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Using Maslow to Build a Stronger and More Rewarding Business

Over seventy years ago, Abraham Maslow asked a great question.

While most psychologists of his era were focused exclusively on diagnosing and treating mental illness, Maslow inquired:

What does mental health look like?

This single question led to a new understanding of what it is to be human: what motivates us, how we grow, and what we experience when we’re at our best.

Maslow’s’ insights, when applied to your organization, can improve the overall health of your business. It can, in turn, provide you with a significant competitive advantage.

Let’s see how it works.

Your Basic Human Needs

You’re probably familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

Maslow observed that all humans have a set of basic needs: biological, safety, belonging, and esteem.

He called these basic needs deficient needs because, in their absence, we feel like something is missing.

For example, when we don’t feel safe, we don’t feel like ourselves. Something feels off. We will go to great lengths to satisfy our unmet need for safety.

We all want to feel safe. We all want to feel connected to others. And we all want to feel good about ourselves.

When, for whatever reason, we fail to satisfy these basic needs, we get neurotic. Anxiety, depression, and obsession define our behavior.

Our pursuit of meeting these basic needs drives much of our daily behavior—even in our businesses.

Your Higher Human Needs

But here’s the thing: once you satisfy your basic needs, you can turn more of your attention to higher needs.

Higher needs include:

  • Cognitive (meaning, knowledge, and self-awareness)
  • Aesthetics (beauty, form, balance)
  • Self-actualization (personal growth and development)
  • Transcendence (spiritual values and selfless service)

All of these needs are human too.

Maslow called these needs Being values because they motivate and inspire humans to grow and reach their fullest potential.

Consider which of the following Being values are important to you: Truth, Completion, Goodness, Justice, Beauty, Simplicity, Wholeness, Richness, Aliveness, Effortlessness, Uniqueness, Playfulness, Perfection, and Self-Sufficiency.

Satisfying your higher needs is important because it helps you live a more enriching, meaningful life.

It’s why we do certain things even though they are “unproductive.” For example, go to museums, play musical instruments, and read thought-provoking books.

What Great Brands Do Differently

Every business helps satisfy at least some of their customers’ basic needs.

A retailer like Walmart, for example, provides a safe environment to shop; products and apparel to make their customers feel good about their self-image; and hopefully, clean bathrooms (to satisfy those all-important biological needs).

But some businesses go further.

When author and business consultant BJ Bueno began studying Cult Brands—businesses with hyper-loyal customers like Apple, Star Trek, and Harley-Davidson—he noticed that they all share something in common.

Cult Brands address their customers’ higher needs.

Apple, for example, plays to intelligence, beauty, creativity, and self-expression.

Harley-Davidson and Star Trek bring out aliveness and playfulness; they support customer communities that celebrate lifestyles filled with youthful fantasy and adventure.

Supporting and celebrating specific higher needs for your customers helps you differentiate your brand from your competitors. But it goes deeper than that.

Your customers have complicated lives (just like you). If you can help them satisfy their basic and higher needs, imagine how much they will appreciate you. And this appreciation leads to loyalty.

Meeting the Higher Needs Within Your Business

Successful businesses like Southwest, Google, Zappos, The Container Store, and Netflix tap into basic and higher needs not just for their customers, but for their employees.

These organizations don’t just create jobs; they attract talented people looking for vocations where they can find greater meaning in their work.

They accomplish this feat, in part, by establishing core values and creating a culture that embraces specific higher needs.

For example, Zappos has a core value, “Pursue growth and learning.” This hits on a cognitive need. They support this value by maintaining the Zappos Family Library that offers free books to their employees.

Google’s culture pushes their employees toward self-actualization. They maintain values like, “It’s best to do one thing really, really well,” and “Great just isn’t good enough.” One way they support this value is through their Search Inside Yourself program that teaches employees how to meditate to gain better focus and improve their emotional intelligence.

Satisfying Your Higher Needs

The truth is that you can’t support higher needs in others if you can’t satisfying them in yourself first.

Focusing on your basic needs doesn’t make you selfish; it makes you human.

The reverse is also true: the more internally “full” and rich you feel from satisfying your higher needs, the more you’ll be able to give to others.

It’s easy to get fixated on basic needs (making money, looking good, etc). To satisfy your higher needs, it’s helpful to know your personal values and create a simple personal development plan. Then, be sure to allow time to pursue your interests.

Maslow found that expressing higher values for meaning, knowledge, beauty, growth, and spiritual values is a sign of positive mental health.

It makes us more fully human. It makes us better leaders too.

This article was published on ceosage.com.