Who Created Maslow’s Iconic Pyramid? – Scientific American

Abraham Maslow’s iconic pyramid of needs is one of the most famous images in the history of management studies. At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs, and at the top is self-actualization, the full realization of one’s unique potential. Along the way are the needs for safety, belonging, love, and esteem.

However, many people may not realize that during the last few years of his life Maslow believed self-transcendence, not self-actualization, was the pinnacle of human needs. What’s more, it’s difficult to find any evidence that he ever actually represented his theory as a pyramid. On the contrary, it’s clear from his writings that he did not view his hierarchy of needs like a video game– as though you reach one level and then unlock the next level, never again returning to the “lower” levels. He made it quite clear that we are always going back and forth in the hierarchy, and we can target multiple needs at the same time.

If Maslow never built his iconic pyramid, who did? In a recent paper, Todd Bridgman, Stephen Cummings, and John Ballard trace the true origins of the pyramid in management textbooks, and lay out the implications for the amplification of Maslow’s theory, and for management studies in general. In the following Q & A, I chat with the authors of that paper about their detective work.

Why did you set out to answer the question: Who built “Maslow’s Pyramid”?

My colleague Stephen Cummings and I have long been interested in how foundational ideas of our field, management studies, are represented in textbooks. Textbooks often present ideas very differently than in the original writings. We’re interested in understanding how and why this happens. We’ve taught Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for many years and were aware the pyramid did not appear in his most well-known works, so were interested in delving deeper. We contacted John Ballard, who knew Maslow’s work better than we did and who shared our concern about Maslow’s theory being misrepresented. Thankfully, he agreed to join us on the project.

Do you think the popularity of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is due in part to the iconic appeal of the pyramid that became associated with it?

Yes, absolutely. Maslow wasn’t the first psychologist to develop a theory of human needs. Walter Langer presented a theory with physical, social and egoistic needs that appeared alongside Maslow’s in an early management textbook. And Maslow’s theory generally hasn’t performed well in empirical studies (although I’m aware of your recent research which challenges this). In fact, this lack of empirical support is one of the main criticisms of the theory made by textbook authors. So why do they continue to include it? The pyramid. We know from having taught management courses for 20 years that if there’s one thing that students remember from an introductory course in management, it’s the pyramid. It’s intuitively appealing, easy to remember and looks great in PowerPoint. Students love it and because of that, so do textbooks authors, teachers, and publishers.

So what’s your problem with the pyramid?

It’s described as ‘Maslow’s pyramid’ when he did not create it and it’s just not a good representation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It perpetuates unfair criticisms of the theory. For example, that people are only motivated to satisfy one need at a time, that a need must be 100% satisfied before a higher-level need kicks in, and that a satisfied need no longer affects behavior. Another is the view that everyone has the same needs arranged and activated in the same order. In his 1943 article in Psychological Review Maslow anticipates these criticisms and says they would give a false impression of his theory. Maslow believed that people have partially satisfied needs and partially unsatisfied needs at the same time, that a lower level need may be only partially met before a higher-level need emerges, and that the order in which needs emerge is not fixed.

How did this inaccurate interpretation of the hierarchy of needs become established in management textbooks?

It’s a complicated story and one we address fully in the paper. Douglas McGregor is a key figure, because he popularized Maslow within the business community. McGregor saw the potential for the hierarchy of needs to be applied by managers, but for ease of translation he deliberately ignored many of the nuances and qualifications that Maslow had articulated. To cut a long story short, McGregor’s simplified version is the theory that appears in management textbooks today, and most criticisms of Maslow’s theory are critiques of McGregor’s interpretation of Maslow.

Did McGregor create the pyramid? Or if not, who did?

No pyramid appears in McGregor’s writing. Keith Davis wrote a widely-used management textbook in 1957 that illustrated the theory in the form of a series of steps in a right-angled triangle leading to a peak. The top level shows a suited executive raising a flag, reminiscent of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. But this representation of the theory did not catch on. We traced the pyramid that we associate with the hierarchy of needs today to Charles McDermid, a consulting psychologist. It appeared in his 1960 article in Business Horizons ‘How money motivates men’ in which he argued the pyramid can be applied to generate “maximum motivation at the lowest cost”. We think McDermid’s pyramid was inspired by Davis’ representation, but it was McDermid’s image that took off. If there is an earlier pyramid, we did not find it.

Is it right that you actually found no trace of Maslow framing his ideas in pyramid form? Where did you look, and how comprehensive was your search?

That’s correct. It was a comprehensive search. Maslow was a prolific writer. We examined all of his published books and articles that we could identify, as well as his personal diaries, which are published. John immersed himself in the Maslow archives at the Centre for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron in Ohio and examined many boxes of papers, letters, memos, and so forth. We found no trace of the pyramid in any of Maslow’s writings. Additionally, John went through pre1960 psychology textbooks for any discussions of Maslow. Most psych books in those times did not even mention Maslow.

Why didn’t Maslow argue against the Pyramid once he saw it? He could have criticized it, right? I heard from someone who knew Maslow that he actually thought the pyramid on the back of the $1 bill was a fair representation of his theory. Also, one of his students who took his course at Brooklyn College told me he would include a slide of the pyramid when he described his theory in class. So perhaps he was pleased with the iconic pyramid even if he didn’t invent the depiction himself?

Those are interesting questions. Maslow lived for 10 years after McDermid presented the pyramid. We found no evidence of Maslow challenging the pyramid at any time. We don’t think that’s because he regarded pyramid as an accurate representation. A more plausible explanation, which comes from our analysis of his personal diaries, is that aspects of his professional life were unravelling. He felt underappreciated in psychology. The major research journals in psychology had been taken over by experimental studies, which depressed Maslow for their lack of creativity and insight. He also had more pragmatic concerns, suffering periods of ill health and financial difficulties. Key figures in the management community saw him as a guru and rolled out the red carpet. They gave him the recognition he felt he deserved. Furthermore, through speaking engagements and consulting, he could generate additional income. Seen in that light, it’s not surprising he went along with it.

Some people have argued that Maslow based his pyramid on the tipi of First Nations people the Blackfoot, following a summer he spent with the tribe in 1938. What do you think of this theory?

The claim that Maslow stole the idea for his pyramid from the Blackfoot has gained attention on social media, but if Maslow did not create the pyramid, he could not have taken it from the Blackfoot. There is no doubt that Maslow’s fieldwork with the Blackfoot were insightful for him. He discussed his observations with the Blackfoot briefly in his 1954 book. Maslow’s biographer, Ed Hoffman, devoted an entire chapter to Maslow’s fieldwork. While Maslow learned much about these proud people, there is nothing in these writings to suggest he borrowed or stole ideas for his hierarchy of needs.

Where do we go next? Are you calling for the pyramid to be dropped in new editions of management textbooks?

We are recommending, as some have before us, that a ladder is a better visual representation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The pyramid is shown with horizontal lines demarcating the different levels. This makes it difficult to imagine a person simultaneously being affected by different needs. When one is on a ladder, multiple rungs are occupied by the feet and hands. Other rungs may be leaned on as well. Also, a ladder does a better job of conveying Maslow’s idea that people can move up and down the hierarchy. Prominent management historian Daniel Wren described Maslow’s theory as a ladder of needs in early editions of his book The Evolution of Management Thought. That description eventually dropped out, but we believe removing the pyramid from management textbooks and replacing it with a ladder would be a step forward. Dan Wren has been in touch with us since the paper was published and agrees.

You wrote: “Inspiring the study of management and its relationship to creativity and the pursuit of the common good would be a much more empowering legacy to Maslow than a simplistic, 5-step, one-way pyramid.” I agree! It seems like Maslow’s original thinking about self-actualization is at odds with how business leaders treated the concept, right?

Definitely. Following the publication of Motivation and Personality in 1954, Maslow emerged as one of the few established psychologists to challenge the prevailing conformism of the 1950s. He spoke out on how large organizations and social conformity stifled individual self-expression. At times he was frustrated that the business community treated his theory of human nature as a means to a financial end–short-term profits–rather than the end which he saw, a more enlightened citizenry and society. It would be great if students were encouraged to read what Maslow in the original. Students would better understand that motivating employees to be more productive at work was not the end that Maslow desired for the hierarchy of needs. He was concerned with creativity, freedom of expression, personal growth and fulfillment – issues that remain as relevant today in thinking about work, organizations, and our lives as they were in Maslow’s time. We think there’s an opportunity to create a new Maslow for management studies by returning to Maslow’s original ideas.

Maslow never offered an elitist conceptualization of self-actualization, right? My reading is that he argued that everyone is capable of self-actualizing, but are blocked by deficiencies in our most basic needs.

Well that depends. Most of his life and in his writings Maslow was very clear that every newborn had the potential to eventually be self-actualized, given the right environment. But he felt very few people truly reached their potential, a belief that grew stronger over the years. In his final years he wondered if there might be a genetic component that favors self-actualization in some more than others. He mused about the possibility of a “biological elite’, people with a higher probability of becoming self-actualized. To our knowledge he never developed this idea. This was probably a reaction to meeting too few people whom he would consider self-actualized.

What is the right environment?

Maslow had preconditions for his need hierarchy to work. This is frequently overlooked. Freedom to speak, to express one’s self, to live in societies with fairness and justice, these are some of his preconditions. Censorship, dishonesty, inability to pursue truth and wisdom work against us. Even still, he acknowledged there are exceptions where people rise above their circumstances.

You argue that management textbooks could do a better job of representing the past, more generally. What are some other big textbook misrepresentations as you see it?

Were they alive today, our field’s founders such as Adam Smith, Max Weber, Kurt Lewin and even Douglas McGregor himself would have difficulty recognizing the ways in which their ideas are presented in textbooks. In A New History of Management by Stephen Cummings, John Hassard, Michael Rowlinson, and me we try to address some of those misinterpretations. But the problem goes beyond the misrepresentation of ideas. We are also interested in examining people and ideas usually excluded from management textbooks. We need to more closely examine the contributions of women, contributions from non-Western cultures, contributions from people of different ethnicities.

What are the broader implications of your research for management education?

We hope our research generates debate about what has come to be regarded as the foundations of management studies and how those foundations are taught to students. We advocate a critical-historical approach which involves seeing ‘history’ as a subjective narrative of past events that is shaped by the perspectives and values of those who write these narratives. Management studies has had long-standing ideological commitments to free-market capitalism and managerial hierarchies. It’s a legitimate perspective but one that has been overly dominant. Recognizing this opens the possibility of creating new histories of management from different perspectives – of different places, times, people and ideas. This would both provide students with a richer understanding of our field but could also help them generate genuinely novel ways of thinking about managing and organizing.

Best Practices For Fostering Intrinsic Motivation – Forbes


Workplaces and schools often unintentionally create environments that disincentivize the exact behaviors they hope to encourage.

In the workplace, it’s extremely common to see a manager offer a bonus to their team if they hit a goal like “80 cold call dials per day.” In the classroom, it’s even more common to have an assignment with a specific deadline and rubric that maps out the exact requirements to achieve a “perfect” score.

Both of these rewards seem like they would lead to their desired actions. And, in the short term, that is likely exactly what happens.

But the results don’t last.

After the bonus period ends, the same sales rep who received a bonus last week is trailing far behind the daily cold call count. And the instructor grading those perfect papers sees dozens of papers that exactly meet the requirements, but few papers that exceed them.

Why do rewards seem to have the opposite effect?

In her thesis, “The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement,” researcher Lori Kay Baranek found that these well-intentioned rewards and incentives have a negative impact on a student’s long-term motivation. Consistently, research findings confirm that the more someone is rewarded for a task, the more they resist it, and the worse they perform.

Our children, our students and our workforce are building up a “reward resistance,” and we desperately need to break our dependence on the rewards habit.

The Measure Of A Manager

In the book Drive, author Daniel Pink lays out a case against the use of extrinsic motivators to incentivize creative, nonlinear work, as they have been found to narrow focus, reduce creativity displayed in work, increase errors in work and reduce ideation.

In business, hiring managers often cite grit, creativity, curiosity and innovative thinking among their desired traits. Yet tying extrinsic rewards to these traits is widespread in business.

Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan developed a model of the key components that drive intrinsic motivation, called self-determination theory. When someone is motivated to perform an action because of outside pressures, they are considered extrinsically motivated. When an individual is motivated to perform an action for the sake of the action, they are considered intrinsically motivated.

Self-determination theory lays out three drivers of intrinsic motivation: autonomy (the desire for control and choice in our lives), relatedness (the desire for purpose, meaning and connection through our actions) and competence (the desire to grow in mastery).

Deci and Ryan believed that sustainable motivation comes from within, and intrinsic motivation cannot be forced onto someone.

To that end, Deci said, “Instead of asking, ‘How can I motivate people?’ we should be asking, ‘How can I create the conditions within which people will motivate themselves?’”

Higher Education, Higher Motivation?

As a cofounder of an education technology company, I am both a manager of a team in a growing startup and the chief product officer for an educational platform used by hundreds of thousands of students.

Many of the instructors we work with at my company believe strongly in the tenets of self-determination theory and have expressed their desire to see their students engage passionately and organically in the courses.

But they face challenges in designing a learning environment that is conducive to intrinsic motivation, either due to pressures on assessment, specific course curriculum expectations or the fact that they can only control their own course and not the requirements in their students’ other classes. However, even when an individual doesn’t have control over the entire system, there are always ways to support autonomy, competency and relatedness in any environment.

Creating Conditions For Intrinsic Motivation To Thrive

1. Show relatedness. Connect all work to a “why.” It is simply never enough to use authority to compel action. This might lead to begrudging compliance, but it kills the connection between a given piece of work and its purpose.

In the classroom: Explain the purpose of each assignment or project fully by explaining what the project is intended to accomplish and how it will help the students grow in their academic careers. Connect it to an application in the broader world.

In the workplace: Explore the deeper “why” behind the company’s work. If your company focuses solely on profit or on a specific product and not on the value you create in the world, it will be hard for team members to see how their work creates an impact.

2. Enable autonomy. Create space for individual choice and personal control wherever possible.

In the classroom: Incorporate a project or assignment that requires participation, but leaves the style, quality or type of engagement up to the students’ choice. Online discussion is an excellent medium for students to control and offers autonomy over their learning experience through asking their own open-ended discussion questions.

In the workplace: Use a goal-setting framework to enable team members to set their own individual goals. At my company, we use the “objectives and key results” (OKR) framework to set goals. The company shares our high-level objectives with the team, and each individual sets personal goals that combine business initiatives with their personal interests and strengths.

3. Encourage competency. Show the path to mastery, and share praise for progress over outcomes.

In the classroom: Create opportunities for growth feedback unrelated to formal assessments. This is important to developing a healthy relationship with feedback and allowing students to learn from the feedback with a growth mindset.

In the workplace: Understand team members’ career and learning goals. Creating an environment that allows team members to pursue competency and mastery requires that managers first understand what a team member seeks to master and then create opportunities for development in this path.

We can break our reliance on extrinsic motivators to see students and colleagues realize their full potential, but it comes at a cost: control.

But the rewards are worth it.

Daily Dawg Tags: Cleveland Browns coaching search could end quickly – Dawg Pound Daily

The Daily Dawg Tags brings you all the Cleveland Browns news you need to know, including the possibility the coaching search ends sooner rather than later.

The Cleveland Browns coaching search is one of the most focused openings around the NFL world because it could result in one of the top available candidates landing the job. There is also a focus on it because it was a job not expected to open up, along with the general manager position.

Now that both jobs have been vacant for a week and the Browns have conducted the interview, the question is now how long will the Browns continue their search for a head coach? The expectation is that the process will ramp up this week.

After the first round of playoffs, several Browns candidates remain in the playoffs, including two who were on first round byes. One of the front-runners for the job, Kevin Stefanski, still remains in the playoffs after the Vikings defeated the Saints. But the other front-runner, Josh McDaniels, is now available right away after the Patriots lost to TItans.

More from Dawg Pound Daily

Today’s featured article looks at Cleveland’s schedule for interviews this week, and McDaniels being available to be hired as soon as possible could cause a rapid end to Cleveland’s search for a head coach.

Cleveland Browns News

Browns will interview Brian Daboll Monday in Cleveland; Josh McDaniels & Kevin Stefanski up this week, too – Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland.com

McDaniels can also interview anytime, now that the Patriots lost 20-13 to the Titans on Saturday. Ideally, that session will take place in Cleveland and as soon as possible, a source said. McDaniels will also interview with the Panthers and Giants.

McDaniels and Stefanski have been considered the favorites for the Browns job since the beginning of the search. Each coach has been considered the favorite on any given day as well. If McDaniels blows the Browns away during his first interview this week, it may not take long before he gets the job.

3 free agents the Browns have to let walk in 2020

The Cleveland Browns will have several key free agents hit the open market this spring if they do not sign to a new deal. Randy Gurzi looks at three Browns free agents the organization should let walk away in free agency.

Break in coaching search sets up what could be busy week – Scott Petrak, BrownsZone

There’s a sense of urgency regarding the coaching search for a couple of reasons. The Browns’ priority is to hire the coach, then give him input on who’ll be the general manager. John Dorsey left the organization on Tuesday when he declined to take a diminished role.

The Browns needing to hire a general manager after hiring the head coach will likely cause the organization to finish the coaching search rapidly. If the Browns want to get everything set up for the offseason, they may not want to wait to long before they have their head coach and general manager in place.

Next: Background on every reported Browns coaching candidate

Paul DePodesta has uncertain future with Cleveland Browns

After the Browns parted ways with John Dorsey, it appeared Paul DePodesta won a power struggle in the front office between the two. However, DePodesta may not have much more time working in the Browns organization.

Matt Rhule: 3 things to know about his NY Giants head coach candidacy – NorthJersey.com

Baylor coach Matt Rhule will interview for the New York Giants head coaching job Tuesday, and if things go well and as anticipated, the search could be over and the vacancy filled shortly thereafter.

There are still hurdles to clear in the potential marriage between the 44-year-old Rhule and the Giants despite his emergence as the favorite to succeed Pat Shurmur. 

FUTURE: Where the NY Giants are headed after firing coach Pat Shurmur

It’s believed the mutual interest with Rhule and the Giants is strong, although that remains solely the foundation for a partnership moving forward. The phrase “dream job” has been thrown around with regard to Rhule and the Giants, and it’s not hyperbole.

That doesn’t mean they get together and finalize a deal, but there’s institutional knowledge here from both sides, even if Rhule was only in the building for a year as assistant offensive line coach on Tom Coughlin’s staff in 2012.

Rhule is expected to meet with Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, general manager Dave Gettleman and vice president of football operations Kevin Abrams. Tisch’s presence is notable, considering he has not been in attendance for the previous five interviews, instead engaging with the candidate by phone.

Here are 3 things to know about Rhule and his candidacy:

The resume

Rhule is a leader, and he’s a builder. There’s no other way to look at it. His success in lifting Temple and Baylor up from shambles – and in different ways – is undeniable. He sells his vision, but does not come off as a salesman. 

His pitch is genuine, and the proof is in the product.

Rhule went 2-10 and then 6-6 at Temple before putting together back-to-back 10-win seasons at Temple. He moved to Baylor and inherited a mess within a program essentially hollowed-out by a scandal that preceded him.

Under Rhule, the Bears went 1-11 in his first year before posting a 7-6 record in Year 2, followed by an 11-win season in which Baylor played in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day – a remarkable turnaround.

GIANTS: Our New Year resolutions for the Giants and Jets players in 2020

The journey

Rhule grew up in New York City before moving to State College, Pa., where he played his college ball as a walk-on linebacker at Penn State. His blend of grit and charisma paved the way through assistant coaching jobs at Albright College, Buffalo, UCLA and Western Carolina before landing at Temple, where he stayed for six years.

And here’s the thing: Rhule spent the early years of his career coaching defense, but he flipped to the offensive side of the ball at Temple. All but one year of his experience has come at the college level, yet there is something to be said for his time not only as a versatile assistant, but a head coach over an extended period in challenging circumstances

The verdict

The timing is right for Rhule and the Giants to make this happen.

Some within the organization believe there is appeal in having a head coach who will roam the sideline without having his head buried in a play call sheet on game day. That created a negative perception for Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur when things went south. Rhule won’t call plays on either side of the ball, instead putting together a staff that he can oversee from position to position.

The last two coaches hired by the Giants had an obvious specialty in offense, but that has not always meant success in the NFL, not as much anymore as those capable of leading in every meeting room. The coordinators and assistants are the specialized coaches, and the biggest challenge for any candidate in this cycle is putting together a staff. Obviously a head coach needs to be able to coach, but the job is more than that.

Rhule also has appeal for Giants on a global level in terms of the organization, and not just what he brings to the football operations, which is obviously a priority. Rhule has the personality that you can sell to sponsors. He’s a great speaker. Corporate will love him.

He was a finalist for the Jets job last year and should be the hire here if his ideas for a staff and philosophical approach meshes with Dave Gettleman and ownership.

The Giants are going to need to pay a hefty price if they want Rhule, considering his potential buyout at Baylor is no secret. They’ll enter the interview knowing what it will cost, and you don’t get to this point without being willing to pay the price.

Art Stapleton is the Giants beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Giants analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and sign up for our NFC East newsletter.  

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @art_stapleton