Saturday July 7, 2012
Inspire by asking ‘why’
Review by Choo Li-Hsian
Businesses should base every action, innovation and invention on clear reasons
Title: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Author: Simon Sinek
Publisher: Portfolio Trade
Why?” a favourite incessant quip of the very young, a challenge posed by teachers to their students to provoke thought, the basis for a transformation, but most of all, an important beginning to any invention or innovation.
Why do you do what you do? Why are some people and organisations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success?
The Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs have little in common, but they all started with “why”.
The Wright Brothers succeeded at a time where a better-equipped, better-funded and better-educated team led by Samuel Pierpont (a highly regarded senior officer at the Smithsonian Institution and mathematics professor who also worked at Harvard and had powerful friends) could not. They had no funding nor high level connections, and not a single person on their team had even a college education. However, on December 17, 1903, a small group witnessed a man take flight for the first time in history.
Martin Luther King was not perfect and had his complexities. His experiences were not unique in a pre-civil rights America. He knew that if there was to be real, lasting change, it would take more than him and his closest allies. It would involve more than rousing words and eloquent speeches. It would take people, tens of thousands of average citizens united by a single vision, to change the country. Martin Luther King started with why and through his immortal words “I have a dream” was able to inspire a country to change not just for the good of a minority, but for the good of everyone.
Steve Jobs and his partner, Steve Wozniak as young revolutionaries aimed to challenge the way people perceived how the world worked. However, they did not take up arms against a perceived authoritarian regime. Their battlefield was business and their weapon of choice was the personal computer. The personal computer revolution was beginning to brew when Wozniak built Apple I. The technology was primarily seen as a tool for business and so, was too complicated and out of the price range of the average individual.
However, Wozniak who was not motivated by money envisioned a nobler purpose for technology. He saw the personal computer as a way for the little man to take on the corporation. It could level the playing field and change the way the world operated. Jobs and Wozniak were not the only people taking part in the personal computer revolution. They were not the only smart guys in the business, in fact they knew very little about the business.
What made Apple special was not their ability to build such a fast-growth company but their ability to repeat the pattern over and over again. Unlike any of their competitors, Apple has successfully challenged conventional thinking within the computer industry, the small electronics industry, the music industry, the mobile phone industry and the broader entertainment industry.
The Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs had the natural affinity to start with why. This enabled them to inspire those around them and to achieve remarkable things.
In dissecting the thought philosophy of the world's most impactful leaders, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the same way in a way that is the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek has presented his ideas about the power of why to many people from members of Congress to foreign ambassadors, from small businesses to corporations like Microsoft and American Express, from Hollywood to the Pentagon.
Quoted frequently by national publications, he is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and BrandWeek. In his maiden book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Sinek calls his powerful idea “The Golden Circle” and it provides a framework upon which organisations can be built, movements can be lead, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with why.
Any organisation can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. “Why” is not money or profit those are the results. Many companies lead from the outside in with “what” and “how”. What they really need to do is communicate from the inside out offering “why” as a reason to buy and using the “what” as tangible proofs to support that belief. For example, in practical terms, Apple, Dell, HP, and Toshiba are all corporate structures they all make computers, all have some systems that work and some that don't, and all have equal access to the same talent. Why, then does Apple have a disproportionate level of success and such a cultish following?
A marketing message from Apple, if they were like everyone else, might sound like this: “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?”
However, if you rephrase the message in the order that Apple actually communicates to us i.e. starting with why, it is a completely different message: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
The message is different from the first one. We are more eager to buy a computer from Apple after reading the second version where the information was just reversed. There is no trickery, no manipulation, no free stuff, no aspirational messages and no use of celebrities.
Of course, the quality of their products do matter; but it is the clear correlation of what they do and why they do it that makes Apple stand out in its authenticity. They understand that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you don't get your “why” right, you are just another company that sells commoditised products.
The power of “why” is not just opinion, it is also biology and is deeply grounded in the evolution of human behaviour. We have a natural desire to belong and to be around people and organisations that are like us and share our beliefs.
He tells us that the newest area of the brain, our Homo sapien brain is the neocortex, which corresponds with communication on the “what” level it is responsible for rational and analytical thought and language. Whereas the middle two sections consist of the limbic brain that is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all our decision-making, but has no capacity for language. This is where “gut decisions” come from. This is why when a decision feels right; we have a hard time explaining why we did what we did.
Asking people why they chose something over another only provides evidence of how they have rationalised the decision, but it never sheds much light on their true motivations.
Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and even in politics. Sinek states that if we work hard to start everything we do with “why”, we can and will change the world. The book will not provide you with a course of action but hopefully with a good cause of action.
Sinek is also a TEDTalks sensation. Do watch him in action for further inspiration at www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html