Maslow’s Simple Secret for High-Performing 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 actually 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.

Maslows’ insights, when effectively applied to your organization, can improve the overall health of your business. It can, in turn, provide you with an unusual competitive advantage.

Let’s see how it works …

Satisfy Your Basic Human Needs

Maslow observed that all humans have a set of basic needs: biological, safety, belonging, and esteem. (You’re probably familiar with his hierarchy of human needs.)

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.

Much of our daily behavior is driven by our pursuit of meeting these basic needs.

Satisfy Your Higher Human Needs

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

Higher needs include:

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

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:


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 challenging books.

Harness the Power of Loyalty

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.

In 2000, when 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 hit on 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 difficult lives (just like you). If you can help them satisfy their basic and higher needs, imagine how much they will appreciate you.

This appreciation leads to loyalty.

Support Higher Needs Within Your Organization

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 teach employees how to meditate to gain better focus and improve their emotional intelligence.

(For a comprehensive guide on establishing core values for your organization with over 100 examples, click here.)

Embrace Your Own Higher Needs First

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

This 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.

Maslow found that expressing higher values by satisfying our needs for things like meaning, knowledge, beauty, growth, and spiritual values is a sign of mental health.

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

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