The Conflict of Agency vs Security

As humans we have different needs that need to be catered to. These needs can be in conflict with one another.

One person who explored the relationships of these needs was psychologist Abraham Maslow. His famous pyramid of needs describes the order our needs. Maslow explains that we have needs, which are staged by order. The essence of Maslow’s pyramid is that needs at the bottom of the hierarchy must be satisfied before we can develop a true interest in the needs higher up. Our activities to satisfy the lower level needs then become a habit, enabling us to move up the pyramid.

We start with the basic needs like for example food, followed by the need for security to then get to the psychological needs, which include belonging and self-esteem. Only when those needs are fulfilled will we be able to focus on our self-fulfilment needs, or what is generally considered as personal growth.

These self-fulfilment needs are what the healthy personality can focus on, and they include exploring, experiencing, being interested, choosing, delighting, enjoying new things. In the workspace, according to Maslow this includes, being a prime mover, self-determination, having control over one’s own fate, being able to plan and carry out to succeed.

We have an inherent conflict between freedom to choose, the agency on the one side and our security on the other side. This is an internal battle, as described by Abraham Maslow, but it is also created by the trade-off's of the real world, which rarely let us have the cake while eating it.

AN INTERNAL CONFLICT

As humans we have different needs that need to be catered to. These needs can be in conflict with one another.

One person who explored the relationships of these needs was Abraham Maslow. The order our needs he described in his pyramid of needs. According to Abraham Maslow’s theory, we have needs that are staged by order. The essence of Maslow’s pyramid is that needs at the bottom of the hierarchy must be satisfied before we can develop a true interest in the needs higher up. Our activities to satisfy the lower level needs then become a habit, enabling us to move up the pyramid.

We start with the basic needs, followed by security to get to the psychological needs. Only when those needs are fulfilled will we be able to focus on our self-fulfilment needs, or what is generally considered as personal growth.

These self-fulfilment needs are the ultimate goal of the healthy personality, and they include exploring, experiencing, being interested, choosing, delighting, enjoying new things. In the workspace, according to Maslow this includes, being a prime mover, self-determination, having control over one’s own fate, being able to plan and carry out to succeed.

Prgr_Mini_Creation__Abraham_Maslow

If we need to find food or a place to live, our mind won’t be open to this wonderful self-help seminar, that will open up our true creative-self. Or when we work for an organisation that does not fulfil our social needs, then we may not be able to reach our full creativity.

PrgrMini_Creation_Maslow_Hierarchy

The never-ending battle between Security and Freedom

In our context, when we can focus on ungratified wishes for safety, then we will face difficulty fulfilling our esteem needs such as freedom and independence as well as self-actualisation, that helps us develop our full potential.

Read what Maslow said on the basic conflict between our defensive forces and growth trends:

 

EXTERNAL: THE TRADE-OFF

Now Maslow’s findings wouldn’t be so impactful if we could have the cake while eating it. If we can have freedom while having security, Maslow’s conflict might not become relevant too frequently.

Yet, they are highly relevant, because real life mostly forces us to make a trade-off between security and freedom.

Freedom to decide is crucial for us as independent human beings. But it also means being accountability for our actions if things goes south. We are accountable, we not only gain the returns, we also pay the price for our actions.

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To pursue new options in times of change, to have ‘external’ choice, we need to expose ourselves. We need to take some risks. If the world is changing, or if we build something new, we don’t know the result yet. We don’t know where the path will lead us and whether this path may be an utter failure.

In addition, change puts at stake what we have achieved so far, triggering our need for security. It may become as obsolete, as mainframe computers, blackberry phones, traditional media business models, and combustion engines face obsolescence.

In this way, our freedom to choose the right option is limited by our needs for security. That’s the trade-off we have to deal with. To have security in life we have to give up parts of your freedom, and vice versa. Only seldom can we have full freedom and security at the same time

To illustrate this through a metaphor, in investing we also speak about risk adjusted returns. This means that the higher the returns you want to gain, the more risk you have to take. Another technical term for this is “there is no free lunch”. If you invest in a startup for example, let’s say you invest into “The Next Apple Inc”, then you have the prospect of extraordinary returns. But you also face a high risk. The chances that these prospects materialises are very low. We were being sold quite some Next Apples, Next Facebooks, Next Googles, and only few of them have become successes. If, on the other hand, you invest in bonds, your risk tends to be lower, you will get steady returns, which however are much lower than the returns from the startup investment.