Maslow's theory of growth, also known as the hierarchy of needs, is a motivational system developed by renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. I learnt the theory in my undergraduate studies at a university here in the UK (my eldest daughter learnt it in year 9 of high school). It’s the underlying psychological theory for what motivates everyone to do what they do. In other words, it is an attempt to explain human nature.The theory contends that individual humans are motivated by five levels of needs which are arranged into a hierarchical structure from most to least pressing.
Maslow’s hierarchy typically goes as follows:
The first is physiological (food, air, clothing, water), nourishment and the basic protection of our bodies and such.
Second is safety (protection from harm). Shelter could likely be a sort of bridge between the first two steps in this positive psychology which is what Maslow is putting forward. Safety includes any number of things. Caves rather than mud huts in certain areas, for example. Stable environments especially for children make them feel safe, but this is true for adults as well. Food storage and on and on.
Once you feel safe, you can develop love. You're also better equipped to give it and accept it. You can handle what a social interaction means when your physical needs have been met and you're in a safe and secure environment. It has been shown to improve your health as well, while the exact opposite is true if you have unhealthy relationships. Maybe this explains why a woman from a wealthy family is recommended for marriage -because she’s likely to give love unconditionally.
Ok, so you're fed, you feel safe, and you're loved. Then, you're ready to improve your esteem. First is self-esteem - the idea that you're worth something, not to anyone else, but to yourself. You're loved, after all, and people are willing to accept you, you belong. Now realize that other people recognize this and value you as well. That's the second part - know that people value your contributions and acknowledge you. Positive feedback from others also provides an inner sense of value or achievement known as self-esteem.
Finally, there's self-actualization. This is when you know you're living up to your true potential and doing what you were meant to do. Maslow says this is very rare and I agree, but only because I think we should always keep trying to do better, not because what we do isn't sometimes good enough.
According to Maslow, at each level, individuals must satisfy their needs before they can begin to address the next level and ultimately achieve personal growth and self-actualization.
The main advantage of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is its simplicity. It tends to oversimplify people's response to change. The hierarchy is simply useful in understanding the main levels of basic needs. Keeping in mind that it isn't a rule that one starts from bottom to top, or top to bottom, the presentation of needs is great and includes main specifications.
POLITICS AND BUSINESS
Maslow’s hierarchy gives a great framework to be used as a guide to develop political manifestos and business plans. For instance, If I'm to, miraculously, become president of Uganda, my first term will be solving just the following issues: food, water,roads, shelter, and safety, which are essential for our people's survival. Developed nations have made sure that almost everyone has access to these necessities, and I have never understood why our leaders(both in opposition and govt) don't invest much into these, but simply develop big manifestos to deceive people.
So, what does a baby born in Mulago hospital need to stay alive and healthy? Air to breathe, food to digest, time to sleep, time to excrete, and a bit of cleaning. These are the basic physiological needs we all share. These needs never go away, but as we grow, we learn habits and routines to keep them under control, and thus we can pay less and less attention to them. However, a robust healthy policy for patients at Mulago could be developed by any government to ensure that all the basic needs are met, as was the case during Obote 1 and Idi Amin. The latter, Amin, was a good president mainly because he was very good at identifying people's needs.
Similarly, nobody is born with business ideas. Everybody must learn it. Business ideas are born out of human needs. You can find business ideas almost everywhere there are people with needs. An ordinary person may look at Maslow's theory and remain indifferent. However, a trained entrepreneur looking at the same diagram will see a ton of business ideas. Warren Buffett puts it like this: “Trying to explain business to an ordinary person is like trying to explain to a fish how to live on land”.
The best way to find a business idea is to ask people around you what problems they have. For instance, I was approached recently by one of the LC chairmen of a village near Kangulumira -- he wanted me to help the villagers fundraise Ug shs.47m to bring electricity to the village. Honestly, I couldn't see it happening without government help. So, what I did was to encourage one Muslim brother to go and sell his solar panels to the villagers in that region because I couldn't see the government helping, either. I don’t have such generous friends in the government.
IS THE THEORY OUTDATED?
Basically, Maslow’s theory is still just a theory - it helps us understand our needs, what motivates us and what aspects should be met first. There is evidence of individuals fulfilling needs higher on the hierarchy before fulfilling needs lower on the hierarchy.
Many reasons why the Maslow needs pyramid might not make sense is because of its failure to properly describe 'self-actualization'. One can become 'self-actualized' without need for safety and security. So, there are definitely a few things Maslow didn't think about because he made a general assumption from the people whom he saw.
The thing to note is that our basic needs don’t just go away as we ‘move up the hierarchy’. All our needs overlap in time. But as we grow into each new life stage, our ‘lower’ needs are more under control — and that frees up more time and attention to focus on the next ‘higher’ need.
Maslow understood his theory would need to evolve over time. He foresaw the changes needed as human history marched on. Unfortunately, he could not finalize his theory - In the last months before his untimely death in 1970, he tried to expand on self-actualization and the next step – self-transcendence, but that vision is not very clear, especially for pyramid adepts. This unclear area beyond the “pyramid” is what makes Maslow’s thinking very relevant today. It is quite plausible that our next evolutionary step is yet unclear. It is possible that we transcend ourselves, break away from the material world and consumerism, and move to a more natural and genuinely happy life, closer to our biological roots. Indeed, there are lots of people who aren’t bothered by one’s wealth (cars and houses, e.t.c) because they look at this world as a temporary abode.
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
Stalk my blog at: http://semuwemba.wordpress.com
"Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive." - Henry Steele Commager 1902-98