What People Want - Maslow's theory of human motivation

A Theory of Human Motivation by Abraham H. Maslow is one of the most famous psychology articles ever written. Originally published in 1943, it was in this landmark paper that Maslow presented his first detailed representation of Self-Actualization - the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming - at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of human needs. What Maslow is most famous for, however, is the pyramid of human needs. 

This five stage model can be divided into basic (or deficiency) needs (e.g. physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization). The deficiency, or basic needs are said to motivate people when they are unmet. Also, the need to fulfil such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. For example, the longer a person goes without food the more hungry they will become.

As the theory goes, one must satisfy lower level basic needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. Once these needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization. Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by failure to meet lower level needs. Life experiences, including divorce and loss of job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy. Maslow only concerned himself with the top 1% or 2% of population so he noted that only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory has made a major contribution to virtually all areas of our everyday lives, business probably being towards the top of that list. Rather than reducing behaviour to a response in the environment, Maslow adopted a holistic approach to management and organizing. He suggested that looking at the entire physical, emotional, social, and intellectual qualities of an individual and how they impact on learning, productivity, and ability to follow directives. A business should therefore offer different incentives to workers in order to help them fulfil each need in turn and progress up the pyramid. Managers should also recognise that workers are not all motivated in the same way and do not all move up the hierarchy at the same pace. They may therefore have to offer a slightly different set of incentives from worker to worker.

In Episode 1 and Episode 2 we spent quite a bit of time discussing human motivation. And, as you would be hard pressed to find someone not even tangentially familiar with this theory, it is about time we take a closer look at Theory of Human Motivation!

Read with us:

Maslow, A. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. Click here for A FREE copy of the reading 

Additional readings (optional and for deeper understanding):

Wahba, M.A. and Bridwell, L.G (1976) Maslow Reconsidered: A review of research on the Need Hierarchy Theory, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 15, pp. 212 - 240

Get a PDF here for FREE. 

Animated Video on Who Built Maslow's Pyramid? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dFboMWMafo 

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