New Hierarchies of Explanation

New Hierarchies of Explanation
October 25, 2016 Trip Wilson


In our work with the Judgment Index, we spend a lot of time talking about hierarchies. At the core of our entire work is Robert S. Hartman’s “Hierarchy of Value” in which he moves from Systemic, conceptual forms of judgment and valuation, to Extrinsic, process, and then to an Intrinsic, human dynamics. Most people who have heard our presentations know that Hartman and Abraham Maslow were great personal friends, and that Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” was created after an evening dinner conversation with Hartman. Maslow famously talks about survival, social, and self-actualization/self-transcendence needs. Both end up seeing the ability to “give” ourselves to the larger whole of life as the highest form of human living.

The way that most hierarchies are graphically presented, a pyramid figure is created with a wide, strong base on one end and a high peak on the other—the top, and there is always a great deal of conversation (as with Zig Ziglar’s famous book) about wanting to “get to the top.” The hierarchical graphic is iconic in the way it implies a progressive upward movement, a growth and development that calls upon people to always be creating themselves in new ways. I have no problem agreeing with most of these hierarchical sentiments.

However, the hierarchical model is somewhat deceptive. It seems to imply that the “top” is always better, and that the “bottom” is—well, obviously—the less-important bottom. In fact, real life is usually more integrated and inner-dependent that the graphic would imply. You don’t have a “top” without the support of the middle and the bottom base. I have often seen Hartman’s hierarchy as an interactive, integrative circle. And, with regard to Maslow, there is very little self-actualization unless the survival needs are totally being covered. Life works together in greater interactive wholes rather than loosely aligned parts.

With these “adjustments” to the normal, iconic hierarchical models, I would offer two new “hierarchies” to our teaching paradigms:





In both of these additions, we continue to see, in the first example, the influence of Hartman’s Systemic, Extrinsic, and Intrinsic, and also in the second example the influence of Jim Collins’ concept of an ideal organization that has strong workers, managers, and executive leaders. But, what I think you really see is more simple—people, people, people. People doing different kinds of works with different training and experience to be sure. But, people integrating and supporting each other in mutually inclusive ways. When it comes to people, we must be careful to diminish the sense of “top,” “middle,” and “bottom.” It is impossible for one part of these new hierarchies to function without the other parts. In that famous “Gestalt Theory” concept that suggested that the “whole is synergistically greater than the sum of the parts,” the function of the parts is never diminished. Again, there is no “top” or “bottom.”

All of this conversation—even with perhaps helpful additions to our new teaching graphics—brings us back to one of our seminally important topics: all work is done through people and groups of people—so the more you understand people, the better you will become at accomplishing work. That’s what we do—help organizations understand their people better, and—in that sense—a better understood and fully maximized human being who “fits” in the right place at the right time in the right hierarchical sector is allowed to contribute to and advance the potential of the entire enterprise.

We will probably never stop talking about “top” and “bottom,” and hierarchies will remain as iconic teaching paradigms. In life, and in real organizations, real people are not so easily pigeonholed. We may relate functionally along hierarchical lines, and organizations may have functional templates relating to specialized tasks. But, in the end, it is people, people, people, and ultimate success always rises from seeing all people as synergistic parts aligning with each other and recognizing each person’s vital necessity to the whole.