Self-Transcendence, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Experience Economy

Dynamic Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was first proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review and later fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. This hierarchy is a popular framework in sociology research and management training.

Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher-level needs. Maslow also coined the term “metamotivation” to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.

Maslow’s hierarchy is often depicted as simple hierarchical levels within a pyramid which is easier to understand but doesn’t really represent that many different motivations from various levels can occur at the same time.

Maslow used the terms “physiological,” “safety,” “belonging and love,” “esteem,” and “self-actualization” to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move:

Physiological needs include air, water, food, sleep, clothing and shelter

Safety needs include personal security, emotional security, financial security, health and well being

Belonging and love needs include friendship, intimacy and family

Esteem needs include getting recognition, status, importance, and respect from others

Self-actualization* needs include what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential

The Experience Economy

In The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and Jim Gilmore describe how our economy has evolved from agrarian, through industrial and service to an experience economy. Pine and Gilmore outline how leading organizations (Disney, Apple, Starbucks, etc.) orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product.

Events – interactions with products, services, and environments – are orchestrated memorable experiences. Experience Makers build their business around this to ensure that their customers have the best possible memory of their brand.

Great experiences can change people’s lives and revolutionize marketplaces. At the highest level, transformations make a permanent beneficial change to a person. Just like Maslow’s highest level of hierarchy of need, powerful experiences are transformational and are sustained through time.


So, what is the pinnacle of human experiences – the tippy top of Maslow’s hierarchy and the most transformational human experience? In his later years, Maslow explored a further dimension of needs – Self-Transcendence. According to his later theory, the self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher outside goal, in altruism and spirituality. He equated this with the desire to reach the infinite.

“Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos” – Abraham Maslow, Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York (1971, p. 26)

Pine and Gilmore came to the same conclusion in The Experience Economy. They state:

“An offering of a higher orders can supersede lower-echelons relationships. But the only offering that can displace a transformation is yet another transformation – one aimed at another dimension of self…”

Doing Good is Great for Your Brand

Studies have shown that the vast majority of Americans are more likely to trust and remain loyal to brands that are trying to make a positive difference.

Showing how your brand has concerns for the community, environment and similar values is a powerful way to build creditability with your customers and powerful, long-lasting memories. Organizations that are involved in giving back and actively participating in making the world a better place are perceived as more creditable. Sometimes called corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility, or social good.

Doing good is great for your brand. Nice guys do, finish first.