Written by: Ra James
As a founder, how frequently do you ask yourself, am I solving for a need or a want?
For consumers, this question of need vs. want may come up in the moments of decisions surrounding food, or perhaps in relationships. But, how often do we ask this question in regards to our work within businesses, organizations and the economy as a whole?
If we all aren’t asking this question more frequently, it is time to reassess.
My hope is for this piece to be an orientation about re-prioritizing innovation and re-allocating effort for needs rather than wants in a business/organizational setting. The central discrepancy here is the essentiality of the product or service. An even larger question would be – what makes something essential?
Every entrepreneur should ask, “For whom is this [venture] fulfilling a need and/or a want? What is the degree of that need?” The actual expanded awareness, breadth and depth of the situation comes into play when we begin to examine how our needs and/or wants can also create needs and/or wants from other places, humans and more-than-humans alike.
As a consumer, if you want something, like a nice new pair of shoes, but there are four pairs of shoes sitting in the closet (doesn’t matter if they don’t match your new belt or not), what is the best use of your capital? Should you consider a different place to allocate resources? What people or environments have been mobilized and/or exploited to create those shoes? From where are the materials coming from and to where will they go once you are done with the shoes? Is your want for shoes creating hardship and need somewhere else?
These questions should be enough to ignite your attention to the supply chain and to see if you are reacting to and capitalizing on your wants, rather than focusing on your needs and the needs of others.
There has been a dilution and confusion of what we actually need versus what we want.
There are many problems in the world; symptomatic expressions of a flawed economic axiom that could deserve energy and attention. The best way to do that is through finding the root cause. As a circular economy founder, this is what my venture (re)Biz is focused on. (re)Biz is an emergent creation lab for leaders focused on how to build a regenerative, post-growth world rooted in equality, diversity and thriving life on the planet. Read more about circular design and economies here.
For all of us, climate change and ecological collapse are imminent threats. What is happening on an ecological level is resultant of systemic manipulation and oppression of individuals and land in the Global South to fuel the wants (not needs) of the Global North.
Yet, while this situation with climate should be pretty well known by now, why do some of the best and brightest brains go towards solving other problems (like building convenience structures for pharmaceutical delivery, or creating new mobile applications that grab the attention of younger and younger generations, or building more real-estate marketplaces)? What are we even working towards anymore? Have we forgotten what it means to actually work versus to toil?
Work does not mean running around in circles over and over again, putting out fires on a constantly rotating wheel. To truly work, means to actually build something that is going to benefit those now AND in future generations so that they don’t need to work on the same things or encounter the same problems. In fact, our lives and future lives can become more beautiful and nourishing through work.
Work should eliminate existential problems rather than creating more of them.
Comfort is a different story. If we look at the scale of the Earth, according to an article from Brookings Institution in Washington DC, the majority of people are either in poverty or extremely vulnerable to food, fuel and resource shortages. Although we may be in comfort, most are not.
For founders and organizations who are interested in shifting their business models where they can contribute towards a life-giving framework, you use these three basic questions below to begin to assess whether a need or a want and then move from there.
- Are the products and/or services we sell necessary for human flourishing or environmental regeneration? If not, can we adjust to positively impact these areas?
- Do you employ a sliding scale model of pricing to enable the broadest reach of people to access your product and/or service?
- What goals does your business have other than size and profit? How does it contribute to the betterment of human and other-than-human lives and the well-being of the planet?
Start with these questions and really take a hard look at your organization to identify whether or not you’re building into a want-based economy or a needs-based model of flourishing and regeneration. Then, you will be more aligned towards creating something that truly matters beyond the wants of the world.
About Ra James
Rakan James (known as Ra), integrates transformational ancestral wisdom for future-ready leadership. He focuses on revitalizing people and organizations globally through restoring right-relationship, regeneration and purpose.