What a man wants tells us nothing about him.
What a man needs tells us everything.
–Don Juan, “Narcos”
In the world of late century drug cartels, wants and needs separated profits and peace from profits at any cost, including human life. The stakes were high.
In the world of regular people with regular lives, wants and needs separate our surface requirements from our root desires. These stakes are also high (but probably less tied to international drug smuggling).*
A family wants a car. It needs space for a car seat and groceries, safety, affordability, and a feeling of social responsibility. Other needs (“I will never drive a minivan”) are on the table to be addressed as well. Wants set up the choice, needs make the decision.
Wants are everywhere. They’re easily communicated. Needs are there too, but they take a little more to see. Sometimes we have to really work to tease them out.
Our job is to know the language of wants and to be able to translate the codes of needs. They’re in every profession, and as Don Juan in Narcos knew, they’re the key to a successful business.
*As a rule of thumb, probably. But not definitely.