Why Your Why Doesn’t Matter
On April 18th, Fox Business personality Amilya Antonetti will lead several hundred entrepreneurs on a walk to show solidarity for entrepreneurship and raise money for various entrepreneurial charities as part of New York Entrepreneur Week.
The first question that came to mind when I heard this was: Why?
Solidarity for entrepreneurs? Did I miss something? Are we an oppressed class now? I know that many want to classify entrepreneurs as the challenged job creators even though most don't create jobs for very long or very many, but why does this walk really matter?
And so it raises the question that has been on the tip of entrepreneurial tongues especially since Simon Sinek started spreading his Start with Why gospel a few years ago. Sinek's premise is that success in a company or movement is dependent upon the alignment of people behind a common and inspirational Why. I will take it at face value that Sinek's own Why may be as simple as a 6-figure book advance. But neither cynical nor Sinekal, I have been exploring and pondering objectively whether or not you really have to do as Simon says to be a successful entrepreneur.
Here are some contemplative points of view on the subject of Why.
Many experts agree that a company needs a clear mission. A cornerstone of Verne Harnish's one-page plan in his Rockefeller habits book ties a clear purpose to a Jim Collins inspired, Big Hairy Audacious Goal or BHAG. The theory goes that the combination of purpose and BHAG drives the decision making process as it gives employees a purpose filter when making decisions. My favorite example of this is the Inc. 500 company TCG. As a technology contractor to the federal government, TCG's stated purpose is to save the taxpayers money. Their BHAG is to save taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years. (I guess there are no Vegas junkets in their plan.)
As corporations grow, this mission is supposed to continue as the driving force. But can that purpose hold up when they become a behemoth? Collins provides the example of Disney's core purpose in Built to Last. Disney's driving Why is "To Make People Happy." I question if this is truly the driving force for this company today. It's highly likely the bulk of Disney boardroom decisions are primarily driven by making the stockholders happy. And if the happiness Why were still a primary concern, wouldn't Disney-owned ESPN only announce the winners of sports contests, since the fans of the losers are generally left in pain with each report?
I submit that for most entrepreneurs, having everyone subscribe to their personal Why is not critical for success. Many entrepreneurs are what I would term Benevolent Narcissists in that they are really all about themselves and their own achievements, but they love to bring people along for the ride. I'll cop to this myself. On the launch of my last book ROAR! I rallied followers on a quest for the New York Times Best Seller list (or as I like to call it, the Jewish Super Bowl Ring) by tattooing New York Times Best Seller on my chest backwards so I could see it in the mirror every morning. The goal was for me. The entertainment and inspiration was the benefit for thousands of followers. My own selfish purpose was and is to inspire people to pursue the Awesome Experience. While this may sound lofty, this is certainly not an altruistic approach. I simply want to eliminate mediocrity so I don't have to endure it. So if I can get people around me to step up their game, many others will benefit in the same manner.
There are many entrepreneurs equally as motivated and committed as I behind a powerful Why that just simply doesn't matter. Every year thousands of passionate and dedicated entrepreneurs crash and burn not because their Why wasn't powerful, or noble, or even pervasive in their company cultures. No. Most of these entrepreneurs fail spectacularly because they didn't pay attention to the one constituency whose Why really matters: the paying customer.
Many entrepreneurs achieve success because their Why is simply to be successful in business. We all like to hear the stories about social entrepreneurs putting their cause before profits or wealth, and yes these are valiant efforts to be admired. Yet ultimately most businesses that succeed, objectively focus on the only Why that really drives business which is: Why should the customers give you their money?
In reality, it seems that the real question leading to success, is not Why? but rather, Why bother?
This becomes a much more personal question when asked. For your employees, the answer may be a paycheck or personal satisfaction. For your investors, it may be to get their money back, or get personal satisfaction for helping something grow, or to suffice their adrenaline need. For your customers, it's simply to fulfill their need, or their want. It doesn't have to be about your Why and most likely won't be. Ultimately none of these individual Whys matter if the actions are aligned to achieve everyone's objectives.
So it turns out that it's okay for there to be many Whys. And they don't have to be aligned to bring success. Gary Whitehill who founded New York Entrepreneur Week has his Why list for this walk, including helping New York, and spreading his message of entrepreneurship while building his credibility. Antonetti wants to make a statement, help entrepreneurs, and promote her celebrity image as her star rises. You might join the walk because you want to show pride for being entrepreneurial, or you want to network for a job, or because you want to meet Antonetti, or maybe you just need some exercise. It doesn't matter. It will probably be fun. And Whitehill and Antonetti really don't care exactly Why you show up and walk with these other entrepreneurs, as long as you do, and maybe you should.