The Why: Part 1

(This post originally appeared on my other blog, Don’t Believe the Hyphen)

I am accustomed to being behind the curve. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to blog – to urge myself to catch up and try out some thoughts in the process.

It’s one big learning curve. Ouch!

This week I discovered someone I am behind the curve on. It’s a guy who talks about circles.

The Golden Circle, no less.

I was in a meeting – not at work but for a voluntary role I have, helping organise a local event. I was talking to the manager of a local pub/restaurant, broadly on the topic of marketing.

“Have you heard of Simon Sinek?” he asked me.

“No,” I said.

“He’s this guy who says successful organisations like Apple start with why they do something, not what they do. He’s on TED Talks. Check him out.”

OK, I thought. I’ll look him up. So I did.

Sinek’s 2009 TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ has had 18.8 million views. It’s the third most popular TED talk ever. Sinek’s book Start with the Why is also pretty high up on management ‘thought leadership’ reading lists.

I’m behind the curve on Simon Sinek. I’m also behind the curve on TED. I’ve meant to get ‘into it’ for ages. My wife is a teacher and has banged on about Sir Ken Robinson‘s education talks for years.

I’ve got some catching up to do. Starting with Simon Sinek.

Now I’ve read Sinek’s Wikipedia entry and his TED biog and I’m still not entirely clear on what he does.

He’s been ‘in business’. He’s a trained ethnographer. He lectures on post-grad strategic communications at Columbia University.  He’s got a clipped hybrid accent (a nomadic upbringing) and exudes a magnetic hyper-confidence bordering on Tom Cruise in Magnolia, only without the rabid misogyny.

He might be what you call a motivational speaker.

But what he says is pretty relevant for marketing and communications professionals. It’s about communications, essentially.

To Sinek’s idea, then: the Goldern Circle.

Like me, you’re probably weary and cynical of golden shapes and objects. Threads, for example. And you may also be quick to note that his circle is actually three concentric circles, likes the Royal Air Force/mod bullseye emblem. It looks like this:

Most companies – most people – Sinek argues, work outside-in. They start with the ‘What’. The product they produce; the service they provide.

But as Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

He gives some examples: Apple, Dr Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers.

These are the people and organisations that start with the Why. Central to their success is that they communicate – are driven by – a purpose, a reason, a belief. Others relate to and are inspired by that purpose; that ‘why’. Success then follows.

And all this, so says Sinek, is grounded in human biology. I won’t get into the How. Watch it yourself – it’s only 18 minutes long.

For Apple, their Why is thinking differently and challenging the status quo in everything they do.

For MLK, he told people ‘I believe’. People who believed what he believed were inspired to act. As Sinek says, “He gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech.”

The relevance to communications is pretty straightforward. It sounds to me like your corporate vision, mission statement and narrative from which your key messages and campaigns stem. Isn’t this your ‘Why’?

Then again, if I look to my own experience, those messages are very often shaped around ‘what’ we do and ‘where’ we want to be. Wouldn’t it be better to start with why? The ‘reason you get out of bed in the morning’?

This got me to thinking about local government. When we do our corporate plan, do we start with the Why? And if not, why not?

What is our Why?

This is a question I plan to return to – when I’ve figured out the answers.


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