Maslow's Hierarchy, the Businessman and Filippo Brunelleschi

As a student of Business the chances are you may come across or even overtly study Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. If, like myself, you encountered this important framework in a theoretical environment then it may fail to make much sense to you. Therefore, you may find yourself trying to memorise the pyramid in order to pass a mandatory exam.

An understanding of psychology and  human behaviour are fundamental skills in the world of Business and Management. The best leaders, like Jack Welsh and Angela Ahrendts, display an innate understanding of this through the way they communicate with and make sense of the world around them.

Fortunately, like many frameworks, the underlying principles can be applied to our own lives, in a way that makes sense to us, so we can then begin to make sense of the pyramid. The key to learning is to learn the underlying principles, memorisation is a very good brain exercise but memorisation in isolation becomes an ineffective tool. It is a hammer that simply isn't aware of the existence of the screw.

In the pyramid we can clearly see that Self- Actualisation and Esteem are valued more than Safety and Physiological Needs. All the needs are important, but not all needs are created equal. Once we have fulfilled the most primal needs at the bottom of the pyramid then we should direct our focus on the top needs. We can achieve a sense of Love/Belonging through fulfilling Safety and Physiological Needs alone, but the nectar lies at the top of this category, with the pseudonym of Esteem and Self-Actualisaion.

In order to understand the pyramid and how it relates to Business, we first need to apply it to our own lives. When we play things safe, go for that 'safe' job with an adequate wage and 'solid' career prospects then we will often succeed in fulfilling the bottom two segments of the pyramid. However, we will not usually fulfill much of the top half because no matter how hard we try to conceal it, at some level we feel like we sold out, played it safe and settled. We didn't challenge the societal norms in any meaningful way and we let external expectations govern our behaviour. The bottom half is relatively 'easy' to fulfil for most of us but it will also leave a lot of us with the feeling that there has to be more to life, as we get a sense of being just another 'cog' in the machine.

The top segment is a lot harder to fulfil, as it requires that we first build a solid foundation. Indeed if we look to history, the construction of the dome for the Cathedral of Florence, one of Filippo Brunelleschi's crowning glories, was the difficult, time consuming and most impressive part. It took meticulous thought and engineering to accomplish the dome structure in an era where the possibility of cranes existed in an imagined reality. The top half is about taking risk or at least 'educated' bets. The top half is hard to achieve, but it can be relatively straight forward to initiate. It is often initiated by the people who simply experiment with a slightly different haircut or different dress sense from their circle of peers.

Actualisaition is the physical manifestation of visualisation. Self- actualisation comes from esteem and esteem can be achieved when we can create an internal sense of self-worth, and a value of our own uniqueness in the world. It is useful to see a team as a single unit but it is just as important to uncover the individual uniqueness of each team member, so we can leverage it to create a better shared world. When we hold ourselves and others in high regard then we can begin to obtain the courage to self actualise, to conquer our fears and doubts, embrace failure as simply a learning curve and become creationists. In order to master and complete our pyramid we don't need to reinvent the wheel but we need to initiate our own variation of it.