Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Brecon Beacons Hillwalking

Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs (updated)
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs (updated)

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and seen the pyramid representing the five levels of human needs?

You may also have seen the version for the internet generation? The one with WiFi scrawled at the bottom, as the most basic of human needs?

You might even have re-tweeted the image (don’t worry, everyone was at it). Sometimes theories and models get shared without much thought about, “what does this actually mean?”

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy? Basically, it’s a theory about human motivation that psychologist Abraham Maslow published in 1943. The idea is that humans have 5 sets of needs that come in a particular order. This is often represented as a triangle to illustrate that needs lower down the triangle have to be satisfied before you move upwards. The theory is frequently used in business as a way of understanding staff motivation.  So much so that this BBC article says, On management training courses it’s as inevitable as biscuits and role-playing”, so it is worth paying attention.

But that’s not why I’m here….. what I want is some experimentation!

An Experiment….. do try this at home! Actually the garden is the best place. What you will need is some really foul weather, pouring rain and lashing winds (50mph gusts are good). Wear a reasonable quality waterproof jacket and a pair of wellington boots. The wellingtons are important because you need to pour a half pint of water into each boot for the experiment to work. A flight of steps in the garden is desireable, but if unavailable you can use an old beer crate.

The experiment runs for 25 minutes. Basically you just keep walking up the steps or off and on the beer crate in the pouring rain and wind. At 5 minute intervals you need to lower the hood of your coat to allow rainwater to leak around your neck and dampen the clothes underneath. As an experimental variable, family and friends can throw an unannounced bucket of water at you at any time. Sounds like fun?

Collect Experimental Data. During the experiment, at 5 minute intervals, you need to keep a careful note of what you are experiencing and how you are feeling. Research so far has recorded the following; miserable, wet, cold, damp, thoroughly dispirited, many swear words, I’ve got Trench Foot and I’ve never been happier (that was an outlier).

Post Experiment Observation. Now end the experiment. Stop walking and get away from the rain and wind. You can move to shelter here, a gazebo or shed perhaps? Observe what happens next.

What do people do next?  If the updated Maslow’s hierarchy diagram is to be believed, people will search for WiFi; before dry clothes, warmth or food. That sounds a bit unlikely don’t you think?

Maybe not….. Let me share what happened while I was out hill walking in the Brecon Beacons with some colleagues last weekend.

On top of Fan Fawr
On top of Fan Fawr

Ystradfellte Reservior to Fan Fawr.  The 3 hours up to this point had been pretty much like the experiment I’ve just described.

Luncheon was taken at Ystradfellte Reservior, huddled under a sheet of plastic builders tarpaulin we found next to some big water pipes. Then we struck out on the homeward leg, which involved climbing 400m (1312ft) up to the peak of Fan Fawr. This was just like the morning until something amazing happened, it stopped raining and the sun came out, briefly.

The WiFi Plateau. At this point I was just behind the first half of the group approaching a plateau area. As I arrived the first thing I saw was the 4 of them, all with phones out looking at the screens and pressing things. I also heard my phone ‘ping’ as it picked up a signal again after being down in the valley. I wish I had used my phone to take a picture of them on their phones, but to be honest, I was too exhausted.

So, does this prove the updated internet version of Maslow’s Hierarchy is correct? Will a group of cold, wet and exhausted people seek out the WiFi, 3G Phone Signals and the Internet before they think about any other basic human need like food and shelter? I’m not sure my observations prove anything, but it was a sight to make you think.

Have a look at the BBC article about Maslow which mentions some of the criticisms of the theory. One of them questions why people do the ‘higher’ things whilst ignoring more basic human needs. Situations like the ‘starving poet’ seeking ‘self actualisation’ are mentioned or mountain climbers who ignore dangers and depravation reaching the top. Maybe my companions were examples of that, ignoring their own discomfort for a greater purpose? (see below *)

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy is commonly used in business to help understand the complicated subject of human motivation.
  2. It’s always worth looking into theories and models to get an understanding of what is behind them.
  3. Nothing stays the same. It’s probably worth looking at modern updates for lots of theories to see how they fit with the internet age.

*Why we were hill walking in the Brecon Beacons on very wet and windy day. It was all part of the training we are doing to climb the Welsh 3 Peaks in 24 hours on June 21st (Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan).

We are doing it to raise funds for the Wales Audit Office Staff Charity, Changing Faces which supports and represents people who have conditions or injuries which affect their appearance.

You can follow our progress on twitter,

Linked post:

Maslow's Hierarchy and the Brecon Beacons (in the rain)
Maslow’s Hierarchy and the Brecon Beacons (in the rain)

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

11 Responses

  1. Jonathan Richards

    Marvellous. Have you tried combining Maslow and Roger’s diffusion of innovations? When I did it I got a diamond with innovative self actualising people at the top and sceptical strugglers or laggards limited by lack of lolly at the bottom. In Cwm Taf we have few at the top, the median is comparatively low and quite a few at the bottom.

  2. Alastair

    I was thinking about Naslow a few months back and wrote this blog

    In terms of your blog, what may be going on is the way that ‘good’ social behaviour (connecting with others and assuring comfort) has been slightly broken by expectation of hyperconnecticity.

    As with issues of comfortable ‘tribe size’ and too many Facebook friends, it’s quite easy to gorge our social needs through new technology.

  3. Top class observations and that’s coming from someone more inclined towards fine wine and chocolate than a kagool and a mountain.

    I suppose my only useful insight is that, if Maslow was here now, he wouldn’t draw his human needs as a hierarchy. The Maslow fan club have had a few interesting debates about how his lively insights predates the Macy conferences that launched complexity and the science of networks. I think Maslow would draw a network with physiological safety as a tightly coupled centre and actualisation as numerous delicate nodes on the periphery. Of you combine that with Mihaly’s lovely ideas of flow then actualisation can be a quick/slow long/short route through your unique network.

    Of course considering Abe’s lovely idea not as a hierarchy but as Maslow’s Periphery, the further you go towards the edge the more valuable a signal to connect you back in. Who knew … Maslow actually predicted 4G!!

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