Should something we want ever be allowed to supersede something we need?
I remember growing up my father would say, “There is a big difference between what you need and what you want.” Honestly, when I heard that, it made me frustrated. I didn’t understand what he was trying to teach me. I needed that new surfboard. I needed a new fishing pole like my friend Bobby, and I certainly needed that 1969 Mustang Fastback when I turned 16.
I thought I understood the difference between need and want. I wanted to get good grades. I wanted to get done with my chores as fast as possible. I wanted to make that catch when the ball came at me. Those were wants, things I desired but could make do if I didn’t have them. However, I needed that car.
The needs were my true desires, so I thought. A surfboard, a fishing pole, the perfect first car. What I failed to understand is that a need is something that, if we go without, deducts from our ability to be 100 percent whole as humans. Our needs start with the fundamental necessity for survival.
I need water. I need food. I need safe shelter. I need clothing. I need emotional support and connection.
My father repeated this over and over to me until I was well into my twenties. I am not sure when it took hold, but I do know how I finally learned the difference. I had to experience some of life’s hard knocks. I had to be in a place where my needs were not met to understand that all those other things were simply “wants.” Nice to haves.
Those lessons come to us all differently. Mine came through the loss of family members and friends, illness, and job loss. Today I have a firm understanding of the difference between a need and a want. Yes, I still want a lot of things, but I no longer confuse them with a need.
Need-want sniff test
As leaders, we are often called to sift through our customer’s needs and wants. With limited budgets there is simply no way we can meet all the needs let alone the wants that come across our desk. At Tenet, we have a process where requests are vetted through a local governance process before coming to the corporate level. The intent is for those closest to the request to determine if this is a need or want. The local teams can place wants over needs, but they seldom do. By utilizing our Service Now platform the request can become a demand and be routed through our corporate governance process, where it gets another need-want sniff test.
As part of that corporate governance process, we balance this request across the entire enterprise list of needs, which brings me back to my opening question. Should something we want ever be allowed to supersede something we need? I don’t ever feel qualified to make that decision in a vacuum.
What if a want could ease the burden of a need?
What am I not thinking about correctly?
If we do invest in this request, is there a need somewhere else in the organization we may not be able to fill?
Does the requesting entity have unmet needs that we should be focused on instead?
These can be tough and often unpopular decisions. Balancing the needs of a large, complex health system requires those who can separate what is needed from what is wanted while at the same time being open enough to consider how a want could improve the business.
This piece was written by Chris Walden, VP of Information Technology at Tenet Healthcare.