Maslow's Basement

Have you ever taken a survey in hopes of winning a $50 gift card or an iPad? I haven’t either. Why these campaigns are ever run in the first place has always puzzled me. Here’s an excerpt from “Made to Stick” that sheds a little light on why people run these offers.

So imagine that a company offers employees a $1,000 bonus if they meet certain performance targets. There are three different ways of presenting the bonus to employees:

  • Think of what that $1,000 means: a down-payment on a new car or that new home improvement you’ve wanted to make.
  • Think of the increased security of having that $1,000 in your bank account for a rainy day.
  • Think of what the $1,000 means: the company recognizes how important you are to their overall performance. They don’t spend money for nothing. Which of these 3 positionings would appeal most to you? Most people answer #3. It’s good for our self-esteem to think how important we are to the firm. Here’s the other question: Which of these positionings would work best for other people? Well, that yields a different answer. People put #1 first, #2 second, and #3 third. In other words, WE are motivated by self-esteem but other people are motivated by a down-payment on a car.

Here’s an image of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for those who are not familiar. This study from “Made to Stick” shows that we are motivated by appeals to our higher level needs - things at the top of the pyramid, while we believe that others are living in Maslow’s Basement - motivated by physical things.


I’ve always been confused as to why people use gift cards and iPads to incentivize survey responses or to try and drive attendance at free events. Maybe there is data behind those moves, I doubt Penn State student organizations have data for that, but maybe large corporations do. Or maybe large corporations should stop giving their employees GoPros and start incentivizing them from the top of the Pyramid.

If you’re not motivated by an incentive, chances are neither is anyone else. That’s something I am always going to check myself against.

What Makes You Itch?

Don’t you love those moments when someone says something that you’ve always recognized, but never been able to put your finger on? I had one of those moments of clarity at the last Elevate session (s/o to William and Galen) at New Leaf on Wednesday.

In his closing remarks Michael Williams, the facilitator for the evening, shared this quote with us:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
- Howard Thurman

and then contrasted that to how people who create companies are always told to go find a need that the market has and fill it. In that contrast, I realized why I had left the business school and where a lot of my frustrations with the University’s “entrepreneurship” initiatives stem from - they tell people to go find a need and fill it, not to do what they get excited about and will kick ass at.

This is why there is a lot of mediocrity in the world. If you work to fill a need you are only going to do average work - I don’t care who you are. Once the need is met it is no longer in your domain. You seek to fill that need in a vacuum, you don’t consider the customer, their experience, or their journey, just that you met that one need.

If you do something that “makes you come alive” then you are not going to produce something that is mediocre. You’re going to care about the little things - the sound the door makes when people enter your store or the way it smells, the automated follow-up email when people order something from you, or the weight of your napkins. That is what the world needs more of. So much happiness and human potential are lost because people are not excited about how they are spending their time.

Here’s some Alan Watts to get you excited:

An Online Course is Not Just a Taped Lecture

I’ve taken quite a few online courses from sites like Lynda, Udemy, and Treehouse. Nothing frustrates me more than when a course is just a videotaped lecture. That is so much potential being squandered away.

Right now, I’m enrolled in a Udemy course that my friend Steve produced, on creating amazing talks. Something that really stuck out to me about how his course is designed is that he gives you two options. You can either watch the course, take in the information, and move on; or, by the end of the course, you can have created your talk.

The first few videos in each section walk you through the new concepts and teach you how to do the attached exercises. Then you can either move on to the next section (if you just want to keep being exposed to the new ideas) or you can stick around for the last video where he walks you through the exercise, giving you prompts and hints along the way.

It sounds simple but it makes a HUGE difference. Online courses, when done with thoughtful intention, can be incredibly engaging and effective. They should feel more like a 1-on-1 session than a lecture.


I now listen to podcasts more than I listen to music when I’m walking or driving. If you haven’t listened to any before, I strongly recommend it. If you do listen to them, please let me know what your favorite shows are, I’m always excited for new ones.

Here are a few that I really enjoy (in no particular order), I’ve included a link to an episode from each show in case you haven’t listened to it before.

Modern Love

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The Truth



The first episode of season one.