Lately I’ve been more or less obsessed with the teachings of the late psychologist Abraham Maslow, and the timeless relevance they hold for organizational life.
In particular, the application of Maslow’s well-known “Hierarchy of Needs” has resonated with me like never before. I have to give credit to a book I’ve recently enjoyed, Chip Conley’s PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow. Conley, a San Francisco-based hospitality industry entrepreneur, delineates his very intentional approach to organizing and operating his companies in a manner that consistently positions his employees to scale to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.
If you are in need of a refresher on the hierarchy, here it is in a nutshell. The bottom level of the hierarchy represents “basis needs” that must be met before we can even aspire to much in life and work, such as food, shelter and clothing. The next level involves both physical and emotional safety needs, crucial before we can be consistently positioned to impact society in meaningful ways. Next comes psychological needs, such as a healthy sense of self-esteem, being an integral part of community and possessing a strong level of emotional intelligence in general.
Ensuring that our needs are met at these first three levels sets the stage for us to fully embrace progress in the top tier identified by Maslow. We can now take the risk of unleashing our full creative potential as defined by our unique talents, impacting our family members, friends, neighbors, communities and colleagues for the greater good. This leads to frequent “peak” experiences, those “getting in the zone” moments when life is in a state of euphoric flow and we lose ourselves in our activities. Like how I feel when I write, get a good burn at the gym, read an impactful book or participate in a fun, creative and inspiring conversation at a coffee shop.
It’s no surprise that the more I learn about Maslow (and I’ve ordered a couple of his books), the hungrier I grow to apply his principles. For many years I’ve looked at people and organizations through strengths-colored lenses, and Maslow was ahead of his time in the science of studying what people do well and why. The helpful Clifton StrengthsFinder tool emerged two decades after his death, and positive psychology blossomed to popularity out of the long shadow cast by the peak of his hierarchy.
So where are YOU on the hierarchy, in terms of key needs being met and advancing up the levels toward those potential peak experiences? If you’re stuck somewhere on the lower or even middle level, you’re only tasting the first-fruits of the rich meal that life has to offer. Don’t settle for the appetizers.