Slider 4Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs whereby people are motivated to achieve certain needs and the highest level is called transcendence needs. According to Maslow one need must be fulfilled before the person is motivated to fulfill the next one, and this goes on until they reach transcendence. This model can be divided into basic needs (e.g. physiological, safety, love, and esteem)cognitive and aesthetic needs (knowledge, meaning, appreciation, and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.), self-actualization (growth needs), andtranscendence needs (helping others to achieve self-actualization) which is the highest need. Yes, this theory sounds awesome! But people are evolving, we have more choices that before. As a matter of fact,  our motivational factors are evolving as well! For example, people quit their high paying job every day because they feel stagnant, and are denied opportunities to grow, and to be themselves. Now I am thinking, could Maslow’s theory be upside down?

According to Maslow (1970), all humans aspire to be self-actualized but only about two percent will reach the state of self-actualization. The reason behind this is because most people just fluctuate between the different levels of the hierarchy due to life’s challenges. My question is, what if humans fulfill their transcendence and self-actualization needs before any other need? would we lead a more productive life, a life more focused on growing and embracing all possibilities instead of one filled with fear.

If the hierarchy of needs is turned upside down then transcendence and self-actualization would be our lowest needs. Fulfilling those needs might just put us in a state of being where we could embrace our unique self and encourage others to do the same.  Let’s see what motivation would look like if we work the pyramid backwards: One being the lowest level:

  1. Transcendence needs (helping others to achieve self-actualization)-It is the most satisfying feeling when we help can others to discover their best self! Organizations are realizing this, why do you think there is such a market for motivating and keeping employees engaged? Organizations are increasing profit by investing in leaders who can inspire and empower others to reach their potential and peak performance with enthusiasm.
  2. Self-actualization (growth needs) – Studies show that by helping others achieve self-actualization we grow and feel fulfilled from the experience itself. This is what Oprah call the ‘aha moment’!
  3. Cognitive (knowledge, meaning, appreciation)When we discover our authentic self, we get a new appreciation for life, we seek out new knowledge, new meaning, and just cannot get enough of life.
  4. Aesthetic needs (search for beauty, balance) – This is the stage where we become childlike, we are motivated by the beauty in others, things, life, and intrinsic rewards.
  5. Basic needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) – This is where we continue to connect, build relationships, create communities through networking, friendships, and share affection and love in work groups, family, and friends. It is within these groups that we feel safe, secure, love, fight for each other, encourage, and share our drinks, food, have sex, and then we rest.

According to Maslow’s theory, our lower needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be met. But take a closer look at leaders like Martin Luther king Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. Based on studies, these leaders’ lower needs were not satisfied before they achieved their potential and self-actualize. It was through helping their fellow men that they were able and reach their full potential.

Put your survival of the fittest mentality aside for a second, and focus on the hierarchy of needs upside-down. According to my theory, at the highest stage (basic needs) we would no longer be motivated by greed and selfishness. We would have developed the characteristics of transcendence and self-actualization. If we work Maslow’s hierarchy of needs upside-down, we would be motivated by our concern for the welfare of humanity, and would listen to our own heart in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition.