Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Adapted for Innovation

A Google search for “innovation” produces over 36 million results. It’s a buzzword we’re all familiar with in human resources, as many of us have been working hard towards creating a culture of innovation in our workplace.

In a recent article by Mike Steep on entitled “How to Create Innovation Cultures That Keep Working”, Steep discusses the benefits and challenges of two popular innovation culture styles and reminds us that the culture itself requires continuous support in order to thrive.

What does a culture of innovation need in order to thrive? Its needs are actually quite similar to the needs of the individuals who create it.

Here is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs adapted for innovation: 

Basic Resources

A culture of innovation is not simply defined, implemented, and then left on its own to succeed or fail. Just like your employees who share their innovative ideas, the culture itself must be supported and requires basic resources to thrive: innovation tools, education, protocols, and unstructured time. Without these fundamental resources in place, the culture is at risk of becoming stagnant and innovation within your organization nonexistent. 


Once the basic needs of innovation are met, the culture and its resources must be secured financially and legally. Is there a long-term financial plan to secure innovation resources within your organization? Are your employees and organization protected against intellectual property theft? According to the 2013 SHRM Workplace Forecast (p. 52), “…intellectual property theft is on the rise and negatively affects innovation and business development.” Ideas and the people and companies they come from need to be protected in order to succeed. As human resources professionals, we “play a role in combating IP theft through designing policies that protect information, including employee information, and through managing the HR side of intellectual property protection. HR responsibilities may include access issues, management of data and technology use policies.” (p. 53, 2013 SHRM Workplace Forecast). If you and your team haven’t established these policies yet, make sure you add it to your high priority list.

In addition to financial and legal security, your employees also need to feel secure against failure within the culture of innovation. If your employees fear they could lose their job from having one of their ideas fail, they may not share their idea in the first place.


In order for innovation to “feel the love” and have a true sense of belonging, it needs to be embraced by everyone within your organization. If innovation is just viewed as projects from R&D, rather than the way the entire organization does things, the culture is isolated and cannot thrive.


It’s one thing to say you value innovation and another to show it. Value and respect for a culture of innovation is established through the examples set by your organization’s leaders and the processes they have put in place. The processes should empower your employees and provide recognition and support for their contributions.


A culture of innovation has a great chance to thrive if levels 1-4 are met. At this point in the hierarchy, meaningful measurements and milestones should be defined so your organization knows what is working and what can be improved. The results will speak for themselves. There will be successes and there will be failures. Both are valuable. It is important to make sure that each level of the hierarchy is continually supported for the long-term success of your culture of innovation.

How is your workplace fostering innovation

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Eric Magnussen

Eric Magnussen serves as the Vice President of Talent for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) and is accountable for all aspects of the CTCA Talent function for a 5,500 employee organization. Eric is responsible for talent strategy, attraction and selection, employee development, succession planning, wellness and wellbeing, compensation and benefits. Connect with Eric.


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