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Before we can intelligently design and create – whether an invention, a building, or a life – we need a clear sense of essential needs or requirements to guide our actions. As has been said, we are wise to always begin with an end in mind. Without this context or frame of reference, we will tend to act and create haphazardly, and achieve beneficial results only by chance.
This idea is taught in most schools of design and engineering. And yet, the needs and requirements we uncover and pursue as creators can be superficial, far from essential or penetrating, and less apt to lead to true innovation or breakthroughs in human value. Too often, we seek, see, and fulfill only limited requirements or expedient outcomes. And thus, we leave or give to others the opportunity to see more fundamentally into life’s many needs and requirements, and the chance to surpass us and our work on the back of their deeper or more enduring insights.
Life Is Full Of Options, But Which – Or What – Is Most Essential?
There are of course countless examples of this – new designs, technologies, and products that radically upend existing and more narrowly or poorly grounded approaches – and I will leave you to pick your favorites. One of mine is the case of homebuyers, who often begin with very fixed ideas about the type of home they want, but often can be led in wholly new directions by exposure to alternatives that better understand and reflect or express their essential needs.
As I suggested, a way to see, design, create, and live more essentially, and thus more intelligently and innovatively, is to delve fundamentals – when approaching an immediate challenge or presented set of requirements, and more broadly. By extension, the ultimate expression of this process is to seek and pursue our or other’s most essential needs, in any area or across all areas of modern life and endeavor, and perhaps helping to re-create and eclipse how life is structured today entirely.
Importantly, while some of us appear more naturally inclined or able to see essential needs, or to sense opportunities to fulfill needs more directly or innovatively, it is a skill all of us can learn and cultivate. To aid the essential goal of helping you more deeply consider and explore underlying needs, aims, and requirements, I’d like to briefly examine our modern consumption patterns with you. As you will see, this broad but tangible set of considerations can be quite revealing – offering practice and insights into the process of identifying essential needs, and informing or accelerating exploration of our needs in many areas.
Before taking up this discussion, I would encourage you to spend a few minutes making a list that describes your current ideas about essential modern consumption practices. Your list simply needs to capture how you think we each should spend our time and money in broad categories. The list will help you more deeply engage in our discussion and gain skill in the important work of probing needs and requirements across modern life.
My Modern Needs exhibit outlines what might be a reasonable accounting of the material, practical, and emotional needs of a modern family of four (two adults and two children). I would point out that this summary of modern needs has a basis in current, if still inadequately consolidated, scientific research (see Wikipedia Basic Needs and Social Capital, and Barrett et al. Evolutionary Psychology).
Modern Needs – Family of Four
- Clean, uplifting, and affordable three-bed home (~100m2 or 1100ft2)
- One or two stylish cars, or well-delivered public transportation
- Seven to ten changes of functional and flattering clothes
- A nutritious and satisfying combined diet of ~8,000 calories/day
- Enjoyable and sustainable daily exercise
- Creative and sustaining lifelong work for parents
- Enriching child and then continuing education
- Network of ~10 supportive friends/family
- Network includes ~3 very close members
- One or two engaging hobbies per person
- Harmonious weekly activities & outings
- Regular vacation & daily personal time
- Effective and compassionate medical care as needed
- Insurance or income in the event of death or disability
You may well take issue with one or more of the items on my list, or believe that I have left off an essential family need in our time. For example, I have included automobiles and specific home proportions, proposals you might find either extravagant or inadequate. I have also not addressed retirement savings, except in the case of disability and death, since I have not assumed that common modern retirement practices are either essential or optimally healthy (though they may be).
Since my goal with the exhibit is to provide practice and inspire ongoing exploration of fundamental needs or requirements, rather than to prescribe or proscribe specific patterns of consumption, feel free to adjust the exhibit’s list as you see fit. That said, ideally your adjustments will be aimed at the goal of progressive understanding of essential modern needs, rather than aligning the list with your current consumption patterns or affirming consumption norms around you now (understanding that our needs and social norms overlap or are naturally circular to some degree).
Regardless of what items you change, I hope you will see this list-making exercise as an opportunity to look at modern consumption and many other areas of modern life more attentively and insightfully, and less reactively and expediently, than we often do – as citizens, consumers, and especially creators.
As you can perhaps immediately see from this discussion of probing essential needs, our personal and larger social consumption patterns, and a great many situational needs and requirements, are often significantly unexamined and underserved today. Indeed, the way we create and consume often lack careful consideration of essential goals and potential alternatives, providing enormous opportunities for more insightful, attentive, and beneficial design and creation.
Often, our resource-use patterns are even patently irrational. When this is the case, the opportunities for innovation and risks to incumbent approaches are of course enormous – and perhaps often in proportion to the intelligence or attentiveness gap present when an earlier design or creative process unfolded.
With these ideas in mind, I would encourage you to examine your current or next project or endeavor more deeply, probe for essential needs, and seek to surface unseen opportunities for innovation and transformative new value. Though this work is work, and requires practice to become skilled, it reliably leads us to new levels of creativity, effectiveness, and satisfaction in our work.
Health & best wishes,
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura. This piece is adapted from his book, The Seven Keys of Natural Life.
Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage modern natural design!
Photo: Choisir le bon chemin