The Fourth Industrial Revolution, What Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Got to Do with it?

We are a country blessed with exceptional human resources. From the Aba based innovators who make flip-flops out of used car tyres to the Lagos based technological hubs which recently caught the attention of Mark Zuckerberg, who recently visited Nigeria, to the silent innovators making us proud in faraway countries. Everywhere you turn, you marvel at the tenacity and ability of a people to make something out of nothing. 

With all these, the horizon looks bright and the future certain that someday, like California, we will create our own Silicon Valley. We are every day encouraged by technology enthusiasts (like my humble self) to join the bandwagon of developed nations in the quest for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of great technological breakthroughs and uncommon digital evolution. Knowing fully well that these developed nations have gone through the first, second, and third industrial revolutions before attempting the fourth, it becomes critical for us to ask if it is realistic to continually push for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Nigeria, knowing that we are yet to scale through the first three industrial revolutions.

What does it take to pursue the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Nigeria, and how does Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs make this look like an impossible task to achieve?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the age of automation. Automation can only work if there is a structure. A structure is a set of systems put in place to ensure that machines keep working in place of humans. I think that jobs are safe and that only a few jobs will be replaced in the next decade if we do not go through the other industrial ages. Right now, we are in the first industrial age which is characterized by discoveries. We are not in any way near the second industrial revolution which is the age of industrialization. Structures can only be set based on previous experience. The western world was able to come up with new structures because they discovered setbacks that necessitated the overhauling of the existing systems.

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Has Nigeria truly scaled the first industrial revolution which was characterized by mechanization, water power and steam power? Today we are still struggling to generate constant power to a nation of about 200million people. This is the basics of the first industrial revolution. On a scale of 1 to 100, what is our rank in this achievement? The second industrial revolution was characterized by mass production, assembly lines and constant electricity to power these manufacturing and assembly lines. There was no dependency on personal generators and costly diesel propelled generators to power industries. The third industrial revolution saw the emergence of computers and automation, which was powered by Silicon Valley and its contemporaries in China, Japan, UK, Germany, etc.

Presently, the developed nations are gearing towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, not on paper but in reality. This era will be marked by advancement in digital technology, cyber-physical systems and human gene development.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs and Nigeria’s Industrial Revolutions

Maslow proposed that human needs can be organized into a hierarchy. This hierarchy ranges from concrete needs—such as food and water—to abstract concepts such as self-fulfillment. According to Maslow, when a lower need is met, the next need on the hierarchy becomes the focus of attention.

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These are the five categories of needs according to Maslow:

Physiological – These refer to basic physical needs, such as drinking when thirsty or eating when hungry. According to Maslow, some of these needs involve our efforts to meet the body’s need for homeostasis that is, maintaining consistent levels in different bodily systems (for example, maintaining a body temperature of 98.6 degrees). Maslow considered physiological needs to be the most essential of our needs. If someone is lacking in more than one need, they’re likely to try to meet these physiological needs first. For example, if someone is extremely hungry, it’s hard to focus on anything else besides food. Another example of a physiological need would be the need for adequate sleep.

Safety – Once people’s physiological requirements are met, the next need that arises is a safe environment. Our safety needs are apparent even early in childhood, children need a safe and predictable environment and typically react in fear or anxiety when this need is not met. Maslow pointed out that, for adults living in developing nations, safety needs can be more apparent in emergencies (e.g. war and disasters), but in developed nations, this need is unlikely.

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Love and Belonging – Next is the need to be loved and accepted. This includes both romantic relationships as well as ties to friends and family members. It also includes the need to feel a sense of belonging and encompasses being loved and loving others.

Esteem- This involves the desire to feel good about oneself. According to Maslow, this needs is made up of two components. The first regards feeling self-confident and good about oneself, while the second involves feeling valued and recognized by others. When people’s esteem needs are met, they feel confident and see their contributions and achievements as valuable and important. 

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Self-Actualization – This refers to one’s feeling of fulfilment. One unique feature of self-actualization is that it is different for everyone. For one person, self-actualization might involve helping others; for another, it might involve achievements in an artistic or creative field. Essentially, self-actualization means feeling that we are doing what we think we are meant to do. According to Maslow, achieving self-actualization is relatively rare and his examples of famous self-actualized individuals include Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Mother Theresa.

Bringing It All Together

From the review of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, we can deduce that the Fourth Industrial Revolution lies in the fifth strata of the hierarchy which is self-actualization, implying that all other needs have to have been met to achieve this.

Technology enthusiasts encourage us to aspire to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but 90% of citizens are still struggling to achieve their physiological needs. Hence, the question of our preparedness remains. While it is encouraging to see the financial and telecoms sectors of the economy achieving great strides, we must recognise that industrial revolutions are not achieved in a few sectors of the economy.

Industry revolutions are all-encompassing, time-specific, and dependent on the state of a nation. At the risk of sounding unsupportive of the push for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Nigeria, I dare say that we are not ready.

Steve Isitua Obiago (Engr.)

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