Monday, September 5, 2016

Wants Vs Needs

This is the second follow up article on Travel 180 degrees. I sort of anticipated this one too. In fact, I was thinking about my points on wants and needs even before writing the 180 degrees article. I agree that my observation in 180 degrees is an over simplified version of those thoughts. I have tried my best to capture those thoughts in this article.  This is also a simplified version because I am not getting into more complex words or more sophisticated words such as like and love. (I am very hungry => I need food, I want Indian food, I like south Indian food, I love Idly are some statements for you to reflect on). This article is all about simplifying all the higher order, more sophisticated expectations to just two categories - wants and needs. When we do that many things get clear and life becomes peaceful and beautiful I feel. I feel understanding what is a want and what is a need is the fundamental of any human relationship. If we do not understand this, if we do not handle this properly we will end up in bad and sour / sore relationships!!

I am glad that we agreed that we should not be buying things we just want but do not need during the discussion last week. So I am only going to talk about being clutter free with fellow human beings, however I will use some examples from the physical level. Some more disclaimers before the article: 1) I am not a psychologist and I do not know many psychological theories and models. 2) I am not an expert who managed all my relationships very well and I am not successful with all types of relationships too. I have faced badly ruined relationships in professional and personal life. But, I can confidently say, I have revived potentially dead relationships for myself and for others - both in professional and personal space. Moreover, as a coach, I observe people a lot. From all those experiences, observations and from my experience in product development (yes product development) I have learnt a few lessons (rather I am learning still) and I am sharing my lessons here. 3) Some of the ideas described in this article may not apply as is in professional set up because the term wants and needs have a different notion & application. We can talk about how the techniques to build professional relationship can be used for building personal relationships in another article.

Now, let us get to the "long" article!! As always, welcome your thoughts and ideas!!

First of all, it is important for us to differentiate wants and needs. Many times, we do not differentiate rather we do not even attempt to differentiate the expectations as wants and needs. It is easier to differentiate them at the physical level; I mean "relatively". Having nutritious food is a need; but tasty food is a want though many times we feel we need our favourite food! Even the "nutritious" part can get into the want category in some cases, unfortunately. It is easy to note that if someone does not have nutritious food they get malnourished, starve and can die. But they don’t die if the food is not tasty. If they do not consume water, if they do not breath they will die. If they do not have clothes to protect them from the outside weather, they will die or at least suffer. These are all needs. To put it simply, if the "needs" are not fulfilled, the person becomes weak out of the starvation or suffer; but lack of "wants" do not make one die. You can easily recognize how these basic needs get built on to become wants! You can also notice many times we get frustrated or unhappy with lack of "wants" than lack of "needs"!! And, it is VERY easy to forget what is a need and what is a want!! However, with a little practice we can understand the difference and stop expecting the wants!!!.

It is interesting that, not getting needs fulfilled and not getting wants fulfilled have an impact but the severity varies always; impact itself varies many times. More interestingly, irrespective of whether something is a want or need, if we consider them as a need we start working towards acquiring them, protecting them and retaining them; lack of that affects our peace of mind equally! I have a colleague who cried in a foreign land because she should could not get curd rice though she had access to a lot of other tasty, nutritious veg food! She needed just nutritious food, she wanted curd rice. But she thought she needs curd rice. Lack of it affected her so much that she wanted to fly back to India; the rich conversations, new learning, beautiful places around and other comforts did not reach her mind at all. Her body did not become weak because it got all the nutrients it needed; but her mind was feeling so sick that she felt sick and eventually fell sick too.

When it comes to people, it is even more complex. When you are dependent on the other person, you "need" them. For example, children have no way (or a very little possibility) of getting needs such as food, shelter, education etc. fulfilled on their own; so they depend on their parents or a caretaker. But if they depend on the caretaker forever, it becomes an issue. Emotionally and intellectually, they need some support from the parents so that they are nurtured to be fully evolved human beings. Here too, the parents have to slowly coach them to be independent thinkers, decision makers, money managers etc.. If not, there will be issues.

However, it gets trickier with adults. Literally there is no need to be dependent. Any support given to each other belong to "wants" category mostly though both the giver and the receiver start perceiving it as a need. However, when we give our commitment to the relationship - to be a team member, to be a friend, to be a spouse etc., there are some responsibilities to be fulfilled. You can consider them as the needs to be fulfilled because the other person is planning based on your deliverables or commitments. There is also bare minimum quality with which these deliverables / commitments are to be delivered. Anything that is provided / expected over and above the agreed items with agreed quality can be considered as wants.

Like in physical space, here too, it is difficult to differentiate want vs need.  It is even more intriguing and interesting to note that we do not consider the action / outcome as the want or need; we start considering the person as a want or need! To make it even more complex, food does not react irrespective of whether you consider it as want or need but people react based on how you consider or treat them and you react back based on how they react! Given that, it is difficult to describe all possible reaction chains. But here are some possibilities

  1. The more responsible individual can take more & more care and keep on increasing the care when they understand that you consider them as a "need". You tend to hold them tighter as your need level keeps increasing. As long as they do not get choked in this process it goes fine. But how much a person keep increasing? As we know "the needs" can increase for ever!
  2. Someone who wants to exploit you can also keep increasing the care and make you completely dependent on them. As long as you do not recognize the exploitation and be happy to be in the golden cage or that person has the need / means to exploit you, it works fine!
  3. You consider that person as a need, but they keep providing only because it is asked, but internally they feel restricted…. even worse, you start "demanding" the need to be fulfilled! Hmmm… they run away or get frustrated... relationship gets sore....
  4. Whenever you consider someone as a need, you start feeling possessive and fear losing them, irrespective of whether you really depend on them or not. You start restricting them... obviously no one likes to be restricted and they try to move out of the boundaries... you become more alarmed and restrict them more.... You have got into a vicious cycle! How do you hold the sand decides whether it stays or not! Tighter you close your palm, faster the sand leaks from your hand! If you just keep it on your open palm, it stays as long as you want!
  5. You consider someone as a want but you are actually dependent on them! You can be arrogant to that person and depending on how the treat you (need or want) it creates another set of reactions!

So the point is, keeping the other person at want level (i.e., not depending on them) and treating them at a want level (i.e., not being possessive of them) is the best way. In the need want matrix, that is the only quadrant that keeps the relationship healthy in my opinion. The table below is based on my observations. This is not based on any scientific model. There may be a similar model existing; but I have not read it. This is purely based on my observations and experience.

how you consider and express

Possible respect shown by you.

Depending on how good the other person is, they can treat you well or exploit you or treat you with disrespect

Possible possessiveness
Possible disrespect shown by you.

Depending on how good the other person is, they can treat you well. 

Their ability to exploit you or treat you with disrespect comes down
Possible respect shown by you. Depending on how good the other person is, they can treat you well.

Their ability to exploit you or treat you with disrespect increases

Possible possessiveness
Possible respect shown by you and to you.

Less possibility of possessiveness.

All the above is from keeping you at the receiving end. How do you handle the reverse operation, that is, when you give? That is where product management comes into play. Irrespective of whether the other person considers you as a want or need, when you have to give, it is better for you to understand the Kano model - the model for product requirement progression over time!! The model talks about what happens to customer satisfaction based on the product features. When the basic needs are not met, the customer is dissatisfied. A delighter gets into basic needs category over time. Quality and performance are considered somewhere between the basic needs and the delighters! Like in product features, all the interactions, care, etc. have a cost! (I am sorry my dear purist friends for this statement. I am sure all of you are going to pounce on me saying love does not cost anything! At a minimum, you need time to express love; you know time is costly and it has to be planned). So it is important for us to carefully plan what delighters we want to bring into the relationship. In mature relationships you can clearly state that something is a delighter and may not be available all the time; even more mature friends understand it without you conveying it explicitly.

It is also important to understand that there is no point in providing a delighter when you are not even able to meet the basic needs! The product will fail anyways! I have seen people trying to compensate the failed basic needs with more expensive delighters. Of course the delighter gives momentary happiness but it does not compensate for the failed  basic needs. Will you buy a phone that has horrible voice quality just because it has a fantastic camera and it can measure your heartbeat all the time!! That is why a toy is a poor compensation for your missed commitment to be with your child on his/her birthday.  Please remember, any promise you give becomes a basic need! Any commitment you give becomes a basic need! Delighters are important too. If you do not have delighters, it is a boring product. Like in product development, if you are lucky, you may get to know the delighters (also known as wants) explicitly. Many times the customers may not state them explicitly or they themselves may not know the delighters! Noticing and delivering the implicit and explicit delighters are the key to successful product! Similarly, noticing, remembering, planning and delivering the delighters are going to make the relationship beautiful and successful!

So success lies in a) not considering wants (delighters) & demanding them as a basic need and reducing the needs consciously when receiving and b) meeting all the basic needs (even the wants/delighters that have morphed themselves as basic needs) while consciously and willingly introducing wants/delighters on the way!

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