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A New View on Maslow’s Pyramid


A New View on Maslow’s Pyramid

Paul Millerd offers a new view on Maslow’s Pyramid and offers a different and more interesting lens on life.

‘The biggest losers, we suggest, have been management students’

This was the takeaway of three researchers who dug into the history of the invention of Maslow’s pyramid. We’ll get to that story but first let’s take a look at what has become one of the most sacred ideas in the management world, Maslow’s pyramid: 

The conventional way of thinking about the pyramid is a series of steps that you progress through with the goal of eventually spending more time focusing on self-actualizing. It is often used when thinking about what motivates people at work and thinking about how to improve a culture to drive more productive employees.

The problem? The pyramid is an interpretation of Maslow’s research from the 1940’s which he spent the next thirty years second guessing and adding more nuance. By the end of his life, his investigations were well beyond any sort of neat and tidy pyramid that I had trouble trying to even describe and understand what Maslow thought about human motivation at all.

Let’s dive in.

A hierarchy, but not a pyramid

Maslow’s early research, presented in A Theory of Human Motivation (1943) presents something that feels familiar to someone who has seen the pyramid:

The ‘physiological’ needs: The bodily drives for homeostasis included warmth, coolness and hunger

Safety Needs: Protection from danger and harm such as crime, violence, wars, etc… Some experience this as a lack of money as well.

Love Needs: People have the desire to belong and be part of something

Esteem Needs: The desire to be respected by others and by yourself

Self-Actualization Needs: People that have satisfied their other needs and can spend time on fulfilling their “potential”

In writing about self-actualization, this is where he says that being self-actualization is about meeting the other basic needs first but then goes on to share that he doesn’t really know much about how this is done:

The clear emergence of these needs rests upon prior satisfaction of the physiological, safety, love and esteem needs. We shall call people who are satisfied in these needs, basically satisfied people, and it is from these that we may expect the fullest (and healthiest) creativeness. Since, in our society, basically satisfied people are the exception, we do not know much about self-actualization, either experimentally or clinically. It remains a challenging problem for research.

This is the question that would shape his future research.


Key points include:

  • D-Psychology & B-Psychology
  • Where the pyramid came from
  • Later Research: D-Needs and The B-Realm


Read the full article, Maslow’s Imaginary Pyramid: Who really invented the pyramid?, on