I Was Wrong About Maslow ... Twice
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
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I loved Maslow for the work he did. Then I was disappointed in him. Then I loved him again. That back-and-forth was a humbling learning journey that reminded me of the importance of many things critical to a growth mindset, effective leadership, and a healthy environment of peer support.
Special thanks to Teju Ravilochan, the author referenced below, for all the work he put in and for inspiring me in so many ways. If my commentary seems vague, read his articles for context.
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I've always been a fan of Maslow
Ever since I first came across Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I was intrigued and looked to it constantly. I felt like it made sense of everything in life and society and gave clear answers for what we needed to focus on to solve any problem. It helped me view things in a more humane way and better prioritize the steps of any organizational change I was making.
I introduced the concept to many. I integrated his teachings into many of my workshops and keynotes. I liked it so much that I even wrote a three part article built around the very concept of the famously simple pyramid. Needless to say, I felt like his work was impactful and it almost felt like a piece of my identity.
I learned the truth and then learned it again
One day, a colleague sent me an article titled, “Maslow Got It Wrong.” In short, the article explained that Maslow took what he learned from his time with indigenous peoples, displayed it as a pyramid instead of a tipi, and popularized a concept that - in many ways - opposed the very lessons those people had shared with him.
I was devastated. Sure, nobody is perfect, but I had put so much effort and praise into this man. A man I was now finding out was just another case of someone stealing from indigenous peoples and reaping the rewards. I was sad, but I was also grateful to know the truth and to have more knowledge. It was a learning lesson. As I had recently published several articles about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I vowed to write an article about it.
When I finally went to write it, I checked the aforementioned article that had pointed out the mistakes Maslow made. The article was now totally different. Instead of "Maslow Got It Wrong", I was redirected to, "What I Got Wrong", an entirely new, separate article with the author correcting and revising many aspects of their original article based on new research and conversations with experts. The original article (as you can tell by the URL) was now titled, "Could the Blackfoot Wisdom that Inspired Maslow Guide Us Now?"
I was intrigued by what I learned, humbled by how easy it is to not have all the information, and blown away by the author's response to the criticism they had received.
This went far beyond Maslow
Even as a reader, a mere outside observer to it all, it was a massive learning lesson for me. Sure, I realized the importance of double-checking sources and historical references, which isn't always easy, but it was more than that. This was a prime example of good leadership.
Upon receiving criticism, the author could have easily ignored it and kept their article as-is because what's done is done. They could have changed and updated the article without saying anything extra or making a big deal out of it. Instead, they did the best possible thing:
Listened to criticism
Sought out more information
Acknowledged their mistakes
Fixed the problems
Provided additional education
I have seen companies ruin themselves from within because when a leader made a mistake, they tried to hide it, brush it aside, or blame outside forces. It erodes trust and doesn't do anything to resolve the initial problem, which then means it might happen again in the future.
The author of these articles didn't just acknowledge and fix the issues, they went above-and-beyond by adding entirely new information so that all their readers could follow along the learning process and have the correct information. We can now all be more conscious of historical references, checking sources, and questioning what we've been told because of one person's learning journey.
Now whenever I think of Maslow and his work, I will think of these articles that taught me so much. I will think about the contributions of the Siksika people that made Maslow's famous work possible. I will think about the ever paramount importance of being able to admit when I'm wrong. I will think about the value of growth whenever an opportunity presents itself. Maybe, just maybe, if we can all do that for ourselves and each other, we can all reach self-actualization together.
This is normally where the conclusion would be.
Replacing tradition with efficiency is kind of our thing.