Buxton’s Hierarchy of Technology Needs

This started as a bit of fun but it’s turned out to be a surprisingly useful model for me. With apologies to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs this is Buxton’s hierarchy of technology needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy, from top to bottom is:

  1. Self-actualisation (e.g. morality, spontaneity, creativity)
  2. Esteem (e.g. achievement, confidence)
  3. Love/Belonging (e.g. family, friendship)
  4. Safety
  5. Phyisology (e.g. food, water, shelter)

The point being that when you are being threatened by a bear you are not going to be particularly concerned about writing poetry.

Buxton’s Hierarchy of Technology Needs, then, from top to bottom goes as follows:

  1. Game-Changing (e.g. development of a new generation of products)
  2. Esteem (e.g. delivering better processes, directly supporting the generation of revenue)
  3. Social (e.g. having core applications like everyone else does- Internet, Excel etc)
  4. Safety (e.g. having a reliable PC that doesn’t crash)
  5. Communication (e.g. just having a phone or fax that will allow communication)

The point for technology leaders being that if people’s PCs keep crashing then the new SAP system you’ve just implemented is not going to be very interesting.

Some technology leaders are happy with working at just the bottom 2 or 3 levels. Some organisations consider technology is only good for the bottom 2 or 3 levels. At these levels technology is about providing “fixes”.

However as the technology leader you have a great opportunity to invent solutions for problems that have yet to be identified. (Invention, after all, is the mother of necessity – see this earlier post). When you do, just don’t forget the importance of the things at the bottom of the hierarchy.


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