Just What Influences Our Decisions?

26.01.2017 |

Episode #1 of the course Understanding needs by Ryan Watkins, PhD


Thanks for subscribing to my course! Over the next two weeks, you will learn how to differentiate between your needs and your wants and how to use needs assessments to improve your decision-making at home or work. My career as a professor focuses on studying, teaching, writing about, and doing research on these issues—for you, I have distilled 20+ years of work down to 10 short lessons. Let’s get started.


Needs and Wants

Many things influence our decisions. From our budget for a new phone to the demands of a new client, we are often pushed and pulled in many directions when making choices. Primary influences on our decisions are often the perceptions we have of our needs and wants. Do we need a new car, or do we want a new car? Do we need to offer a new training program, or do we want to offer a new training program?


Distinguishing Your Needs from Your Wants

Distinguishing needs from wants is useful. It helps us separate what actions we must take from those that we simply want to take. Then it helps us understand and weigh our options more carefully. We may end up choosing a want over a need, but at least we do so knowing what is influencing our decision. In reality, most of us haven’t developed the skills to readily distinguish our needs from our wants, and both end up unknowingly influencing our decisions.

Both needs and wants represent the desired results we strive to achieve. For instance, you may choose to wear your winter coat in order to stay warm. If you live in Alaska, wearing your coat is likely considered a need, whereas in Jamaica wearing the same coat is likely considered a want (and an odd want at that). In either case, however, staying warm is the desired result (or consequence) of the decision.

What we perceive as needs, and what we perceive as wants, influence the choices we make, from buying data management systems to deciding which open positions to fill first. They are not the only influences, but they are routinely important influences, with a perception of need typically elevating the choice of one want over that of another want. When told by politicians, for example, that we need to invest in the military, this elevates the want for military investments over competing wants for investments in health care, education, or other areas.


Today’s Main Points

1. Needs and wants both influence our decisions.

2. Needs and wants are related but different.


Today’s Activity

Pay attention to your words today. In your phone or on a piece of paper, make a tally every time you hear the word “need.” Every time a colleague says “you need to…” or your kids say “we need…,” make a quick mark. At first it will be challenging to even recognize how often you hear the word “need” in a day—but paying attention to the words around us is important.


Today’s Resource

NeedsAssessment.org: resource site dedicated to needs and needs assessments


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