Start with Why

I came across this video on TED through the TED App on my tablet. The title of the video is “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. The speaker is Mr Simon Sinek whose website is called “Start With Why“. Here is the video for those that are interested. Personally I thought it was a good 18 minutes of time invested in learning something new.

The concept
Mr Sinek repeatedly mentions this phrase, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. It had become sort of like a mantra to follow. The crux of this entire presentation is the concept called the Golden Circle. Imagine three concentric circles, one inside another. The outer circle is the “What”. The middle circle is the “How”. The inner circle is the “Why”.

The speaker talks about how people generally sell their concept from the outside in. First they talk about the what (usually the end point, for example, great computers), then they talk about how they did it, and finally why they did it. Successful companies and people, as the speaker claims, do it from the inside out. They start off by telling people why they did it, followed by how, and then what. Personally I thought this made much sense.

I believe that to get people’s attention in this current media-rich world we live in today (Facebook, Smart Phones, connectivity), it is imperative that people even decide that they would want to spend time listening to what you have to say. Which is why the “why” is extremely important. It is not interesting to talk about the end product. Once you have captured the why, everything else would fall in place.

Application of the concept
This concept can be applied in many areas. If you are a leader in a company dealing with sales, then it can be applied to your sales pitch to potential clients. Even if you do not belong to a private company, but within the civil service, it could also be applied. For example, within the recruitment centres, we can talk about the why. Why is it that the defense of the nation is so critical and sacred. I would have thought that this inside out approach might allow us to recruit people who are more in-line with our own values system. Mr Sinek mentioned about how the competitor to the Wright brothers failed because he was interested in the what (riches and fame), rather than the why (changing the world and how we live it). A military career is similar because it will not be able to make you rich, and at times the why is the critical factor that determines whether you stay or leave.

I shall give another example in my domain of work. Senior Military Experts have to undergo courses to get us qualified to become Air Force Engineers. The entire stint of training is extremely important in my opinion. Hence at the start of the entire course, perhaps the instructors could have set things straight and talk about “why we are here for training”. The why would be something like to develop leaders who inspire and bring progress towards the organisation. Subsequently, the instructors could process to the how. “How we are going to develop leaders is through a comprehensive framework which equips you with the knowledge of how engineering processes are governed in the Air Force, and to create all rounded individuals, we will be developing your planning and executing skills by allowing cadets to plan for major events under our guidance. In addition, through having a weekly presentation concept where we encourage cadets to share about the things they have learnt, we will foster a community of learners who will bring in new concepts and fresh ideas to the organisation.” Lastly, the what would come in. “What we are going to do in these 6 months is to (state the aims etc).”

In the example above, people listening to the talk would have a clear sense of their purpose in undergoing training. They would also know how the training would be conducted and what they are expected to become. Of course, it is vital to have all instructors in-line with this entire system, else the things that individual instructors do might betray the central core of what everyone believed in, and cause the students to lose trust in the organisation.

Perhaps for students who are awaiting graduation, this inside out method could be used to secure a job during a job interview. I have not tried it personally, since I subscribed to a previous model for my job interviews, and it had worked well for me. However for certain set of questions, like “Why join the Air Force”, perhaps this inside-out Golden Circle method might actually create a more convincing argument of why you should be hired. No matter at which stage in life you are in, this “Start from why” mantra will lead you into developing the professionals within your company or team. Always remember, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

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