The Hierarchy of Innovation

Some interesting thoughts from Nicholas Carr in his post The Hierarchy of Innovation:

If progress is shaped by human needs, then general shifts in needs would also bring shifts in the nature of technological innovation. The tools we invent would move through the hierarchy of needs, from tools that help safeguard our bodies on up to tools that allow us to modify our internal states, from tools of survival to tools of the self.

He draws this pyramid of innovation, modeled after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

While I don’t agree with some of his conclusions (I believe Facebook is Technologies of Social Organization), I believe this is a truly interesting way to look at business opportunities. Each tier may have a set of pre-defined business models that work best. Leisure, for instance, seems predisposed to advertising.

Another thought: I can’t help but contemplate the shape, thinking it is upside down. Shouldn’t Technologies of the Self be the widest portion while Technologies of Survival be the smallest? For that matter, what does the width mean? Is it investment, revenues, customers, business size? Nicholas seems to see it as money and reputation, which backs up my earlier statement of Technologies of Self being the widest tier:

But the rewards, both monetary and reputational, are greatest at the highest level (Technologies of the Self), which has the effect of shunting investment, attention, and activity in that direction.

One final thought: are some of us predisposed to fill certain areas of this chart professionally? I don’t seem to relate well to Social Organizations and Leisure, favoring instead businesses focused on Prosperity and Self.