Depending on your life experiences, you may think one of two ways about Maslow’s pyramid of needs.
You might believe what I did before reporting this story: That the rainbow-colored pyramid, perhaps first seared into memory in grade school, organizes truths about what motivates people. First, we satisfy our “lower level” needs, like basic nourishment and safety, the base layers of the pyramid. Only then can we be concerned with “higher level” needs, like love and belonging, and esteem, the stepping stones to self-actualization, the reaching of one’s full potential and the pinnacle of the pyramid.
If you’re a psychologist or organizational behavior scientist, however, you may reject the pyramid of needs as unscientific and outdated. But you’ve probably come to accept how ubiquitous it is as a piece of pop psychology.
Either way, you almost certainly believe that the pyramid was invented by Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist who died in 1970. But that part doesn’t appear to be true.
Though Maslow gave us the hierarchy of needs theory, he did not envision his framework in pyramid form at all, according to a new study published in the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal. In it, three management professors—Todd Bridgman and Stephen Cummings, both of the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and John Ballard of Mount St. Joseph University in Ohio—trace the origins of what may be the world’s most famous infographic.