Re: Incentives LO1297

Michael McMaster (
Thu, 18 May 1995 07:46:40 +0000

Replying to LO1221 --

As many of you know, deconstruction is one of my interests. One of
my hobbies is reconstruction of earlier thinkers - and other
historically valued institutions. I have an affinity with John
Warfield and others on the list in this. There is much that is lost
through sloppy interpretation, through unawareness and through lack
of translation into contemporary context.

The mention of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs provides an
opportunity for my hobby. (Someday I may even take the time
reconstruct Adam Smith and Frederick Taylor.) DavidM says about the
hierarchy of needs:

> For example, you can't talk about intrinsic motivations when people need
> money to live, but when people have adequate salaries, then they want
> something more from their work like recognition, satisfaction and
> fullfillment.

This is not a universally valid statement "in the world". I work
with organisations and teams solving problems of hunger in the
neediest parts of the world from time to time. I have visited
villages - and heard even more moving examples - where these people
are starving beyond what anybody Maslow talked to was imagining and
they still have much concern for art, for community, for hospitality
and for the concerns of others. I find this (fairly common) view
insulting of human beings in its ignorance of the possiblity of the
dignity of human beings. It's my observation that this lack of
dignity is possible only in a culture which is maintained at such a
level above basic survival that we can only conceive of "survival
needs" to be what are much higher up on Maslow's own hierarchy. That
is what we think of as "survival" is in fact social.

The point of Maslow is not a linear hierarchy. We could forgive him
is he said that and meant that because when he did his thinking, the
fields of philosophy and science were at a different level. However,
he saw beyond that limited linear view of "hierarchy of needs". His
view was more that these are building blocks towards maturity and
that a fully developed human being would become engaged in
self-actualisation and beyond - but he didn't imply that the others
would disappear. In more contemporary words, he saw human beings as
compex adaptive entities which emerged from the whole and continually
emerged to new levels from earlier levels as they matured. He was
interested in the best of the possibilities (and that's where his
research focussed) rather than the pathologies of the species.

One of Maslow's conclusions goes beyond the simplicity of
> in a given organization, hierarchial as they are even though
> we talk about teams etc., peoples needs vary somewhat with the various
> levels and positions they hold.

Maslow said that no matter the individual level of maturity, we have
interests and concerns which might be at any particular part of the
pyramid at different times. We are individually complex and diverse
as well as organisationally complex and diverse.

What about applying Maslow to incentives? That's what much of the
thinking of incentives of business has been based on. And it hasn't
worked. I suggest that it hasn't worked because Maslow hasn't been
understood, because human beings and their relationships to
organisations hasn't been understood (because seen in Cartesian
terms) and that the nature of individual psychology hasn't been
understood and - mainly - because we don't understand organisations
as a social phenomenon in its own right and the nature of people
within that.

But don't throw out Maslow.

Michael McMaster