Maslow’s shaky upper half

I do not pretend to be a psychologist – nor to have any superior knowledge about humanistic psychology or behaviorism. These topics were kept far away from us economists, as if managers-to-be are not supposed to have profound knowledge about ourselves. To an economist, consumers’ decisions are still supposed to be led by the little “homo economicus” within us, thereby maximizing yield by considering prize against quantity. Don’t trust a manager’s wine cellar…

Meanwhile in the psychology department: We are only scratching the surface when it comes to charting out what really drives people’s (and therefore companies’) decisions. Irrationality and emotion have replaced the homo economicus nowadays, and it quickly trickles through to most marketing departments. Shrewd salesmen are making a lot of money out of the fact they know our underlying thought processes better than we do ourselves.

Let’s take one step back and have a good look at perhaps one of the most robust models of human prioritization: Maslow’s pyramid of needs. It is safe to say, if you are reading this, that you have arrived at the point of need for self-actualization. We do not worry about having no food or shelter, actually we are in a phase where we collectively run to the self-help corner of any book stand if our job does not give the satisfaction we are made to believe we need from it…Just to put things into perspective: my grand parents’ parents could choose between going to the factory at age 15 and work until you dropped, or starve.

The thought which recently occurred to me was the following; Maslow’s pyramid, in all its robustness, how is it influenced, does it still stand strong given the apparent irrational choices we make and the artificial, newly created needs that cross it? (I rarely think in full sentences)

Imagine this:

I want to actualize myself, max out all potential my mind and body contain. I can come up with a dozen thing to do in the next 12 months. I work my way towards it; say I am learning Spanish and running for a marathon.

A friend comes by to show me his new navigation system. The day after, I see an ad for a GPS. I run into a discussion with my girlfriend in the car for missing the exit. And wooofff there you have it: I want a navigation system. I buy a GPS. With spending the money on it, I forego other kinds of self actualization.

Is this rational? Was I satisfying a real need? Is Maslow’s pyramid a bit wobbly at the top?

One thing is clear about Maslow’s little heap: the higher you go, the more ethereal and abstract the needs become. The tragidy we run into, is our unability to define the top layers ourselves, and thus our susceptibility to influence from outside.


About curiousmanager

In life there are generalists and specialists. Although your job pushes you down towards a certain specialization, I feel it's important to keep your eyes and mind open for new stimuli. And I want to share my journey through arts, literature and sciences with other knowledge workers and managers. You don't have time to read. Let me do that for you and present only the best of the best in my blog!
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