Needs and Wants
It is a wise person who recognizes the dangers in drawing too fine a line between fulfilling needs and satisfying wants. I recently overheard a family dispute between two friends of mine. The issue was whether they should get a new kitchen. “But we don’t need it,” the husband argued. “Yes, but I WANT it” was the determined response. No prizes for guessing the outcome!
The experience got me thinking. A need is something you have to have, while a want is something you would like to have. That distinction seems pretty simple … until you find yourself in a store, and see the perfect item that you don’t really need, but suddenly want!
Tally up the damage caused by a few justifications like these:
I need adequate food. I want extra chocolate dessert.
I need clean drinking water. I want imported bottled water.
I need adequate shelter. I want a bigger and better house.
I need adequate clothing. I want a new wardrobe, styled to my own taste and this year’s fashion.
I need an adequate income. I want wealth.
I need adequate transportation. I want a flashy sports car.
I need some level of freedom. I want license to do whatever I like.
The same thing works in business. A need is a consumer’s desire for a product’s or service’s specific benefit, whether that be functional or emotional. Advertising has long recognized that the emotional benefit tends to be a stronger driver for consumers. On the other hand, a “consumer want” is the desire for products or services that are not necessary or essential, but which they covet. For example, food is considered a consumer need. However, a steak and lobster dinner with crème brulee to follow is considered a consumer want, as these things, as nice as they may be, are not necessary in order to live.
There are several basic human needs that drive all our behaviors and act as profound motivations behind our every action. These needs are fundamental to who we are and what we do, but it is how one prioritizes them that determines how each person acts. Each person needs to discover their own prioritization.
Please note that the following 6 needs are not written in order of priority in this article. We will also illustrate how these needs can be met in positive or negative ways. The first 4 human needs are considered the needs essential for human survival, while the final 2 are considered needs essential for human fulfillment.
The need for Certainty.
We all want to feel safe and secure, and experience certainty physically, financially, and personally. We like to feel secure in our job, in our home environment as well as in our relationships. We like to know we are financially stable. In tough economic times it’s easy to see where those who prioritize “certainty” high will have to find other places to get certainty. If someone has lost their job, had to take a pay cut, or feel insecure with their job, they can feel stress until they find another place to fulfill their need for security. When someone has bereavement, there is often a fundamental loss of confidence, because the person who provided that “certainty” has gone. Same applies when a life threatening illness or situation fills someone with uncertainty. Where do they turn? Other words used for certainty and comfort include stability and predictability.
The need for Diversity
It’s a paradox that the next need seems the opposite of the first, but it is still a fundamental human necessity. We want variety, adventure, challenges, and surprises. If one were to live the same routine exactly every day, they would get bored and want something out of the ordinary. Such variety or uncertainty makes us feel alive. Those who are into extreme sports might be using those activities to fulfill their need for uncertainty.
If someone prioritizes uncertainty higher than certainty, this person might be one that doesn’t keep a stable job for long, does adventurous things, and takes more risks in life. Other words for uncertainty include fear, change, conflict, and crisis. Have you ever met someone who might use a personal conflict, family crisis or business confrontation as a way to fulfill their need for uncertainty? Isn’t it interesting that some folks are always in some state of dysfunction, crisis, health scare or conflict? What need does THIS meet?
The need for Connection
You knew I’d get to this one sometime, right? We all need love and connection. When we put our need to be liked above all other priorities, we take actions that will bring us love, sometimes at the expense of security, variety, diversity or other needs. This explains why some people prioritize their activities to please a spouse, family or often a boss. This is neither good or bad, it is simply important that we understand that our behaviors and actions are motivated by whatever need that is most important.
The need for Significance
Significance is the need to feel important and wanted. We gain significance when, in comparison to others, we are able to view ourselves higher. In a positive way, significance can help us achieve more and be more than we presently are by achieving something great or building something gigantic. An athlete who wins gains significance by bringing home the trophies. But in a more negative way, we can fulfill our need for significance by destroying or hurting someone else. “Look what I did” proclaims the teen or gang members that beat up an elderly woman. Animal abuse is also a sign of the need for significance, and often a sign of future human abuse. CEO’s often have a high need for significance and fulfil that need by spending countless hours or driving employees to make the company bigger and greater. There is nothing wrong with significance of course; it is just whether we are willing to pay the cost of that priority to the neglect of other needs.
The need for Growth
We’ve all heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” It’s true. If we are not growing, we are dying. But growth has to be a balance. We need to grow in ALL areas of our lives, not just one. That might include growing emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, and intellectually. No athlete only works out or develops one part of their body. Imagine a body builder only working ontheir arms until their biceps were huge … but their legs, left undeveloped, were spindly and weak. They look weird and out of proportion. We need to cultivate every part of our life. Anything in your life that is not nurtured and growing is dying. So someone works endless hours at the office, but their house is a wreck. Another person tirelessly tends to the lawn and house, but their spouse feels neglected. Growth is a balancing act, trying to keep everything growing and nothing dying, and that is achieved by balancing our priorities.
The need to make a Contribution
Our need to make a contribution means going beyond our personal needs in an effort to help someone else. Getting involved in the community, volunteering, or helping others are all ways to give something back. Contributing to your world makes the spirit feel good. You are helping others. The focus is not on you but on others. But by helping others, you find you are really helping yourself.
But you may ask, So What?
I wrote earlier that “it is how one prioritizes these six needs that drive our behaviors and act as profound motivations for our every action.” In other words, understanding the importance we give to every need can help us understand why we act the way we do, positively and negatively.
So, here’s what I suggest. Write down the 6 needs on a piece of paper and think about them. Think about your life and your actions and how you are meeting those needs. Now, prioritize, 1 through 6, one being the most important, how you think they fit in your life.
It’s not about what you THINK is right, or what you WANT them to be. It is what your actions SAY they are. Your actions are what matters. Do your actions agree or conflict with how you rank these needs? Maybe you need to go back and change the order if you realize that your actions don’t reflect your priorities. Changing your actions is what is changes your priorities.
Who has the courage to ask a spouse, family member or colleague to do the same? YOU list what you think THEIR priorities are, and have them do the same for themselves AND for you, and then compare.
It is said that if 2 needs are fulfilled between two people, a connection is created. When 4 are met, a bond is formed. When all 6 needs are met, an undying relationship is established.