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Barry Wellman’s kind post to the earlier Maslow post made me meditate a little more on Maslow. Pyramids turn up in management thinking all the time, the same sort of regularity to the 2×2 matrix, and I  get a bit uneasy whenever I see them.
My caution may be a little bit irrational I suppose, but I think it is founded in the notion that with most of the pyramidal arrangements typically we are encouraged to aspire to a linear journey from the base to the peak and that the peak is expressed as a constrained area by comparison to the base – hence the pyramid. It is intended to reflect scarcity through a paucity of achievement at the peak. However I fear that too often it is deemed to demonstrate a constraining factor based on the limiting of availability. So if we were to extend this to a Maslow example we go from saying that few achieve self actualisation to few want to or can achieve self actualisation.
At its worst (and in my view deeply mistaken circumstances) Maslow’s model can and is used in this more negative way in an organisational context where motivating factors and behaviours are overlaid onto a typical organisational hierarchy. The hierarchy implies that exclusivity of self-actualisation is only applied to the executive or C-level roles, and that those lower down the pyramid’s layers and hierarchy don’t, won’t or can’t find these more “enlightened” motivations attractive or available.
I have always felt this is thoroughly mistaken, and believe that the social media environment is a remarkable demonstration of an alternative model where people engage for all sorts of motivations. The point of entry is not necessarily through the base and, perhaps more importantly, it is not some exclusive group that is self-actualised. Indeed, we often refer to the transformational possibilities of the online environment through its capacity to lower barriers – not through raising aspiration. Perhaps this changing model is reflected in social businesses moving towards less hierarchical models by acknowledging the breadth of aspiration and multiplicity of motivation.
So, in this context, perhaps a pyramid is not a useful shape – maybe a simple box where each level is equally well represented would help with people entering at any level?
But for me this still doesn’t go far enough as you are bounded by imposed perceptions of what are “important” motivators. Entering at the “top” doesn’t make us all “meta-motivated”. Surely then we can find a path through a basket of motivations, individually selected and reflecting a much richer and complex mix of behaviours, with no specific linear path through, and with equal implied value and importance.

So does this take us to a segmented pentagon model?

I am not sure what the conclusions to all these musing are – but it perhaps should act as a reminder to us all that our motivations are complex and mixed and that rigid or linear models of thinking have IMHO less strength in the complex hyper-connected organizations we can now inhabit.

Maslow Renewed

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