people have aspirations, goals and needs; the successful business person upon achieving his success proceeds to improve himself by taking on a new challenge and continuing to grow as a person. Yet an individual that is desolate, or even homeless has a different set of needs, such as shelter, warmth and food. He cannot consider new challenges at this time until his current needs are met. And when they are met, he will then have the innate drive to improve himself further. This is called the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, and we all have them, regardless of our socioeconomic status, or marital status, age or race. The only differentiation is the very nature of those needs, and whether they’ve been met or not.
In the 1960’s a new approach in psychology was aimed towards humanism, a focus on making the most of human potential and personal growth. Abraham Maslow was the key figure in this new advancement. He strongly believed in existentialism and the emphasis on free will and responsibility of oneself in determining and designing of their lives
Born in Brooklyn New York, Maslow was the oldest of seven children, his Russian / Jewish parents had emigrated from Russia, and he was raised during a time of anti-Semitism which made advancements in his academic career challenging. He did however relocate to Wisconsin where he met his soon to be protégé Harry Harlow, a famous scientist renowned for working on attachment behavior with Rhesus Monkeys. Upon receiving his Doctorate in Psychology he also worked with E.L. Thorndike back in New York. Thorndike was also a well renowned scientist in the field of behavioral psychology. Maslow had been well mentored.
Once settled as chair of the psychology department at Brandeis, a private American research university in Massachusetts, he began his focus on the radical theory of humanist psychology which he also referred to as ‘the third force’, is something that was very different from Freudian’s psychoanalysis and the pessimistic view of deep and disturbing unconscious desires. Maslow’s theory was like a ray of light in the psychology field, focusing on the positive, rather than the negative. He was the key figure in this psychological revolution into free will and determination. Prior to this, he had been studying behavioral psychology, but decided that his theory of humanism was more pragmatic in the real world, providing a higher capability of solving real life problems.
Along with co-founder Carl Rogers and Rollo May, he became the crucial figure in the humanism movement. Free will is the foundation in humanistic psychology. The very basis of this theory is that everyone has the strong desire to realize their maximum potential, and to reach a level of self-actualization, something that Maslow spent most of his career implementing. Humanistic psychology focuses on the individual as a whole, and the responsibility they have for the decisions they make and the accomplishments they achieve. This self-introspection also known as phenomenology refers to the practice of the subjective view from the individual and their experiences themselves.
He focused on researching mentally healthy individuals, as opposed to the common study of mentally ill patients. He did this to show that mental well-being is for the healthy as well as the ill. He believed the theory of self-actualization was something that continued on through a person’s entire lifetime, regardless of age. One was never too old to strive to become the best person they could be. And that is the basis of self-actualization.
To reach self-actualization, he designed a pyramid; a legendary pyramid, which contained levels of self-growth and accomplishments.
In order for the next level to be accomplished in one’s life, they would need to have the most basic needs met such as their physiological needs.
Maslow was curious about motivation, he strongly believed that it was intrinsic motivation within people, and outside rewards were irrelevant. He believed that it was internal motivation that kept people striving to achieve the next level of accomplishments for internal gratification. He designed this pyramid to demonstrate the levels needed to achieve before moving up to the next tier.
The Hierarchy of Needs – 5 Tiers
Tier 1 - Basic Needs
Physiological needs, at the lowest tier, are your most basic needs required for survival. This would consist of water, food, shelter and rest. Without these needs being met, survival would be at risk, and progressing on to the next tier would be near impossible. Thus, reiterating Maslow’s illustration that each level needs to be met prior to the next.
Tier 2 – Basic Needs
Safety needs, this basic second level consists of security, and safety factors being met, as without this, progression to the next level would also prove near impossible. However, once an individual has met their most basic needs for survival, then their internal drive to further improve will kick in, which brings us to the next level.
Tier 3 – Psychological Needs
Attachment needs, a need for belonging and to be loved, to have friends and / or intimate relationships. According to Maslow’s ‘Self-Actualization’ theory, once basic needs in life are met, one will progress to fulfil their psychological needs and then move forward, progressing up to the top tier of self-actualization.
Tier 4 – Psychological Needs
Esteem needs, a need for feelings of accomplishment and prestige. This level illustrates a need to be fed ego morsels from time to time, and for the acknowledgement of a job well done.
Tier 5 – Self Fulfillment Needs
This level of self-actualization is only reached once all other levels have been met. When one has achieved everything on the Hierarchy of Needs they are drawn to self-actualization. This level is the achievement of an individual’s full potential, and the realization of their full potential. They have satisfied all their basic and psychological needs, and can then move to this elite level of peak experiences in their lives.
Maslow has quoted that only 1% can reach this level, as due to set-backs in life, as we all have, people will fluctuate between levels. Perhaps they lose their job, and feel low levels of self-esteem, or perhaps they have run into financial difficulties or lost a loved one.
Further changes to the Hierarchy of Needs have added cognitive, aesthetic (appreciating beauty) needs, as well as a new top tier called transcendence, and helping others to reach their full potential.
To further debunk this hierarchy, Maslow also separated the pyramid into two sets of needs, deficiency needs (d-needs) and being needs (b-needs). The deficiency needs are the basic survival level such as food, water and security. The being needs are the more elaborate and self-fulfilling psychological needs, cognitive needs and self-actualization needs. And once the deficiency needs are met, they will have an innate drive to fulfill the b-needs. If one is fortunate enough to reach the self-actualization level, then that is when they will seek peak experiences, and prosper toward their full potential as a human being.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is quite relevant in business today, and corporate executives have incorporated this theory into offering the tools for their employees to feel self-esteem and cognitively challenged and to be offered a voice in the business as well as opportunity for advancement. By doing this, the company can run smoothly with content and engaged employees, striving to reach their full potential, and self-actualization. Abraham Maslow’s theory has been a truly significant and radical movement in psychology, and one that is still relevant in today’s world.