Super honored to have won the “Writing Prompt” this week! Thanks so much all! I couldn’t have done it without the great community… so, this one’s for you!
Much of the inspiration for this piece was centered around my journey of building, launching, and maintaining my indie OS X app, Desk , as well as my work helping others learn how to become software developers.
An Entrepreneur’s Struggle to Understand “Need” and “Want”
I have always struggled with understanding the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’; in fact, I can remember the first time I encountered the difference and it beginning to impact my decision making: It was in my 6th grade language arts class as we were asked to entertain the difference in the context of a group class assignment.
We we’re split into teams of 4 and asked to answer this seemingly-innocuous question:
If you were stranded on an island… what would you want to have with you and what would you need to have with you?
The question was made more complex as we were only allowed 10 items total and the entire group had to agree on the items.
What followed was a lively discussion on not just the items themselves and their relative merits and value but the pragmatic differences between ‘need’ and ‘want’ and how we intended to justify and defend our decisions.
I can remember coming up with my list very quickly and then after submitting my items for consideration to the group I then witnessed the complete and total annihilation of that list among the biting snickers and jeers that only 6th graders can ruthlessly bring.
Apparently the vast majority of my items were deemed as ‘want’ items and I had forgotten some of the more so-called “obvious” essentials that would ensure longevity and survivability on the island.
But I swear, my collection of Brian Jacques Redwall series were absolutely essential to my own health and well-being on that deserted island (among other great books that I would have taken).
And clearly my Dell PII 255MHz with Trinitron monitor and accessories was also just as necessary. I mean, how would I survive without my rotation of games such as Civilization II, Sim City 2000, and an occasional game of Solitaire and Minesweeper? My classmates were clearly delusional.
But I suppose the truth is that I was a bit delusional in my own thinking as I replaced the “need” items with things that I really, really, really, wanted.
And, if I am completely honest with myself, I’ve always seen these things very similarly if not quite simply the exact same thing.
This became a “problem” as I grew up and attempted to mature into a functional adult. You see, I suppose the problem is that I never really grew out of this phase. The lines continued to stay very blurred between what I saw as something that I wanted and something that I needed. The net result was something unexpectedly-welcome: I became an entrepreneur.
And overtime I began to realize that I wasn’t the only delusional character out there. You see, most entrepreneurs that I came to know and call my friends and colleagues understand this tension pretty clearly. An entrepreneur sees what is and what is not and, for whatever reason, begins to desire an alternate reality where the things that were not are now in full existence.
Essentially they (we) become obsessed (and that is the right word for it) with building and creating something with a level of desperation that is hard to describe. And while the world sees yet-another thing that may fall in the “want” category the entrepreneur sees only “need.”
And don’t we witness this paradigm every single day? Many of us read news articles from well-known tech blogs about this new startup and that new venture and do we not catch ourselves scratching our heads a bit and perhaps even muttering to ourselves something to the effect of “Do we really need another one of those things? Aren’t there thousands of that already?”
Again, where the world sees a “want” the entrepreneur sees a “need” and she will throw herself at it as if it’s the most important thing in the entire world (and definitely something that’s going to make the Top 10 List on that remote island). No one else is going to want to engage in “the hunt” as badly as the entrepreneur who now sees their prey as an ultimate need.
Many an entrepreneur can recall the time where they said to themselves, their teams, their investors, and their friends and loved ones:
I need this to exist. I will do everything and anything to make this a reality! I have to do it!
I know this to be true because I have done just that, and I have been wrong (and failed) so many times.
And despite the failures I continue to ship, I continue to see things differently, and I continue to struggle with the tension between “need” and “want” and the feelings of having to have what I see in my head become a reality.
But most importantly, my work, like the many other doers that I encounter and have gotten to know over the years, is more than just “work” — it matters and is fundamental to who I am as a person and as a professional.
It helps define my values and it informs the value that I create for others. If I have ever had to have something it was most simply that: The desire to do great and meaningful work and have it enjoyed and used by others.
John Saddington is an indie software developer turned accidental entrepreneur. His current obsession(s) is helping others learn how to build software and encouraging others to blog and write more via his OS X app, Desk: