Emergence and Maslow

Maslow's Hierarch of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

During my last book tour, NPR correspondent Frank Stasio asked me how my entrepreneurial and literary endeavors sprung from the same mind. My answer: “Both entrepreneurialism and literature are about creation.”

The deeper truth is a bit nerdier: I’m fascinated by the intersection of complex system theory and social psychology, specifically the nexus of Emergence and Maslow.

One of the most comprehensible definitions of emergence is by Jeffrey’s Goldstein in his 1999 journal, Emergence: the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems.

In laymen’s terms this translates to: how the hell do migrating geese maintain their V?


The human species is one of the clearest examples of self-organizing complex systems. The sociological or anthropological study of human behavior over time reveals the constant introduction and evolution of coherent structures, patterns and properties—i.e we humans have emerged ever since the missing link crossed over.

Abraham Maslow was psychologist that developed the concept of a hierarchy of needs that we humans need to climb one psychological rung at a time. Maslow espoused that one can’t worry about advanced needs like self-actualization if one hasn’t resolved basic level needs like survival and safety (or it’s hard to be aspirational when you have a gun pointed to your head). From lowest to highest, Maslow’s needs are: Survival, Safety, Social, Esteem, Self-Actualization

I’m a firm believer that you can use Maslow’s hierarchy as a prescriptive framework for most human behavior. Take sports, biking for instance. In your evolution as a bike rider, you

  1. Learn how to ride a bike
  2. Learn how not to break you neck whilst riding
  3. Bond with other bike riders with that special biker’s nod as you pass each other on the road
  4. Feel recognized for your groovy titanium bike or the snazzy playing cards in your spokes
  5. Aspire to become the new Lance Armstrong

I’ll save you from my analysis of how this nexus applies to literature, but for entrepreneurialism, it’s fairly straightforward. From the wheel to the semantic web, entrepreneurs have either seen, predicted or catalyzed the emergence of new forms of human behavior and then, to further enable this new behavior, introduced business solutions that facilitated our psychological climbing of Maslow’s ladder. Think about it.

PS On a not so tangential tangent, the NY Times published an article a couple of weeks ago entitled: Who Says Innovation Belongs to the Small. The author, Steve Lohr, states that the next big wave of innovation will need to tackle “problems in multifaceted fields like the environment, energy and health care that rely on complex systems.” I agree with this part. He goes on to say that bigger companies have the advantage over smaller ones because they are “able to integrate innovations across these complex systems.” Here I’m not so sure … but more on that at a later date.


Below is a full list of Entrepreneurial Reluctances/e-Publishing lessons from my Top 10s blog post.

Entrepreneurial Reluctance

1. The Catalyst(s)
2. Good $ vs. Bad $
3. Risk Reduction
4. The Network Effect
5. Been There, Done That: The Serial Entrepreneur
6. The New New Thing
7. Emergence & Maslow
8. The Analogy of the Watch (moving parts)
9. A Clean Cap Table
10. Perseverance or Blinders

e-Publishing Reticence

1. False Deadlines
2. Readers & Editrs
3. Genre Opportunities
4. Target Marketing
5. Self-Promotion
6. Creating you Literary Brand
7. The Indie-zation of Literature
8. The Network Effect
9. Amazon Ranking
10. The Book Tour


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