The 4 Basic Human Needs, no 3, no 6, no 7 – Aw the hell with it…


I just saw a post on the 4 human needs that have to be satisfied for engagement and motivation to occur in your company. I’ll add that article to the pile with other articles telling me about 7 needs, 3 needs, Maslow’s needs, Dan Pink’s needs, the bee’s knees…wait that’s knees not needs… oh well I’m sure someone will write a post how bees are the secret to human motivation.

I’ve spent 30 years working with companies on motivation and engagement. I don’t have a list of needs. You’d think I’d have one by now, right? I must be stoopid because these companies that have only been around for 6 years and have found the SECRET to motivation!! I haven’t found it in 30 years and believe, me I was looking HARD for it.

Truth is these lists of needs are all garbage.

They are just lists. Do they have any validity? Sure … some. But humans aren’t so easy to analyze or categorize. We have so many facets a diamond cutter would go nuts trying to figure us out.

Just to prove my point I googled “basic human needs” and got…

  • Maslow’s (of course) – 6 needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem, self-actualization, self-transcendence (that last one is a surprise for some of you I’ll bet.)
  • Daniel Pink – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose – 3 needs.
  • Manfred Max-Neef – 9 needs (subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, freedom.)
  • From the article the kicked this all off – trust, hope, sense of worth and competence – 4 needs.
  • Tony Robbins thinks there are 6 – Certainty, uncertainty/variety, significance, connection/love, growth, contribution. (who argues with Tony Robbins right? He’s a big dude.)
  • Ian Gough thinks there are 3 – health, autonomy of agency and critical autonomy.

Clear as mud right?

Here’ the gig – every time you read a post on the number of human needs required for engagement and motivation multiply it by 100 and you’ll be in the ballpark of the correct number. Humans are infinitely variable and to think any one person or one software can magically find the cure for engagement and motivation is sisyphean.

The best you can do is train your managers to look at their teams as a group of individual humans that have individual needs and help those managers figure out how to help them connect their employee’s needs with the company’s needs so everyone wins.

THAT is the ONE thing you can do to drive engagement. Actually engage.

The rest of the 317 needs you’ll read on blogs in the next few months don’t matter if you don’t get that first one right.

That is 30 years of experience talking. Trust me. Just keeping it 100.

4 responses to “The 4 Basic Human Needs, no 3, no 6, no 7 – Aw the hell with it…”

  1. Doesn’t matter how warm the coat is if it doesn’t fit. While the various lists can be useful, I agree with you. You have to look at each individual to determine that individual’s needs.


  2. But I love the lists! And people are always asking me to create another one (and sometimes I actually do). The truth is hard for people to accept. The lists make a task that is complex and messy seem like it is simple and clean. People put the lists on their wall and reference it whenever they do something on it (and ignore it otherwise.)

    All kidding aside, this, I believe is the most important take away from your article: “the ONE thing you can do to drive engagement. Actually engage.”

    This is true when it comes to communication, reviews, leading, following, partnering etc… People evolved to interact with each other. Every tool, list or process we create that helps us avoid that interaction is causing additional failure. Every list, tool or process that supports human interaction has the potential to build additional success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I “literally” cannot like this comment enough. (you have to say that with your Rob Lowe voice from Parks and Rec.)

      We do love to eliminate that pesky “engage” thing – here – let me text you something …. le sigh…


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