“The best ideas are the honest ones. Ones born out of personal experience. Ones that originated to help a few and ended up helping many.”
Sounds like something you’d hear from the mouth of a political activist along the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., doesn’t it? Well, Simon Sinek, the man who was actually quoted saying this does have at least one thing in common with Dr. King ― he inspires. So much so, in fact, that my husband and I recently went out and grabbed his book “Start With Why”.
Although I’m still reading, I’d like to give you a glance into the concept Sinek is trying to instill in his audience. It’s an important one.
A good place to start would be with the Golden Circle. This circle encompasses three layers ― the “what”, the “how, and the “why”. What you do, how you do it, and why you do it. As you probably guessed by the title of his book and this blog post, the most significant element is the “why”.
Let’s go back to Dr. King. Why did Martin Luther King Jr. become a crucial figure in the civil rights movement? Surely there were tons of people who held similar convictions about racial segregation. So, what really made him so special? It’s the same reason Apple is so innovative. It’s the same reason Mother Teresa became a recognized saint. It’s the same reason the Wright brothers are credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first airplane.
Why? (pun intended) Because people don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy why you do it. All of these people had a clear vision ― a “why”.
These people and companies were not simply set out to make the most money. Money, in many cases, is an inevitable result of the perseverance in fully realizing the “why”, but it’s never the “why” itself. People will never be loyal to you if you don’t even know what you believe, so if material gain is the top priority of your business’ vision, you’re missing the key ingredient to any successful business. In this sense, success isn’t measured by monetary value but by the notion of seeking to help a few and ending up helping many.
So, why are we so loyal to someone else’s “why”? It’s brain stuff, really. It’s grounded in our biology. I’m no neuroscientist, but I’ll do my best to explain it with simplicity. Essentially, the part of the brain called the neocortex is the “what” level. It’s responsible for rational, analytical thought and language. The middle two sections of the brain which make up the limbic brain are the “how” and “why” levels. They’re responsible for our feelings, human behaviour, and possess absolutely no capacity for language.
I’m sure you’re aware that humans ― although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings ― are extremely emotional creatures. We are often quick to act on emotion and feelings, which can certainly have its pros and cons. On the downside, we behave irrationally when we’re overcome with feelings of sadness, anxiety, and anger. These usually aren’t our shining moments, and an influx of negative thoughts and emotions can lead to an array of mental disorders. On the upside, however, when we are emotionally aligned with a purpose or vision that parallels our own personal beliefs, we are inspired and moved to take action.
So, whether you’re starting a nonprofit organization to build schools in sub-Saharan Africa or you’re starting a digital media agency to bring the latest, cutting edge marketing techniques to the forefront, talk to the part of the brain responsible for behaviour, not rationality. If people agree with your “why”, they will rationalize the reasons to support you and buy from you.
Ultimately, if your personal “why” goes back to Sinek’s original quotation and seeks to help many people, you’re winning. Apple chose to enrich and enhance people’s lives through technology in ways not imagined before. Martin Luther King Jr. chose to demonstrate through his words and actions that non-violent, persistent activism can change state regulations and laws. Mother Teresa chose to give up all her material wealth and dedicate her entire life to the hungry, sick, and abandoned on the streets of Calcutta. The Wright brothers, lacking all of the support and funding that their competitors had, chose to give mankind wings by creating the first airplane.
People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy why you do it. What you do simply serves as proof of why you do what you do. There are leaders and there are those who lead. Those who lead inspire us.
So, I ask you, what is your “why” and what will you inspire?