In the summer of ’62, Abraham Maslow drove through the heavy fog along the California’s dangerous Big Sur coastal highway. An interesting sign caught his eye and he pulled over to check it out. He had wandered upon the world’s first-ever personal growth facility, Esalen. Ironically, as he arrived, staffers had just received copies of his most recent book, Toward A Psychology of Being.
Given such lofty beginnings, it was inevitable that Abraham Maslow would turn into the cult hero of the human potential society. With the central idea of the ‘self-actualizing person’, his book, Motivation and Personality (1954) showed a new ideal portayal of humanity that delighted an entire generation.
But Maslow was not an overt revolutionary. His work as an academic psychologist was largely a rebuttal to behaviorism, which decomposed indviduals into their mechanistic parts, and Freudian psychoanalysis, which portrayed humanity as uncontrollably giving into subconscious desires. Within the constraints of the scientific method, Motivation and Personality tried to portray people holistically, much like the way artists and poets try to portray us. Instead of our being the merely aggregation of wants, needs, and urges, Maslow saw human beings as an complete people with unlimited opportunity for growth. His unwavering belief in the possibility of humanity and societies, groups, and cultures we were capable of building influenced an entire generation.
Per Abraham Maslow,Self-actualized individuals have ‘…the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities and the like’. The self-actualized are successful as a human, regardless and in addition to all external successes; not perfect, mind you, but without any apparent major flaws. After Daniel Goleman penned his bestselling book about emotional intelligence, countless masses ‘discovered’ emotional intelligence was a key for any great successes, but for the self-actualized, this kind of intelligence is built-in.
Maslow researched seven contemporary and nine historical figures: Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, William James, Eleanor Roosevelt, Aldus Huxley and Spinoza. He specified the nineteen characteristics of self-actualized individuals, such as resistance to enculturation, clarity of perception, humble and respectful, problem-centered, solitude seeking, ethical, and sense of humor.
When he wrote Motivation and Personality, Maslow assumed that a small portion of the population was self-actualized, but even these very few could impact the whole of the world.
Obviously, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been a cornerstone to understanding workplace motivation, and employee self-actualization is now a paramount concern in the business world. He predicted the trend of personal growth and interest displacing money as the chief motivator in people’s working lives.