Transcend book cover plus author Scott Barry Kaufman
Developmental, Emotion, Social and behavioural

Purpose

An exclusive extract from 'Transcend: The new science of self-actualization', from Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. (Sheldon Press).

12 September 2022

Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves. They are devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them – some calling or vocation in the old sense. They are working at something which fate has called them to somehow and which they work at and which they love, so that the work-joy dichotomy in them disappears.

— Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971)

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. —Seneca

The year was 1954, and it was the last day of classes at Brandeis University. Abraham Maslow was delivering one of his riveting lectures, and his students were completely transfixed. In his soft-spoken but intense manner, Maslow encouraged his students to be aware of the totality of their being, including their own unique talents and vast potentialities. He spoke of responsibility and how it was ultimately up to each of them to become all they could become in life. The students were moved, and many reported feeling an “almost palpable spirit of inspiration in the room.”1

One young woman raised her hand. Maslow looked at her thoughtfully and acknowledged her. “I’m wondering about the final exam,” she said. “Could you give us some idea about the questions on it?” Every head in the room turned toward this student with a mix of astonishment, shock, and disgust. For the first time in the course, Maslow appeared visibly angry. With a reddened face and vehemence in his voice, he replied, “If you can ask a question like that at this moment, then I’m concerned about how much you’ve really understood here this semester.”2

Ever since Maslow left Brooklyn College to start the Brandeis psychology department in 1951, he found that his relationships with students were not as congenial as they had been in the past. At Brooklyn College, the students hung on his every word, and he often admired the students more than the faculty. However, at Brandeis he felt the students lacked drive, ambition, and direction. As Maslow’s biographer Edward Hoffman notes, “He was not content merely to see them learn the subject matter well. He wanted to uplift them morally as well as intellectually, to see them visibly mature on the path to self-actualization.”3 Some students perceived this as paternalistic and condescending.

Maslow’s relationship with the faculty at Brandeis was also strained. For one, much of the department consisted of rigorous experimental psychologists, and Maslow’s work at that point was primarily philosophical and theoretical. Also, as Ken Feigenbaum, an associate professor at Brandeis from 1962 to 1965, noted, Maslow was warm and friendly but blunt and honest to a fault.4 Feigenbaum also observed that Maslow feared dying young, and his desire to get in all that he wanted to say before he died often left his students without the support they needed. In a journal entry dated January 22, 1961, Maslow wrote, “I guess one big factor underlying everything is the feeling that I have so much to give the world – the Great Message – and that this is the big thing. Anything else that cuts it or gets in the way is ‘bad.’ Before I die, I must say it all.” 5 [Funnily enough, he later inserted into this entry a note that says: “Was a little tipsy.” So perhaps he recognized how dramatic he was sounding!]

Soon after that journal entry, Maslow received a welcome invitation that would give him just the freedom he desperately desired. The engineer and entrepreneur Andrew Kay, who founded Non-Linear Systems, invited Maslow to spend the summer of 1962 observing the managerial operations of his digital instrumentation manufacturing plant, visiting one afternoon a week and engaging in discussions with Kay. He offered a generous consulting fee, and Kay promised Maslow that he would find the visit interesting. Maslow readily accepted, thinking that even if the consulting didn’t work out well, he would have time to refine his ideas about Being-Psychology and his emerging interests in the psychology of science and religion without the pressures of teaching, grading exams, academic bureaucracy, or demanding students.

But Maslow was so impressed by the way Kay managed the plant that he forgot about the extensive books, papers, and file cards of ideas he had brought with him. Kay set out to increase the well-being and productivity of his employees by drawing heavily on the principles Maslow had put forward in Motivation and Personality, as well as on other seminal texts by management experts such as Peter Drucker and Douglas McGregor. Kay made radical changes to the operation of his plant so that each worker felt a sense of pride and ownership over the finished product. Maslow noted that the workers indeed looked happy and interested in their work.

Deeply immersed in his discussions with Kay and his observations of the workers and the management trainings that summer, Maslow decided to capture his thoughts. After he dictated his thoughts into a tape recorder, a number of secretaries transcribed his comments. All through the summer he consumed existing management literature, starting with Drucker’s The Practice of Management and moving on to McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise.

Maslow was particularly taken with McGregor’s contrast between Theory X and Theory Y. According to McGregor, managers who subscribe to Theory X have an authoritarian style of management, believing that employees have little intrinsic motivation for their work and therefore must be controlled and given external rewards to reach their goals. In contrast, managers who subscribe to Theory Y have a more collaborative, trust-based style of management, centered on the belief that employees have the potential for self-motivation, enjoy taking ownership of their work, seek responsibility, and are capable of solving problems creatively.

This was Maslow’s first exposure to industrial or managerial psychology, although both Drucker and McGregor were already deeply influenced by Maslow’s theory of human motivation. From his close-up observations, Maslow realized the immense potential of the workplace for testing his ideas about self-actualization and world betterment. The experience “opened up to me a body of theory and research which was entirely new to me and which set me to thinking and theorizing.” Before it, Maslow had deemed education the best means of improving the human species, but “only recently has it dawned on me that as important as education perhaps even more important is the work life of the individual since everybody works. . . . The industrial situation may serve as the new laboratory for the study of psychodynamics, of higher human development, of ideal ecology for the human being.”6

At the end of his visit, Maslow compiled his many musings into a collection, “Summer Notes on Social Psychology of Industry and Management,” which, to Maslow’s delight, Kay offered to publish as a book. In October 1965, Eupsychian Management: A Journal was published, in virtually unaltered form from his dictations.7 As Maslow wrote in the preface, “I’ve made no effort to correct mistakes, to second guess anything, to cover up my prejudices, or to appear wiser or more knowledgeable than I was in the summer of 1962.”8

While not widely read by the general public, the book was read among many in the management field. The journal is a trove of new ideas, ranging from the need for enlightened management policies and the psychology of enlightened salespeople to employee motivation and healthy self-esteem in the workplace, from creativity to customer loyalty and enlightened leadership to methods of social improvement. [Some musings are half-baked and rambling, and some are quite controversial, such as his reflections on how society should properly deal with resentment toward those who are naturally more talented or those who are natural leaders (the “aggridants”). Nevertheless, some ideas are extremely prescient, such as Maslow’s prediction of the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union and of the emergence of technology creating an increasing need for meaning among employees.]

One major thread was the idea of “synergy,” which fascinated Maslow. It was a term he first learned from his friend and mentor, anthropologist Ruth Benedict, one of the main inspirations for his work on self-actualization (because he viewed her as so self-actualizing). Only a handful of people who had known Benedict personally (such as Margaret Mead) were aware of her idea of synergy, but it clearly left an imprint on Maslow, and he saw the relevance to enlightened management and self-actualization in the workplace.9

Benedict referred to synergistic cultures as those that are holistically structured and function for mutual benefit of the individual and the larger society.10 Placing this notion within an organizational context, Maslow argued that in an enlightened or “eupsychian” workplace—meaning an environment conducive to self-actualization—that which is good for personal development is also good for the company. “[Self-actualizing] work transcends the self without trying to,” Maslow dictated into his tape recorder. 11 “[Self-actualizing] work is simultaneously a seeking and fulfilling of the self and also an achieving of the selflessness which is the ultimate expression of real self.”

In this way, according to Maslow, the ordinary dichotomy between selfish and unselfish is resolved because people who pursue their selfish gratifications are automatically helping others. Vice versa, when they are being altruistic, they are automatically rewarded and gratified because what pleases them the most is using their wealth and competence to benefit all the other members of the culture (such as was the case among the Blackfoot Indians he visited in the summer of 1938). In such cultures, Maslow pointed out, “virtue pays.”12

The ordinary dichotomy between inner and outer is also resolved, according to Maslow, because the cause for which one works is “introjected” and becomes part of the self so that “the inner and the outer world fuse and become one and the same.”13 Maslow argued that such synergy is most likely to occur under ideal conditions, such as the case with McGregor’s Theory Y, in which workers have an abundance of autonomy, cooperation, support, and trust.

In his summer notes, Maslow also noted his disdain for those “youngsters” who believed that self-actualization is all about impulsivity and doesn’t require hard work. “They all seem to want to wait passively for it to happen without any effort on their part,” he noted.14 “ Self-actualization is hard work. . . . It involves a calling to service from the external, day-to-day world, not only a yearning from within.”15

In particular, Maslow argued for the path to self-actualization featured in the classic Japanese movie Ikiru: “Hard work and total commitment to doing well the job that fate or destiny calls you to do, or any important job that ‘calls for’ doing.”16 To Maslow, those who were most self-actualized pursued their calling, not happiness. Nevertheless, he pointed out that happiness often comes as a result anyway: “Happiness is an epiphenomenon, a by-product, something not to be sought directly but an indirect reward for virtue. . . . The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important.”17

In the many years since Maslow dictated those words to his tape recorder in the summer of 1962, psychologists have amassed a wealth of scientific findings suggesting that purpose is a crucial human need, as well as a major source of meaning and significance in our lives.

Transcend and Scott’s latest book Choose Growth both publish with Sheldon Press on 15th September. Available from all good bookshops.

Footnotes

 

1. Hoffman, The right to be human, p. 219.

2. Hoffman, The right to be human, p. 220.

3. Hoffman, The right to be human, p. 219.

4. Burrows, L. (2013). Memory of Abraham Maslow faded, not forgotten. Brandeis Now

5. Lowry, The journals of A. H. Maslow, p. 93.

6. Maslow, A. H. (1965). Eupsychian management: A journal. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc., and the Dorsey Press, p. 6.

7. Maslow. Eupsychian management.

8. Maslow, Eupsychian management, p. x.

9. Ruth Benedict had put forward her ideas about synergistic cultures in a series of lectures at Bryn Mawr College in 1941, but she never published her manuscript on the topic. Maslow was “horrified” to discover that the manuscript she had given him was the only one in existence. “I was afraid that she would not publish it,” Maslow wrote. “She seemed not to care much whether it was published or not. I was also afraid that it might be lost.” His fears turned out to be well founded. After her death, the anthropologist Margaret Mead looked through Benedict’s files and papers, but her manuscript on synergy was nowhere to be found. So Maslow felt a personal responsibility to share as much of the manuscript as possible and to extend the idea of synergy in fruitful directions. It should be noted, however, that not all scholars believe he extended her work in directions that she would have approved of. In fact, Rene Anne Smith and Kenneth Feigenbaum argue that Maslow’s “later work indicated that he did not understand the synergic collective anthropological approach of Benedict but rather misused the concept of synergy to promote a person-centered psychological reductionist position mostly devoid of its cultural context.” At any rate, it’s clear that Maslow had a great affection for Benedict and deeply resonated with the idea of the importance of a synergy between a person and their culture. See: Maslow, The farther reaches of human nature (1993/ 1971, Chapter 14); Smith, R. A., & Feigenbaum, K. D. (2013). Maslow’s intellectual betrayal of Ruth Benedict? Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 53(3), 307– 321.

10. Smith & Feigenbaum, Maslow’s intellectual betrayal of Ruth Benedict?

11. Maslow, Eupsychian management, p. 7.

12. Maslow, Eupsychian management, p. 103; Maslow, The farther reaches of human nature (1993/1971), chapter 14.

13. Maslow, Eupsychian management, p. 7.

14. Maslow, Eupsychian Management, p. 7.

15. Maslow, A. H., with Stephens, D. C., & Heil, G. (1998). Maslow on management. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, p. 6.

16. Maslow, Eupsychian management, p. 6.

17. Maslow, Eupsychian management, p. 6.