Transcript of Supplement to Episode 3

 

In this supplement I will talk about Abraham Maslow, the father of what is commonly known as Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. More specifically, this supplement will talk a bit about his life, besides providing the key notions presented in his main work.

Abraham Harold Maslow was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1908. He was the son of Jewish immigrants originally from Russia, who escaped the persecution in the country at the beginning of the 20th century.

His childhood years were quite rough, mainly due to the strong anti-semitic atmosphere which pervaded his neighbourhood in those years. As a matter of fact, he was the only Jewish boy in a non-Jewish neighbourhood, meaning quite a lot of loneliness as a child. At home he often had a difficult time due to the strictness of his mother and the constant quarrelling between his parents. It was however, in these years that he found refuge in books, in the library and in studying in general, to escape his harsh reality. He also started to develop a strong curiosity towards the world and its phenomena with an attitude which took a clear scientific, nearly experimental approach.

Maslow was a very good student at school, he attended one of the best high schools in New York and he continued his studies at the City College of New York. He enrolled in evening law school classes at the Brooklyn Law School to please his father who wanted to see him become a lawyer. Then he transferred to Cornell university where he was able to take introductory courses in psychology which did not satisfy him totally. He achieved his Bachelors and Master degree and PhD at the University of Wisconsin, where he started to teach. After graduating he moved to Columbia University as a Carnegie fellow, mentored among others by Edward Thorndike and Alfred Adler. His career as an academic continued at Brooklyn College and at Brandeis University, as chairman of the psychology department.  

The work which Maslow is most famous for is entitled “A theory of human motivation”, originally published in Psychological review in 1943.

In this work, Maslow lists a number of needs which characterize all individuals, divided into basic needs and higher level needs. Given the specific assumptions of this theory, as explained shortly, this work has given rise to the so-called Hierarchy of needs by Maslow.

The underlying assumption of the hierarchy is that only when the basic needs have been fulfilled will the individual move on to the so-called higher level needs and these will act as drivers of his or her behaviour. In other words human needs are fulfilled one level at a time and in this way we approach the last level, given by self-actualization. This means that each individual has within him or herself many human needs, but which ones are the current drivers of his or her behaviour depends on which needs have already been fulfilled or not. Moreover, the first four levels (basic needs, safety needs, love and belonging and esteem needs) are also known as deficit needs in the sense that once they are achieved an individual feels content but the true motivators of human behaviour are given by the other higher levels of the hierarchy.

Going into the details of the levels of the hierarchy, at the lowest level we have what are called the basic needs or physiological needs of human beings, which refer to hunger, thirst, nutrition, sleep and so on. The next level is determined by safety needs, defined by notions of security, order and stability. The third level is given by the needs of love and belonging while the fourth level corresponds to the esteem level, related to ideas of achievement, acknowledgement, reputation and success. The fifth level is also known as the cognitive level, given by the desires to know and to understand. At the final level we have the need for self-actualization, where an individual’s full potential is realized.

What is a constant concern of Maslow throughout his works is given by the importance of empirical evidence. Several times he emphasizes the role of sound data, in order to construct his theoretical framework and to support his claims. This is certainly one of the key features which has contributed to the popularity of Maslow’s work in psychology and to its application in other fields of social science such as organization theory.

A natural question which arises, therefore is  the following: what has Maslow left us and the field of organization studies in terms of legacy? This is definitely a complex question which will be explored in greater detail throughout the episode of the podcast. However, it is certain that we owe Maslow a greater focus on the individual, where human behaviour can be explained by  the pursuit for the fulfillment of our needs and where in order to understand our behaviour better we need to focus on such needs.