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A Worthy Quest: Chip Conley’s “Peak” and A Teenager’s Pyramid of Needs

We fear our highest possibilities. We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moment, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities. – Abraham Maslow

Chip Conley, a San Franciscobusiness leader, successfully emerged from, post-9/11San Francisco hotel economy.  He found direction in his bleakest moments from the writings of Abraham Maslow, the 20th century psychologist who gave us the iconic pyramid of the hierarchy of needs.

The pyramid points to a foundational base of physical needs then climbs upwar­­­­­­d through safety, social, and recognition needs into a peak of self-actualization and meaning making moments.  Maslow and later psychologists have come to understand that human motivation comes primarily through the upper pyramid and peak moments of a person’s life.


Chip Conley authored the best selling book Peak to describe how he applied this pyramid to his employees, his customers, and his investors. He discovered the one constant theme in all 3 pyramids – that conventional wisdom is wrong. Conventional wisdom suggests that money is the primary motivator of employees, 2) customers stay loyal when they are satisfied, 3) investors are exclusively focused on the financial return on investment.  Conventional wisdom states that simply bare needs are important and it ignores higher human needs. Fully self-actualized peaks show forth the primary motive of employees is meaning, of customers is unrecognized needs (for Chip Conley – that means that his boutique hotel allows customers to re-envision and re-vitalize their own self-image), for investors it is the legacy their contributions engender.


I finished reading Peak with many ideas of how to apply his concepts to my business, but wondered how the wisdom of Maslow and Conley could be applied to motivating teenagers.  What does an adolescent hierarchy of needs look like?  What gives them a sense of meaning?  Chip talks about creating a sense of meaning for his employees, one third of whom clean toilets for a living.  How do we create a sense of meaning for kids who are students for their living?

I turned to the web and found a few efforts to create a teenage hierarchy of needs.  Education and youth editor Linda Lyons uses Gallop survey to identifies trust, love and security in a teen’s pyramid. Following Chip Conley’s formula, and adding in some of the research from Search Institute, I propose the following and open it to comments.

A Teen’s Hierarchy of Needs would have a base labeled “To Be Loved” The need to be loved is the desire to have someone hear them, to recognize them; to see them and treat them as subject, not object; to see and recognize their gifts and potentials; to call them to great heights and comfort them when they fall.  Teens wander far from safety to fulfill this need.

The middle of the pyramid is labeled “To Belong.”  One of the primary developmental tasks of adolescents is to develop a self-identity and begin to work out issues of intimacy. The need to belong sends teens in search of communities of connection that make them feel accepted and part of, and to identify those groups that shape their identity by clearly identifying what they are not. They (dis)associate with family and heritage, with school and community, with geeks and jocks, with Justin Bieber fans and Harry Potter fans, with faith traditions and patriotism, with dance and soccer and D&D teams, with Google or Apple, Xbox or Playstation. They test the limits of friendship and begin to explore the depths of trust required in intimacy.

The top peak of the pyramid I’ve labeled “A Worthy Quest,” within which I believe our teen’s experience moments of self-actualization. It is in these “peak” moments that they develop the integrity of a solid self-identity. It is in these “peak” moments that they grow strong in their gifts.  It is in these “peak” moments that they discover a purpose and destiny – a vision that drives them to joyfully embrace the adventure (and all its hardships) of life.

What are your child’s peak moments?  When do they feel a sense of purpose and destiny?  What are yours?

As most of the world celebrates the awesome holiday of Easter and the belief in eternal life, ask, is the life you lead worthy of eternity?

May the dawn of Easter be a peak moment in your life, a celebration with family and a time to be inspired by the blooms of spring.

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