Why Maslow needs a reboot

hierarchy of needs
sam conniff allende
category - millennials
category - generation z
category - society
sector - media & technology
type - opinion
Former CEO of Livity, Sam Conniff Allende, argues that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be amended to reflect the changing face of leadership.

As global leadership risks becoming an oxymoron, the next generation are no longer looking upwards for inspiration. What was once a vertical or diagonal perspective has become horizontal as role models of leadership have shifted from figures you can’t touch to peers you can reach.

In mainstream leadership, original thought seems to have left the building, while our thriving start-up, social enterprise, technology and creative economies are defined by inventiveness. This is a paradox evident in the recent news that Millennials are ditching graduate jobs to found start-ups, with 311,000 company directors aged under 30, up from 295,000 two years ago.

As the imagination vacuum balloons at the top, a rush of idealism is drawn in at the bottom. And while business and politics could recover from a lack of innovation and entrepreneurialism – they have before – alongside an absence of optimism or empathy, the results are fatal.

Hope is critical and a lack of it conflicts with the ambitions of the next generation. Millennials want purpose over pay cheques and Generation Z want paths to careers and fulfilment, say a range of columns from The Guardian to Forbes, demonstrating the zeitgeist’s spectrum of awareness. The establishment’s thinly veiled self-absorption will hold no appeal for the bright, open-minded people of the future who want answers, ideas, self-determination and self-actualisation.

Published by:

4 May 2018

Author: Sam Conniff Allende

Image: Beth Comstock branding by Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree


And herein lies the clue. Self-actualisation – the famous pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – is the focus of a thousand leadership books and TEDx talks and a recently re-proven mainstay in our understanding of why we do what we do, and what we’ll do next.

Maslow charted human progress through a series of need states, giving way to the next on our way through life. Like all good ideas that explain everything, it is drawn as a triangle.

Ever since, we’ve accepted that once we win at the game of life, it is time to think beyond property, prosperity and security, and begin to be motivated by ideas of morality, common good, being of consequence to the world, or what many call giving something back.

But that’s the old paradigm. In the new paradigm this could be the first generation who don’t arrive at a point of giving back because they never took anything in the first place.

Therefore, it’s time to update Maslow’s OS for clues to unlock the new leadership businesses need. So I’ve given it a reboot, as you can see below.

"Hope is critical and a lack of it conflicts with the ambitions of the next generation."
The Be More Pirate author's hack of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

There are two essential upgrades. First, I’ve included wifi and battery life to the base of the pyramid along with food, shelter and warmth for, ‘duh’, obvious reasons.

Second, I’ve tipped the top of the triangle forwards, the bit when we have our Aha moment and realise there is more to life than accumulating stuff. It is my conviction that for the next generation of leaders, self-actualisation now starts at the beginning.

I’ve worked with thousands of young future leaders across countries and cultures over more than two decades. Whether they are urban or rural, middle class or marginalised, the importance of doing something that means something now starts sooner.

The evolved state of self-actualisation has tipped so that a point begins alongside, and with shared significance to, other baseline needs. Then, inversely mirroring our tapering progress, the importance of meaning expands until it is an equal signifier of success.

The much-quoted Deloitte Millennial Survey supports my Maslow hack. Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, says: ‘Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits. This should be a wake-up call to business, in the way they engage Millennial talent or risk being left behind.’

Rather than feel pessimistic at Eton rifles peering from the crumbling fort, I look forward to the next wave of leaders whose understanding of impact in a connected world isn’t just informed by decisions they have made, but by the decisions they will make.

For them, it clearly matters to do something that means something. Living and working without meaning renders you redundant. Note to Theresa May et al: the idea of giving a shit has gone from being something nice to have to being something we need to have.

To find the ideas we need, perhaps our leaders should stop looking up too, and instead look among the leaders of tomorrow, where they’ll find the answers they need.

I imagine some of you might think the idea that the future leaders among our young have more to offer than the current crop is a stretch too far. But if that is you, then I promise, it’s more an issue of your own imagination gap than it is of their talent gap.

Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende is out now, published by Penguin Random House.

'I look forward to the next wave of leaders whose understanding of impact in a connected world isn’t just informed by decisions they have made, but by the decisions they will make.'

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