My Digital Maslow Pyramid…

… or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pyramid. Again.

This is about motivation, new insights and a fresh view on the digital world – and there’s also some history,  scary mummies and reincarnation in it.

During the past weeks I participated in the MOOCs “Digital and Social Media Marketing” and “Building Strong Digital Brands”.

I learned to say farewell to my beloved Maslow’s Needs Pyramid for a couple of very good reason. But that’s the thing with bygone relationships and good old friends – you often discover that you loose a lot. That there have been pros and merits in dealing with those difficult, annoying people. In some cases you contact them to give it a second try with new preconditions, a slightly different focus, a fresh view.

This is the story about me not falling in love again – but having a fresh view on Maslow and winning some new insights.

Building Websites – It’s all so easy

Let’s have a journey in history to the ancient times. Around the year 2000 I have build a couple of quite successful websites. Too successful to care for them in limited (free-)time, so I focused on my job which is old fashioned printed media. And I gave up all those FTP, HTML and Photoshop stuff.

But never say never… In the last weeks I started to do some new projects in the digital world. I used WordPress and I was truly amazed. It’s so easy to build a professional looking website, to do your SEO homework, to add features, to publish content.

My (sort of) alter ego on Creativehive and the MOOCs gave me a lot of insights, inspiration and impulses. Including the one that acronyms and alliterations aren’t always a proof of profound knowledge and truth.

Another insight in this long row was Prof. Dieter Georg Herbst saying “Farewell to Maslow’s Needs Pyramid”. Isn’t that a sacrilege? Isn’t THE pyramid a listed building?

Time to say hello and goodbye

Abraham Maslow proposed his “Hierarchy of Needs” in 1943. He said, human motivation generally move through stages. From “physiological” through “safety”, “belongingness”, “love” to “esteem” and “self-actualization”.

Later on, people used a pyramid to illustrate the hierarchy – so it’s not Maslow’s fault if there are some constructional flaws in it.

That’s the thing with pyramids. They are truly impressing. They stand out – but usually somewhere in the desert or in the jungle. Or in Paris, which is sadly the same to me, as I don’t speak French and would die of thirst and underfeeding within days there if I where there on my own.

The standard pyramid – I speak of the one you had in mind when you read the headline – looks like this:

Gina Pyramids
By Ricardo Liberato (All Gizah Pyramids) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s iconic, incredibly old, sturdy, massive, easy to understand, solid, unchangeable. Layer by layer it’s a masterpiece. But besides that – it’s useless. Well, it is of course a very popular motive for your holiday pictures or a cosy home for scary mummies and mystic legends (which is a contradiction, isn’t it?). But it’s not what you would use as a blueprint for your home, business premises or even garden shed.

Some people cover their bottles of wine with pyramids, but that’s another story. Those pyramids are not made of heavy stone building blocks – unless you want to protect the bottle from thirsty Franks in Paris (which is, for your reassurance if you live there, not that common).

What does all this say about Maslow? Well, to be true: nothing. But it says a lot about the “Maslow’s Needs Pyramid”.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
By FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
As the off-the-shelf pyramid, it is iconic, massive, stays in your pictures as well as in your head.

But it’s got it’s disadvantages for daily use. For example, there are no stairs in-between the stories. There aren’t a lot of rooms, either. In other words: It’s got a very poor room to building size ratio. It is impressing you, but at the same time misleading you about it’s inner size.

Even if sometimes people find another, secret chamber with some gold, rotten cereals and some haunted ghosts in it. This occurs very seldom – it usually takes ages to find one.

Last but not least keep in mind, that pyramids tend to have a very, very limited number of windows to let sunshine in and to let you have a look at the changing world outside. Mummies don’t do websites. They don’t befriend you in Social Networks, nor like or retweet your posts. Now you finally got the reasons why.

Prof. Dieter Georg Herbst adds some reasons, why THE pyramid is outdated:

  •   Needs are not hierarchical, but rather complex and interconnected. This is why we are able to deal with our hunger if, for example, paintings in a museum are of more interest. People buy luxury cars even if it means reducing their budget for food.
  •   Self-realization is also not the highest goal for everyone, but rather needs from the lowest level like security (especially in old age).
  •   The model is not empirically proven.

(„The Strong Digital Brand Speakes to the Reward System“, in: Papers of „Building Strong Digital Brands“, Ch. 1/Unit 5)

Welcome to the reincarnation of the pyramid

Well, gentlemen (and gentlewomen) – start your engines. Let the bulldozers roar and flatten the desert of dusty science and communication and needs from the pyramid.

Wait a minute. I promised to explain, why I fell in love again with it. Why I learned to stop worrying about it’s flaws.

The reason isn’t on the metaphorical level. It’s purely practical.

As written above, I did my websites using WordPress. I was impressed by all those opportunities. Yes, you could have done a nice looking website with all those features a decade ago. But not that fast, that easy, that reliable. The substantial website can be build in half a days work. The physiological things can be founded very fast with the help of a provider, an internet connection and your PC at home.

But is it reliable? I stumbled upon a question: What about back-ups? I thought, my provider would do that for me. Well, for safety reasons, I had a look on his website. Yes, mate, we do all the back-ups for your website. If you are able and willing to pay an extra 50 Euro per month.

That is not my price tag for something I do for fun or to do and support local honorary work. As for everything, there are a lot of plug-ins to help you back-up your website. I have chosen a tool called UpdraftPlus.

You should always use “Plus” when naming your tools. It’s so promising: I looked it up and it says you can back-up your website on a regular basis. Fully automatic. So you are always on the safest possible journey through the wild, wild web.

After the installation I was eased. For a minute. Configuring UpdraftPlus I saw a recommendation to install something called “Jetpack”. It protects you from brute force attacks.

„Brute force“: That sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, of course you do install “Jetpack” to do that. Because you are in love with what you did. All the work, the ideas, the hours you spend to build a website that belongs to you.

You have found new friends through the website. Your esteem is based on it, the respect of others. It’s your up-to-date form of self-actualisation

Maslow's Pyramid Of Needs
By J. Finkelstein (I created this work using Inkscape.) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


That’s the case with many models, acronyms and theories – they are too short, too hierarchical, too easy, they are misleading. It’s like using concentrated fluids, medicine, coffee. You have to add a lot of water to make it digestible.

But to me it’s quite interesting to mix it up: My experiences with the good ol’ pyramid for example. The tools and software I use. Isn’t it interesting, that software developers address my old fears to sell their products, to make me pay for a premium? For the “Plus” or “Plus+” version. It offers me a sturdy base to be safe with the stuff I love and to get respect of others – a perfect way for self-actualisation. All that for a couple of Euros… No wonder I love the pyramid.

Here is my sketch of a Digital Maslow Pyramid of Website Needs… I’m sure Angelika Ullmann (@illu_ullmann), who also participates in this course could do much better in it…


The good ol' Maslow Pyramid in the digital world by Frank Boernard.
The good ol‘ Maslow Pyramid in the digital world by Frank Boernard.

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