Three years ago, I stumbled on Simon Sinek's TED Talk, which has more than 23 million page views to date. That video and Sinek's book Start With Why have had more of an impact on my career than my two degrees and 15 years as an entrepreneur combined.
Through my recent interview with Simon Sinek--a surreal moment for me--I experienced a legend. Sinek offers a lucid and compelling view on leadership and its relations to human behavior and social interaction. The ramifications of his theories on business are wide and varied, but the real power comes from the simplicity of his principles.
The foundation of Sinek's work is his examination of the why, an exploration of who we are and what inspires or compels us to act. His early experience in advertising and his innate curiosity about the divide between successful and unsuccessful marketing campaigns led him to develop his own theory. This theory, which was developed out of his own struggle to comprehend his greater purpose, led him to the answer.
“I lost my passion for what I was doing,” he told me. “The reason I was in my malaise was because I knew what I did and how I did it, but I didn’t know why.” Human psychology is complex, and we are driven by competing, even contradictory, impulses of fear, desire, ambition, envy, and the need to connect. Why posits a clearing of the decks, a stripping down that sharpens our focus and helps us achieve a greater self-realization. “It was a tool that explained me,” he says.
This personal awakening acts as a beacon. Like-minded individuals realize how they are connected with other subscribers to the philosophy, and they instinctively share their own source codes--revealing the inner reflections of their specific journeys. I bonded with my partner, Hank Ostholthoff, immediately after activating the "why beacon.”
Sinek argues that our why is intuitively formed at an early age, as early as 17 or 18 and possibly earlier. The rest of our life and career is either spent being inspired by our choices or frustrated by our inability to achieve our purpose. “My why is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them, so that together, we can change our world,” he says.
One natural question that arises is how do we assess success or quantify a return on investment? Likening it to exercise, Sinek says we must endure the pain and short-term stress and even embrace the unknowable. The key is consistency and the willingness to sustain effort. Change is incremental, but it is tangible, and it carries significant dividends. “People start to notice a difference in you, and you start to notice a difference in yourself,” he says. “As the momentum builds, it gets bigger and bigger. My own career is a case study for what I believe in.”
At our agency, we do not begin a single engagement without examining our client's why. Our entire methodology privileges and places this essential question at the center, where it belongs, and identifies the fundamental purpose of why our clients are in business.
As this practice proliferated throughout our culture, we soon found our tribe members posing questions about their personal why. It is now our practice for every new tribe member to read Sinek's book and share their why with the rest of the team.
What if every future entrepreneur started his or her journey by asking the why? While preparing a curriculum for a class at Illinois Institute of Technology, I was encouraged to explore Sinek's principles in the classroom. The results clearly showed that by asking the question, students became more focused on their vision and were better organized to pursue their dream.
“A following takes why. Transactions take what,” Sinek says. The whole point of why is that it holds meaning and value outside of yourself. That is not the same as self-involvement or selfishness. The larger value is derived from sharing. Those who seek only personal gain are takers.
“A why has to be for others,” Sinek says. “It’s something you give to the world.” The writing of a book, for instance, must be motivated by a desire to share what you have to say, not in search of fame or fortune. “You have to write a book because you believe it has helped you, because you believe it has helped others personally, and you are dying to share with others because you know it will add value to their lives,” he says.
The beauty is that learning never stops. Trial and error...it all fuses together. “I don’t consider myself an expert in the why,” Sinek says. “I consider myself a student of leadership and a student of the why. Somebody asked me if it will work in big business. I said, ‘I don’t know. Let’s try.’ I kept applying the scientific theory and concepts and looking for the opportunity for the theory to fail, and it kept working.”
I ended the conversation thrilled and elated by its connection to my own life, work, and interactions with clients. I came away more convinced than ever of its value and real-time business applications. "Inspire disruption" is my personal why, and it lights the way for the decisions I make daily. It all connects.
So, I ask you, what's your why?