The Entrepreneurs Hierarchy of Needs?

On the way to work today I was listening to an audiobook version of the book FREE: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson (available for free on Audible) when he mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, something I was familiar with from college psychology class.  Immediately I zoned out and started thinking about how this impacts business owners.

The basic premise of Maslow’s hierarchy is that there is a pyramid of human needs, the higher up of which can only be met when the lower, more basic needs are fulfilled.  Here’s the diagram from Wikipedia:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Without having your basic physiological needs met (food, water, sleep) you can’t begin to work on the safety needs, and so on and so forth.

The “entrepreneurship” portion of the diagram is undoubtedly at the very top, where one’s time can be focused on creativity and problem solving.  The validity of the diagram can (and has been) criticized, but I can certainly say that for myself this rings true.  I never could have started a business had I not had those other areas in my life relatively stable.  That enables the mind to focus on the higher level creative problems without worrying about more fundamentally important things.

This raises a few interesting questions:

  1. When teaching entrepreneurship should there first be a focus on “getting your life together”?  After all, starting a business consumes you.  If you’re not in a solid mental state you’ll likely fail.
  2. Are the uber-successful entrepreneurs the same people who have the rest of their needs met?  My instinctive thought would be no…but the more you think about it, the more you realize that the Bill Gates’ & Mark Cuban’s of the world have very stable social/family lives (at least based upon what’s reported in the media).
  3. When hiring perspective employees, is it not most important then to try to figure out if their lower level needs are met?  Wouldn’t that ensure that they’ll be able to spend more of their time creatively problem solving?  If someone spends all day long arguing with family members there’s no way they can give adequate focus to their job.  How do you test for this (interviews, references, small test projects)?
  4. If “safety of employment” is on the 2nd lowest tier, doesn’t that inherently tell you that no employee who is fearing for their job can do high level work?

18 comments on The Entrepreneurs Hierarchy of Needs?

  1. Adam Gilbert says:


    Just caught up on your last 3 posts. As usual, they’re all excellent! This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. And what my latest post is really about.

    If a person isn’t happy when they first start a business – I believe that decreases their chances of success tremendously, because they’ll probably never be happy.

    Is his book worth a read?


  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Thanks bro. Just shot you an email. I’d say the book is definitely worth a read/listen. It’s available for free in a bunch of different formats I’m going to do a review when I’m done.

  3. nethy says:

    Interesting. Never occurred to me that this might be applicable to hiring.

    BTW, I don’t think it’s about being creative directly. More about what motivates you. Self actualisation concerns do not motivate someone under physical threat or someone with a weak personal life, supposedly.

    I don’t think these are Newton’s laws. You hear of plenty of people with crappy personal lives that are certainly being powerfully motivated by the higher up needs. Maybe not hungry or threatened people though. But still, doesn’t have to be absolute to be real.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I like that Nethy – “doesn’t have to be absolute to be real”. I was never a huge fan of these types of theories because they seem to over simplify something that’s super complex. But in this case, at the very least, it makes sense if you think about it (to me anyway).

      There are some people who I don’t think fit the mold, particularly musicians and artists. It always seems like they do their best work when they’re struggling, before they become famous. There’s something more “real” about what they produce. It’s hard to keep that up once you’re rich and your problems are problems most people think they’d love to have.

    • Bleu Lorax says:

      Yes, all of the lower needs of the pyramid must be met before the upper ones can be achieved. This is not just a psychology concept or a way to motivate people in an industrial setting. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applies in every area of human life, but it does not imply that EVERY human being has to follow it exactly to achieve in life. It isn’t like mathematics or biology – it cannot be proven. It’s a concept.

  4. Adam Gilbert says:

    Unless, of course, they’re using their craft or business to get what they so desperately need and want; love, affection, etc?

  5. May says:

    The last need in Maslow’s hierarchy is often missing. It is “self-transcendence” attributed to reaching expansive spirtuality and one-ness with a higher source, spirit, earth energy, god, whatever name you attribute to this source of spiritual unity.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks May, that makes sense. I just pulled the image from Wikipedia. I wonder if whomever made that graphic just bundled that last need with “morality”, although I agree that they aren’t necessarily one in the same.

  6. Adam Funs10 says:

    I’m a year late to the party but I’m also thinking about these things, more specifically how they compare with similar lessons on

  7. Adam Funs10 says:

    May, that’s exactly what I was thinking. There should be a tip on the pyramid that speaks to the infinite needs of eternal legacy

  8. Adam Funs10 says:

    I also “feel” sex is more in the safety category not an absolute baseline need. I guess it could also go in every category since it also seems to be a symptom of intellectual success, relationships, and the new legacy peak

  9. Adam McFarland says:

    Thanks for the comments Adam. Even though you’re a year late to the party I still read them 🙂

  10. Charlcye says:

    Fantastic post, thanks! 🙂

  11. Brandt Dye says:

    I just came across this post and found it most insightful. Being a 28 yr. old emerging entrepreneur myself I concur that success will be contingent upon having your internal affairs in order and basic needs met. Several years ago I my ability to think creatively and solve problems was limited. This was likely due to the fact that I was less mature, less disciplined and unable to manage my time effectively. At that time I lacked a solid foundation. Needless to say nowadays I’m much healthier in mind and body, my lowed pyramid needs are met and i’m able to focus all my energy on innovation and driving value. It’s a truly empowering feeling!

    I’ll be sure to follow your blog regularly and wish you the best in your ventures!

  12. […] fisherman from The 4-Hour Workweek (I posted the full excerpt back in 2007) Once you have all of your basic needs met, you have to ask yourself – what do you want to accomplish with your work? Do you want to […]

  13. kamya says:

    i want to learn resources of entrepreneurship

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