Reshaping Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to Reflect Today's Educational and Managerial Philosophies

By Kiel, Joan M. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Reshaping Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to Reflect Today's Educational and Managerial Philosophies


Kiel, Joan M., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory is almost fifty years old. In that time, the educational and managerial fields have changed greatly. This article presents a debate of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory to reflect that in today's world, a closed triangle is not a valid representation. Instead, an open, wide faced structure is needed to better reflect that self actualization is never ending. And with this never ending self actualization, individuals can engender lifelong learning, change management, and boundlessness, all important factors for the 1990's educational and managerial environments.

Fifty years ago the business world was a very different place. The economic boom of World War II shielded employees from downsizing, the vast number of immigrants provided management with plentiful, cost-efficient labor, and the "super power" image of America abroad was omnipresent. It was also fifty years ago, that Abraham Maslow developed his Hierarchy of Needs Model. His theory of human needs and motivation found that people fulfilled physical, security, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs in an orderly, ascending fashion. Depicted as a closed triangle, this model espoused that individuals may never satisfy all of their needs, especially needs at the highest level.

Fifty years later, the business world has downsized, labor costs are increasing, and America's "super power" image is being challenged. What would Mr. Maslow say today? How would his triangle look?

Since Maslow's unveiling of his Hierarchy of Needs Theory in 1954, his critics have been apparent. The Theory has been challenged on its lack of scientificity (Heylighen, 40), integrated conceptual structure, (Heylighen, 45), supportive research evidence (Wahba, 212), and validity of the concept (Schott, 109).

Here I am not challenging, but rather suggesting to "update" the theory based on the needs of today's society. The major premise is that the theory of the Hierarchy of Needs is sound, but I question the fourth and mainly the fifth levels, those that discuss self-esteem and self-actualization. As I am proposing changes to the concept, my main emphasis is that the shape that depicts the Hierarchy of Needs, the triangle, must be altered.

Self actualization is defined as "a process of becoming", "the process of development which does not end", (Heylighen, 41), "the individual doing what he is fitted for - `what a man can be, he must be'", (Maslow 91), "a desire to become more and more what one is', (Maslow, 92), and ""being a mature, fully human person in whom the human potentialities have been realized and actualized", (Mittleman, 116). Given these definitions, the shape of the Hierarchy of Needs must be changed so as to integrate the 1990's society. Managers, teachers, and parents find that encouragement yields greater productivity. Organizational development concepts have long espoused this.

In the first definition, it states that self actualization is a process and does not end. If self actualization does not end, then why is the triangle closed? …

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Reshaping Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to Reflect Today's Educational and Managerial Philosophies
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