Monday 17th February 11:56

Giants of Management - Abraham Maslow

Maslow and His Lasting Reputation

maslow02_142Abraham Maslow is regarded as one of the giants of modern management theory through his work in the 1940's and 50's on motivational psychology. His theory of the Hierarchy of Needs is still used in business schools and universities as the classic study on what motivates people at work. Read below for a history of Maslow's life, how he developed his theory of needs, and an overview of the Hierarchy of Needs itself.

Abraham Maslow, 1908 to 1970

Abraham Maslow was born in New York city in 1908. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. Maslow was a lonely boy and spent much of his time on his own in libraries reading books. It seemed that, from an early age, a life of study and academia beckoned. On graduating, he went to the University of Wisconsin to study law and then psychology, and then to Brooklyn College and finally Brandeis where he did his most insightful work. Maslow married his first cousin Bertha when he was 20 and died from a heart attack in 1970.

Maslow's Interest in Human Potential

It was while Maslow was at Brooklyn College in New York from 1937 to 1951 that he met two people who were to become major influences on his life and work. The first was Ruth Benedict, an anthropologist, and the second was Max Wertheimer, a Gestalt psychologist. It wasn't their work that attracted Maslow to them so much as the way they worked. Maslow was fascinated by how these two highly accomplished academics behaved. He kept extensive notes on the way they thought, related to others, and were motivated. From these studies, Maslow looked at other greats of the mid 20th century such as Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt. These studies became the basis of Maslow's concept of human potential which in turn led to his theory of the hierarchy of needs.

The Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a way of looking at what we need from life. It is designed as a pyramid-shaped series of layers. There are two levels of need: those lower down the pyramid which Maslow coined Deficiency Needs and those at the top, which Maslow called Being Needs. The Deficiency needs are, in order from the bottom, the basic needs of life, such as food and shelter, safety needs, social needs, such as the need for friends and colleagues, and esteem needs, which include the need for praise. The Being needs at the top of the pyramid are of a different order to the lower-order needs and centre on man's need for self-fulfilment in all its shapes and forms.

The Lessons of the Hierarchy of Needs

The hierarchy of needs provides insights into many of the ways we manage and treat people at work. For instance, most of our traditional ways of motivating people at work focus only on the lower-order needs, eg providing money, bonuses, safety, good working conditions, and good teamwork. While we spend a lot of time trying to get these features right, we still have a long way to go to addressing people's personal self-realization needs which are the real motivators and the real reason why people go to work.