Social Plasma

The Difference Between Want and Need


Mr. Orlov, who lived and worked in China for several years as the Global CMO for the Volkswagen Group of Companies, comments on the important difference between what we think we want and what we really need.


Whilst I was living and working in China I was fortunate enough to meet many fine people, many of whom came with lovely stories and anecdotes. Like people all around the world, the Chinese certainly enjoy their fables and their wisdoms. One of them that stuck with me dealt with the difference between how a Chinese mother might deal with a child who would not eat his or her carrots and how a Western mother might deal with the same challenge.

According to the storyteller, the Western mother might say to her child: “Don’t you want to grow up big and strong? And don’t you want dessert? Because if you don’t finish your vegetables, you’re not going to have either one! So eat your damn carrots!!”

The Chinese mother, on the other hand, might say: “You must eat your carrots, my child, because if you don’t, that poor farmer who works every day just for you — in the sun, in the cold, in the rain, in the dark — does so because he wants to be sure that the carrots grow sweet and delicious. He really needs you to love his carrots because if you and all your friends did not eat what he spent all his time growing and protecting, he would not get any money and he would become even poorer. He needs you. His family needs you. And you need to know how important you are to him. Now, be a good child and eat your carrots.”

If one thinks upon it but for a moment, there is definitely a difference between want and need.


Want, in the end, is a desire to possess. Interestingly, as a noun it can also mean “a lack of something or a deficiency.” The whole psychology of why we want more — especially in our modern times — lies, I believe, in the fact that for most of us we have too much choice already.

So much in life and business seems to rotate around impulse and a desire to be top of list when we are compared with our neighbors, our associates and our “friends.” Many of us at varying levels have an abject desire to gather more things than are necessary when certainly in the coolness of detachment and at observation from afar we don’t need anything nearly as much as we mew for it. Will Rogers, in a prescient 1931 critique of the marketing industry, called it perfectly:

“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.”

It is solely for the purpose of how we measure ourselves or assume society measures us: the power we hold, the money we can spend and what position we attain in our self-absorbed peer rankings, along with so many other superficial measures that are as fragile as they are transient.

From my own experience, and from what I have observed, it seems to me that the more we want the unhappier we get, especially if we have to wait — or worse still — it simply is unattainable. Fueled by an always-on mediascape, ego and the gathering light bulb of whimsical folly leave us open to abuse, loss and all too often, terrible disappointment.

Yet we return over and over again: humanness, our excuse.

Want is fragile and more often than not without true foundation…and yet incredibly powerful. Want is a mighty currency; yesterday, today and for all the tomorrows, fortunes have been made by it and so it shall always be. But you, the person, singular and within your own skin, knows it for what it is and for what it can and will do.


Most of us have learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the correlation between needs and motivations: basic, psychological and finally self-fulfillment. I am no Maslow, by any means, but I also am not entirely certain that Maslow’s thesis entirely fits the changing world and the dynamics that drive it today.

However, there it rests, and it is in any case an interesting reference point.

From my perspective, needs are about self-determination — the things that truly matter to progress ourselves, our very lives. True need matters and brings a different focus and completely different dimension to how we behave, as well as what the reward may be.

When we are true to ourselves and know the things that we need to embrace to enhance ourselves as contributing human beings­ — as sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, colleagues, advisors and true friends — we release even in times of difficulty a certain type of positivity and striving.

And as we reach our goals, the satisfaction that we get makes us far happier than anything that we would have just attained from a fleeting moment of want. Just as a tree needs light, soil, minerals and water, so too do we have absolute needs — that if understood, carefully gathered and utilized — can and will give us a true sense of self.

Finding, holding and sharing the things that truly matter, that we truly need, will enrich and serve you well. But it starts with this fundamental truth, as articulated so simply and eloquently by Jason Guitierrez in Elephant Journal:

“We have to learn to live with enough.”



“The Psychology of Why We Want More and How to Want Less,” Jason Gutierrez,, Feb. 24, 2016.

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