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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Supply Chain Needs: How to Become an Industry Leader


Chances are you’re familiar with the renown Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The psychological theory attempts to map out the stages of human growth, starting with physiological needs, like food, shelter, and safety, and moving onward and upward to love, belonging, esteem, until culminating in self-actualization.

The hierarchy is conceived as a pyramid with the basic needs at the bottom; to advance, you must first meet the requirements of the previous level. In other words, starvation takes precedence over safety. Most won’t have the bandwidth to sustain meaningful relationships if they feel unsafe, and they probably won’t reach their full potential if they lack self-esteem.

The same can be said about a business’s growth and development.

Basic Setup & Prosperity (Physiological)

maslow-supply-chain-leader-triangleIn Maslow’s hierarchy, the first two levels of the pyramid reflect one’s ‘physiological needs’ – those that fulfill the basic requirements for survival. In business, startups first need capital and a good business model to get up and running, as well as some technology to stay afloat with at least minimal prosperity.

The early building blocks of the supply chain form here. Most companies will invest in resources such as websites and e-commerce fulfillment, and secure vendors for sourcing and shipping. Unfortunately, once many companies find their groove, they commonly abandon the quest for continued technological advancement and set their sights straight to becoming industry leaders.

Such illusions are detrimental to growth, and often leave businesses running in place. Quick and dirty fixes to inefficiencies won’t propel you further, and you can’t skip ahead to leveraging advanced tools if you don’t first acquire building blocks to support them (technology follows a hierarchy too). People long for an easy fix, like Blockchain or machine learning technology, that would magically propel them to leadership. But you can’t skip crucial steps, whether it’s digitization or data capturing. To advance, businesses must first lay the fundamental groundwork.

Facing the future is noble; but lunging headlong unequipped is foolhardy. The industry rewards those who plan intelligently and methodically, who critically consider incremental updates as they go, preparing their organizations for still-maturing technologies. Moreover, not all inventions that glitter are gold. Blockchain has become a classic example: it has merits in certain applications but is not yet – and may never be – a perfect fit for multi-enterprise business network and supply chain management.

Leaders don’t follow the pack; they make sober and strategic assessments of every new fad. More importantly, they position themselves to immediately act when real opportunities arise.

Industry Relevance (Psychological)

A sense of belonging is a core component of being human and integral to personal growth and development. Much of the same holds true for building multi-enterprise business networks in today’s evolving supply chain. An organization’s expansion involves omnichannel fulfillment, globalization, or other frontiers that expose them to greater levels of uncertainty and regulation – some of the biggest drivers of collaboration to handle new complexities.

maslow-supply-chain-leader-body-walkBuilding a far-reaching network will only get you so far. Every level up on the pyramid introduces a new league to contend with. Whereas the first two foundation layers are like competing with your immediate neighbors, the national and global stages are incomparably more intense. Static modeling won’t cut it. If you don’t adapt your partnering to suit the very specific needs of each changing product or tailor collaborations to the demands of each order, you miss out on valuable opportunities for customization and optimization.

maslow-supply-chain-leader-body-climbThe climb to industry leadership requires flexible, configurable, and automated systems, such as those that enable dynamic modeling and micro supply chains. The former lets you flexibly model flows through your network, ensuring you always make the best use of your resources, while the latter further empowers you to fully optimize your network for each order. Such natively flexible systems are vital to progressing to the next level of development. Rigid systems that use static modeling and batch-processing are too limited.

The competition is too fierce to be inefficient. You can’t stand tall among the titans and develop your business to its full potential if all your energy and resources are relegated to solving inefficiency issues or precious time is wasted waiting for an IT team to reconfigure your setup. The Maslow principle is all about motivation: when a person is hungry, they are too motivated to eat to worry about creative pursuits. Leadership is founded on innovation. But there’s no bandwidth to innovate if your motivations continue to lie in playing market catch-up.

Industry Leader (Self-Fulfillment)

Just as we imagine all individuals should strive for self-fulfillment, so too should businesses aim higher than brand recognition. Esteem and prestige come from newfound achievements made in leveraging the innovative systems we discussed. Advances will usually earn you accolades from analysts and boost word-of-mouth marketing. But as great as recognition for skills and competency is, it doesn’t mean you’ve reached your full potential.

maslow-supply-chain-leader-body-topWhat Maslow is (rightly) saying, is that humanity’s – and businesses’ – ultimate goal is not to settle for proficiency and talent, but to push the boundaries of what you’re capable of. After shedding the most limiting systems you have in place, assume there is no limit. Flexible platforms will model after your vision and help you scale, so continue challenging yourself by asking what more you can do with it.

Even the best systems are often only as good as their configuration – they require some thoughtful work and imagination. Remember: technology (like the body and mind) offers capabilities – it’s up to you to determine what shapes these potentialities might take.


In the past, it may have been possible for businesses to plant their flags partway through the pyramid and be perfectly happy as low-key providers, just ‘prosperous enough’ to get by. Today, even minor ambitions seem less possible as technology continuously redefines what a ‘basic business’ means. Not too long ago, you didn’t need a website or an online collaboration channel to be relatively prosperous; now, most brands can’t get off the ground without them.

But this fact is a boon, not just a burden. Whatever struggle you encounter getting the right system in place – so long as you choose a flexible and scalable option fit for the dynamic and evolving supply chain – it will pay off in the end. Digital transformations can feel overwhelming; there are many options and the endeavor requires time and investment. Bring ambition and patience to the process.

No one said personal growth and self-actualization was easy. But that’s exactly why making a case for a digital transformation is so necessary.

Up Next: Maslow's Hierarchy of Supply Chain Needs: Digital Transformation Strategy


The supply chain evolution introduces many challenges, but today’s technology makes it easier than ever for businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors and become industry leaders.  Access the Guide


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