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Motivation, Maslow & Lean Manufacturing

A Summary of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" is a simple, effective and practical way to understand normal human behavior. It is a management classic that many of us vaguely recall it from some long-ago study. This article summarizes the original 1943 paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation."

The Five Basic Needs

Maslow suggested five categories of basic needs that are common to all human beings. These categories apply across all cultures, activities, professions and social positions. They are:

Physiological Needs

The physiological needs are those things that keep the body alive and reasonably healthy. Examples are food, clothing and shelter. This is the most basic need of any organism and is at the bottom of the hierarchy as shown in the figure.


People need to feel physically safe in their environment. In millennia past this meant safe from prowling saber tooth tigers. Today it may mean safety from assault or safety from harmful equipment and harmful chemicals.

Social Needs

Maslow originally used the term "Love Needs" but his description better fits the word "Social". This need involves connections with other people and includes family, group belongingness and friendship as well as romance. All normal people want a place in a group or society, even if they sometimes deny it.

Esteem Needs

With a few pathological exceptions, people need a realistic sense of self esteem and esteem from others. Self Esteem includes honest achievement, feeling adequate to face the world, confidence , independence and freedom. Esteem from others involves reputation, respect, attention and recognition.

Self Fulfillment (Self-Actualization) Needs

Self-Actualization is the most misunderstood of Maslow's categories because of its unfortunate word choice. The ancient Greeks would have called it "fulfilling your destiny." Maslow explains it further at right.

The Hierarchy

The needs are not equal in their motivational power at any given time. They have a hierarchy of "prepotency." This means that lower needs in the hierarchy must be substantially gratified before higher needs become motivators. People who are malnourished, hungry and cold are hardly interested in approval or recognition--they just want food and warmth and they will take serious personal risks to obtain it.

Once the physiological needs are substantially satisfied, people are concerned about safety. They need to feel freedom from violence, accidents or other physical harm. Without this feeling, they have little concern for friendship, recognition or destiny.

When people feel reasonably safe and have the physiological means to sustain life, social needs come into play and so on until self-fulfillment becomes the prime mover for behavior.

The Role of Fear

In the eighth of Edwards Deming's Fourteen Points, he urged managers to "Drive fear out of the workplace" for a very practical reason:

Fear only motivates to minimal compliance.

Once minimal compliance with demands are met, the fear is removed and motivation ceases. Fear does not get the best performance from people. It often brings out unintended and undesirable behaviors.

Physiological and safety needs are largely met in modern societies. Their power to directly motivate mostly ended with labor unions, the welfare state and the liberation of Auschwitz. To some extent, irrational fear can still motivate. For example, fear of losing a job stems from irrational fears of ensuing starvation. such fears, however, are secondary.

The lower needs (physiological and safety) motivate entirely through fear. For some people and to some extent, social and esteem needs are fear-based. Therefore, these lower needs are incompatible with Lean and with high performance. Besides, they never did work very well.

What About Lean?

Effective Lean operations leverage these higher motivators and integrate them with appropriate technologies. The concepts of Socio-Technical Systems play a large role in this. More....


Abraham MaslowAbraham Maslow (1908-1970)

A psychologist, Maslow studied what he called exemplary peoples rather than the mentally ill or neurotic. He wrote that "the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy." Maslow was among the first "humanist psychologists" who focused on normal, healthy ways of coping with life.

Maslow first published his theory in the 1943  and it became a widely accepted notion in the fields of psychology and anthropology. This original article,  A Theory of Human Motivation , is available on the internet. He was a professor at Brandeis University. His major texts included Motivation and Personality (1954) and Toward a Psychology of Being (1962).


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Maslow on Self-Actualization

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be."


"Growth is, in itself, a rewarding and exciting process, e.g., the fulfilling of yearnings and ambitions, like that of being a good doctor; the acquisition of admired skills, like playing the violin or being a good carpenter; the steady increase of understanding about people or about the universe, or about oneself; the development of creativeness in whatever field, or, most important, simply the ambition to be a good human being."


Authors: Quarterman Lee in collaboration with August Tetzlaff, JAN 2010

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JAN 2010

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