The Start With Why process is not new but like many insights that require work, it often gets lumped in the Important but not Urgent category to be worked on tomorrow and, of course, that tomorrow never comes.
So in this article, I want to hang my Why out in public to keep it present for me and to enable you to hold me accountable to it, while explaining what your Why is, How it works, and What it consists of.
I will be drawing on my experience as well as the experience of some of my clients who embarked upon this process some years ago and have affirmed its value and learned a few things to keep the process on track.
For the record, apart from seeing Simon Sinek’s presentation many years ago and working alongside clients integrating their Why into their businesses, the seeds for this renewed focus were planted last year when I presented at the TiCSA (formerly SATIC) State Conference on how to be authentic in a fake world. I also wrote about ethics in business and marketing in June.
Simon Sinek, Start With Why, and the Golden Circle
At its core, Start With Why is an insight shared by ethnographer and author, Simon Sinek, after he’d noticed that there was a common DNA shared by successful leaders, organisations, and people that explained why some seemed to work and attract adoration while others withered on the vine.
This common bond he describes as being driven or motivated by a Why, otherwise known as a grand purpose, a reason for being, a calling.
In his famous TEDx talk, which later got transformed into a TED talk, Sinek represents his insight as a Golden Circle.
He explains how many of us promote ourselves, our products, and our causes by describing What they are, as opposed to dynamic individuals and entities that lead with Why they are doing what they are doing.
His argument is that the oldest parts of our brain that make our fastest and most enduring decisions, operate in a sub-language mode. This means the signals they send are often hard to put into words (gut feel, intuition). It is these parts of the brain, he argues, that resonate most strongly with someone’s Why – their motivations and visions. We are either in harmony with each other or not.
On the other hand, the barrage of words and jargon and product details are interpreted by the newest part of our brain and don’t have the same weighty impact on decision making. Instead, we often use the fancy dancing of this part of our brain to layer some word-based justifications on top of the decisions we have already made.
An example of The Golden Circle from the Start With Why process
In his primer for the book, Start With Why, Sinek uses the example of a paper manufacturer to highlight the power and clarity a Why can bring to the workplace.
In this example he is able to show that when we lead with What we do/make, How we do/make it, and then possibly get to a Why, we will rarely infuse our audience with passion, motivation, and an attraction towards us.
We sell paper. We offer the highest quality product at the best possible price. Lower than any of our competitors. Wanna buy some?
Compare that to a paper manufacturer leading with a Why.
What good is an idea if it can’t be shared? Our company was founded to help spread ideas. The more ideas that are shared, the greater the likelihood those ideas will have an impact in the world. There are many ways to share ideas; one is the written word. That’s where we come in. We make paper for those words. We make paper for big ideas. Wanna buy some?
The first “pitch” will always be subject to price and other commodity factors because there is nothing special about it; nothing that stirs the passions. The second pitch, however, has much more potential to draw people towards it thanks to the Start With Why process, especially if they grasp and share the vision of wanting to facilitate the sharing of ideas.
Certainly a far cry from the paper aisle at Officeworks, isn’t it?
Why the question of your Why is so important, and worth a kingdom
It’s easy in the pace and pressure of daily life to dismiss this question of your Why, but as Shakespeare capture so eloquently in his twisted portrait of Richard III, sometimes, the smallest, seemingly insignificant things, can turn the tide of fate.
Your Why is no exception.
In Richard III, the frenzied king is on the battlefield where he’d just lost his horse and exclaims, A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!
In the scheme of things, a horse was a mode of transport and not worth a kingdom but at that moment, lack of a horse is what stood between Richard III and any chance of fighting on and saving his realm and reign.
Likewise, a few hours devoted to reflecting on your Why is hardly significant enough to sink your company or movement or relationships and yet, it has potential to uncover and give description to an inner drive that makes all you do make sense.
It can be the difference between heading out to sea without or with a compass. Or like staying busy hoisting sails and responding to winds and waves vs grabbing the wheel and navigating challenges as trials to be endured on the way to a greater treasure.
If Shakespeare were writing about the Start With Why process he might have written, My Why, my Why, my business for a Why, because without one we just face a future of floundering in aimless dread that might bring in some “coin” at best, while draining us of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment.
and respond to the abstract elements of a Why (giving us a “gut feel” or “intuition” about things; positions that are hard to describe in words) is more hard-wired to our decision making, whereas our more modern part of the brain
Here’s my Why for Steve Davis and Talked About Marketing
As promised, I am sharing my Why here so that you can read it and then hold me accountable as you interact with me.
I thrive on helping people articulate and share the value their enterprise can bring to the world.
I do this through listening with empathy and curiosity, applying strategic thinking within the framework of human-centred design, and crafting creative concepts and content in line with Oscar Wilde’s famous quip, there’s only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s NOT being talked about.
Talked About Marketing’s services take the form of keynote presentations, workshops, one-on-one consulting, in-house facilitation and training, podcasting, writing, video production, and live performance.
That is my Why, as of November 2019, and I am likely to tweak it over the coming months.
To get to this point through the Start With Why process, I reflected on three questions:
- What gets me up in the morning?
- Why is what you’re doing so different from other operators?
- What impact do you want your company to have on the world?
If I had employees, I would have also asked, what gets them up in the morning.
The key for your Why to be useful is making sure it brings clarity and is not vague. From this starting point, other questions worth considering, as one of my respected clients noted, are Who and Where. In other words, Who is your target market and Where are they.
I believe starting by reflecting upon your Why, How, and What, will pay dividends and give you an edge through greater clarity when it comes to writing content, evaluating your progress, and choosing employees and partners.
The human brain is a great pattern matcher, and by having the fabric of your Why in place, it has an easier job of matching efforts and opportunities against your ideals.
The evolution of my Why in pictures
Finally, I can see evidence of the various strands being drawn into place as I look back through my camera roll.
The main image at the top of this article was my talk about being authentic in a fake world. Having been the person who developed the first social media marketing workshops for businesses in South Australia, and having been a participant in and observer of the way social media has dominated our means for communication, I started feeling uncomfortable with the amount of fakery in the world. Once you acknowledge this, it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle and I found I have had to go through a lot of questioning to get to the heart of what drives me in my work.
Certainly, being alongside the likes of Frank Seeley AM, and learning about his drive to keep improving what he produces, has been a big stepping stone along this journey. His vision is not about reaping profits but about constant improvement, spurred on from the early days in which he was badly let down by the company he was working for. Constant listening and curiosity has pushed Seeley International into the league of global business innovation.
Another step has been embarking on a stand up comedy adventure. Taught and inspired by Glynn Nicholas through Morry Morgan’s School Of Hard Knock Knocks (I am now the Adelaide facilitator), my presentation skills have been honed as I learned new frameworks for communication. This part of my journey resonated with me more deeply than I ever could have imagined.
Being asked to present on “there’s only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s NOT being talked about” for the Clare Valley Tourism Conference this year, gave me a reason to dig more deeply into what cognitive science has to say about communicating. Once again, this part of the journey felt like coming home, even though I still hadn’t formally worked through the Start With Why process at this time.
Finally, on the eve of discovering my Why, I found myself already living it. My Why is based on the understanding that I thrive on helping people articulate and share the value their enterprise can bring to the world. In this case, I was working with Wendy Perry and happily held our meeting while she was at her hairdressing appointment. It felt great to be able to be flexible enough to meet people where they are so I could fulfill my Why with them.
And I hope that by sharing these last few pictures illustrating parts of my journey, you will embark upon your own Start With Why process, and experience the joy of being able to put all the pieces together at last.
As Sinek says:
Another way to think of the WHY is as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. When you know what your piece looks like, it’s much easier to see where it fits or doesn’t fit. Decisions can be made more quickly and with greater certainty. And when others can see your piece, they can see whether it fits with theirs. If it does, that’s when the image starts to take shape.
In the summer break ahead, I urge you to consider undertaking the Start With Why process. It can be done in house by you and your team and there are always fellow travellers like me who can work beside you. After all, that’s now something I firmly recognise as my Why. Let me know how you go.