What Are Needs?

26.01.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course Understanding needs by Ryan Watkins, PhD


You may want your needs, but more frequently we want things that are not really associated with our needs. It is important, therefore, not to mix them up. They are related but quite distinct. And most importantly, they are both distinct from the actions or things (what we can call satisfiers) that meet our needs and wants. Investing in the military, health care, or education is done in order to satisfy a need or want of a government. Choosing to buy a new iPhone is choosing a satisfier for some perceived need or want—not be confused as the need or want itself.


Defining Needs (and Thereby Wants)

If needs, wants, and satisfiers are different, then these differences are important in guiding our decisions. By now, you are probably wondering, “What is a need?” A need is a gap in results. Or more precisely, a need exists when there are two related gaps in results and there is a satisfier to close those gaps.

Let’s start with this statement: Grace says she needs a new iPhone.

In reality, Grace wants to use the Facebook app, but she can’t use it on her current flip phone. In other words, she has a gap between a desired result (to use the Facebook app) and her current result (she can’t get or use the Facebook app).

This first gap in results is essential to having a need, and the iPhone is just one possible satisfier Grace can consider. But a need also requires purpose—that is to say that closing the first gap has to be “needed” in order to achieve some other result, otherwise it and its satisfiers are just wants.

Grace has a need if getting Facebook messages (closing the first gap) is required to close a second gap such as keeping in better touch with her mother.

Or to put it another way:

Grace wants a satisfier (an iPhone or Android phone) for her need to achieve a result (use of Facebook app) in order to achieve another result (improved relationship with mother).

Grace could, of course, just want an iPhone. Or she could just want the Facebook app. There is nothing wrong with wanting things; what is important is that we can distinguish between our needs, our wants, and their potential satisfiers in order to make better decisions.


Today’s Main Points

1. Don’t confuse satisfiers with needs or wants.

2. Needs are gaps in results.


Today’s Activity

Write down three statements of needs you heard yesterday (such as “we need to go to the mall”). For each, identify what desired results are implied by the statement (such as “I require new running shoes”). Then try to determine if achieving that result has a purpose (such as “I can’t run in the marathon with my current shoes”). Is the stated need actually a need?


Today’s Resources

Article by Paul Taylor on needs statements

Article by Paul Spicker on claims of need


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