Needs and Wants. There is a difference.

The first time I was introduced to this concept was through a lecture on Y Combinator’s Startup school that I attended in that phase of life when I thought I would next experiment with launching a startup (I did too. A couple. Still looking for technical co-founders with coding skills).

The next thing I learnt through experience is that when you write a genuine short email to a distinguished person in the academic field, its lucky to get a response. Therefore the first time I received a reply back from Alan Kay, a visionary computer scientist, whose Dynabook and PhD research led the foundation of Graphical User Interface and later Steve Job’s iPad; I was stunned. After a series of emails, of discussions of various subjects, we touched needs and wants, and this is what he said:

Educators also want to understand human beings, but their interest is in helping humans with what they *need* — and most humans rarely *want* what they really *need* (often because what we *need* requires a lot of work to learn)……. So making a real distinction between *wants* and *needs* is a first step. Especially for designers of all kinds.”

This created a dilemma, especially with Y Combinator’s mantra “Make something people want.” This might have been a simplification of Paul Graham’s push to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to talk to people, what we call is the empathy stage in Design Thinking. This leads us to a common sense question, is relying on people’s understanding of what they “want” leading us to the paradoxical situation of “wanting faster horses”.

Post pandemic, as the term is thus used, we are in better place to differentiate our needs from our wants. We need food, but we wanted McDonalds burgers. We need water, but we substituted that feeling of cold liquid running down our throats with a carbon and sugar laden cola. We need to travel, but we wanted cars to takes there. We need to have a comforting society, but we want to be appreciated on social media through likes and upvotes. We need to earn money to fulfil our needs, but we want money instead to fulfil our wants. This is the difference.

So what do we do? We aren’t changing society overnight, Covid is already doing that for us. I’ll try instead to create a list of some things that I wanted but never needed. I’ll be adding a comment link at the bottom with three categories. I suggest you add your unwanted artificial wants to this list as part of the comment. Then maybe we can start a conversation and get somewhere eventually.

4 thoughts on “Needs and Wants. There is a difference.

  1. *Want not Need* Food: Processed foods. Burgers. Those with artificial meat. Carbonated drinks. Candies. Artificial sugars. Cold storage foods.


  2. *Want not Need* Clothing: Wear-one-season clothes. Branded clothes. Synthetics (rayon, polyester) in tropical countries. Acrylic woollens.


  3. *Want not Need* Shelter: Larger bungalows where smaller will do. Inefficient energy, plumbing systems. Non-local materials in construction. Shiny steel facades and reflective windows in tropical countries. Concrete for roads. snazzy airports and useless constructions. Apartment blocks which need elevators. More than one car. Cars. Acrylic or artificial fibre furnishings.


  4. *Want not need* Communication: Rapid changes in Personal devices. Electric equipment in Indian Kitchens. Sensors on home appliances. Fitbits. Smart watches.Devices that do more than you need them to. Communication towers in residential areas. Newspapers. Many TV channels. Streaming Services.


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