Pyramid blueprints

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes ‘need progression’: from those that are primitive and physiological in nature to psychological ones that relate to personal growth and ‘self actualisation’. Once needs on a given level are met, the individual moves ‘up’ a level and no longer prioritises needs on the lower level.



Is there a pyramid for businesses? How high up is the need to collaborate? To encourage corporate open innovation, do we need to first help organisations address needs that sit towards the base of the pyramid?

Whatever the pyramid looks like, I think most organisations would place ‘the need to collaborate’ too high up. We need to convince the world to push it down towards the base. By sharing what we know about corporate open innovation, NESTA Connect can hopefully convince organisations that collaboration could be more essential for survival than they think.


  1. Roland – lots and lots of evidence thanks to our developmental psychologist friends DOES show that this is a sequential development (see Carol Gilligan or even Freud).
    What however is really important to recognise is that this sequence is a holarchy – or a nested hierarchy. That means that when one goes from physiological needs to safety needs, physiological needs are still included. People still need to eat! Likewise, the movement to belonging needs is dependent on our enjoying the safety needs but seeing their limitation. It is a mistake to think that we throw any of the so-called lower stages out.
    Jonathan’s question re: the context of corporate open innovation is an interesting and important one. If you think of the first two levels as Money/Food/Sex/Power and the next two as Community/Respect/Diversity/Inclusion then you’ll see that an open innovation process can occur at any level. However if an individual or organisation has their center of gravity at the higher order levels, then collaborative innovation is more likely to be a natural behaviour.

  2. ERG (Existence, Relatedness & Growth) theory of Alderfer based on Maslow may offer a more useful model as it recognises that in order to succeed with a management initiative the initiative needs to satisfy all employee needs in parallel, rather than just those above the prevailing level. In ERG, collaboration and open innovation may satisfy RELATEDNESS and GROWTH needs but also often threaten EXISTENCE needs. In a business environment EXISTENCE needs are not food, sex or warmth but things like job retention, acceptable annual reviews and always being able to leave the office a 5.00. If any initiative (such as open innovation or a call for increased collaboration) fails to recognise and address EXISTENCE needs then it is more likely to fail. If this theory is correct then the challenge when trying to extend collaboration is to make these EXISTENCE needs clear, understood how they challenge the status-quo and are actively addressed as a part of the change required. The problem is that this may mean challenging culture and long-standing conventions of how things are done around here, ditching sacred-cows and modifying overly complex and hard-wired processes, systems and evaluation & remuneration schemes; complexity is a killer when it comes to the business of change! See for ERG theory.

  3. Thanks for the link Brendan. I think you might be right in suggesting that the ERG model could be more useful. Instinct tells me that in the real world, it’s likely that things aren’t quite as linear and simplistic as we might like them to be? Overlap, inter-dependency and interaction are likely to exist, especially when considering the complex world that organisations live in.
    As some of the olympic athletes have shown us in a completely different arena, a seemingly simple ‘passing of the baton’ model from one stage to the next can fail spectacularly in real life!

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