The Hierarchy of Advice

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About the author: Paul De Joe is the founder at Ecquire, a workflow productivity tool that will add a day back to your week, an EIR at Fairbridge Venture Partners and a key player in three successful startups.

Not all advice is created equal. Sometimes there is a big gap between what we want to hear, and what we need to hear.

In fact, the best advice goes beyond questions about term sheets and viral marketing, and touches on something far more personal – your passion.

You’re Just Like Einstein

In 1943 a psychologist named Abraham Maslow published the paper, “A Theory on Human Motivation”. Rather than following the path of many previous psychologists that studied subjects with mental disabilities, Maslow studied people like Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt and many other exemplary people. In this paper is where you’ll find “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.

At the bottom of this famously referenced hierarchy is basic necessities in life, while “Self-Actualization” sits atop. Self Actualization has been defined by others as “the pinnacle of human development” or a “state of alphaness”, but a quote by Maslow, directly from the paper describing  the need for self actualization is the most optimal for  understanding:


Even if all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization. Achieving self-actualization can only come by mastering each step from the bottom of the period to the top. 

Fail Your Way to the Top

There are many contrarian viewpoints to this theory and one of them being that, Maslow’s hierarchy has no empirical data. It is simply anecdotal or metaphysical.  Achieving mastery of any state of this pyramid cannot be measured or quantified.

Some, like myself, believe this hierarchy is an accurate depiction of what we ultimately try to achieve as entrepreneurs, whether it can be measured or not. In our world of constant optimization and improvement, the best things in the World that cannot be measured.

The items at the the top of this hierarchy are the ones that are the most difficult to measure. The answers to these questions are forged from many failures, situations of uncertainty, self-doubt and more failures. These situations also make for the best learning experiences and shape who we are. I think it’s why I love entrepreneurship and gravitate towards other entrepreneurs. Their companies are manifestations of their personalities and a means to an end of finding out what they can be.

Fall Madly in Love

I’ve gotten to appreciate Clarity and have recently been more active on it. I don’t take the time I’m asked to give lightly. Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I believe there is a hierarchy of advice that is not unrelated. The most successful calls I’ve had are when I research the person before the call looking for any signs of intrinsic motivation and what drives them. Talking through these questions helps me to figure out the goal as well as the person who’s going to apply whatever advice I can give. My first piece of advice is to always be themselves and to make sure they’re working on something they love in an environment where they are happy. No matter what advice I give, they must apply it in a way that works for them.

I believe doing something that you love for the right reasons is a prerequisite for achieving at the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. If you’re not immersed in one thing that you love doing for the right reasons, it’s impossible to have the output you’re capable of having. You’re better off finding what that is than faking what you’re currently doing.

Start with Why

Having a genuine vision and mission statement for both you and your company is critical.  The wrong vision and mission is taxing and leads to uncertainty and indecision. Your mission and vision is your last resort when the tough decisions present themselves. You cannot make decisions that compromise your mission. It’s why they must be genuine and answer “why” you do what you do.

The company vision is the goal you’re trying to achieve. Without knowing this, it’s difficult to give advice and difficult to apply any advice received. And a personal vision is just as important as the company’s vision. In what situation and environment are you the most happy? What are your goals and personal mission in life? How many people can you positively affect and how many current relationships can you improve? These are often times the questions we don’t answer first but are more important than most. Most of us are afraid to say what we really want for a variety of reasons when we should be proud to answer them.

And if you’re not sure, we can always talk about ideas on Clarity:

What was the best advice you’ve ever received?

Photo credit: Seth Anderson

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