The Power of Why

From about age 3 we start questioning everything. Our curiosity of the world is bursting at the seems and there isn’t enough answers out there to satisfy us (until we discover google). But what happens to that curiosity? As we get older we just start accepting things for what they are without question. In general we are easily manipulated consumers, whether that be by price or by popular trends our purchasing decisions are far from rational. I’m sure you are guilty of at least one of these purchases that you know was a ridiculous amount to spend on that item but you just felt you had to have it. Don’t feel bad, research has proven that our reason for decision making actually has a biological explanation. It has to do with how the brain is made up. The front part, or the neocortex, is responsible for rational thought and language. The middle part, or the limbic brain, is responsible for all our feelings including trust and loyalty however has no capacity for language.The truly great companies are the ones who can talk to that middle part of our brain, or as Simon Sinek describes in the Golden Circle, the why. They don’t sell us on features or benefits. That stuff has a place but it isn’t in marketing. The most powerful quote from any of Simon’s talks or books is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Read it again, it’s important. This might seem like some type of self help or cliche business leadership quote but it is fundamentals. Why does it seem that people who aren’t really motivated by money always rise to the top in their field? It’s because they are so passionate about that topic they would rather be working on their product than anything else in the world. This didn’t really sink in for me until I read one analogy in Simon’s book Start With Why, he told a story about a boy on a track and field team in high school who was disabled. He would always finish well behind everyone who entered the race, having exhausted himself to the point of passing out. The point of the story is every time he would run, by the time he was on his last lap everyone had already finished and they would come back out and finish the race with him. The thought of competitors supporting each other like that seems crazy until you realize the boy’s “why”. He’s racing for himself. Each race he know’s he won’t place, he’s out there to beat his personal best time. This solidifies that point that if you are competing against everyone else no one wants to help you but if you are competing against yourself everyone wants to. If your company or brand isn’t selling based on “why” then you probably have been forced to use manipulations to move product. Spending huge amounts on advertising, offering price discounts and promotions will make people buy. But those purchases are usually one-time impulse buys and by no means loyal customers. The same is true for hiring. When you manipulate people with bonuses and offers of higher salaries their “why” becomes skewed. They are no longer working to serve a higher purpose, they are there for the money. Another perfect example of this from Simon’s book is when Steve Jobs brought in John Sculley to be CEO and help run his business. Steve had the inspiration but he needed someone who could execute. The famed marketing whiz from Pepsi was bribed by a huge salary to move to Apple and help out. John didn’t believe what Steve believed, he didn’t understand Apple’s “why”, he simply made the move for the pay. A few short years later Scully actually fired Steve from the company, the man who had hired him as CEO! Steve realized his mistake in manipulation and after regaining the position of CEO in 1996 set a clear vision and redefined Apple’s why; to challenge the status quo and think differently, they do this by making their products easy to use, user friendly and with beautiful design. It seems simple but it has driven a cult like following for Apple products. This has again been shown with the Iphone 4s selling 4 million units in the first 3 days, that’s more than double it’s previous record of 1.7M for the Iphone 4.

How is this applicable:

Relating back to Simon’s golden circle; the center ring is why, the next outer ring is how, and finally there is a what on the outside. This is the strategy that effective companies use when getting their marketing messages across to the public. They start with Why they are doing it (what they believe), they go on to explain how they plan to do it and finally what product or service will get them there. Starting with why lets people build trust in you as a company or brand especially if that person’s beliefs align with yours. Think about when your meeting someone for the first time, if you find out that you both went to the same high school there is immediate rapport built. That person is more likely to actually listen to what you have to say instead of just nodding along. As great companies get bigger and their visionary leader continues to hold a strong sense of why there becomes no difference between his/her values and that of the company. This is how strongly they believe what they believe. Most of these leaders aren’t even concerned with the competition. Everyday they are focused on making their company better and more efficient than anyone else. So make sure you can define why your doing what your doing it builds brand advocates and you need those those for your company to reach scale. Finally don’t lose sight. Always keep the why in focus and people will start lining up for your products too.

My Own Why : This book has had a huge impact on me. My short term goals are being thrown out for a clearly defined destination. Maybe the reason the book resonated with me so much is because my beliefs do resonate so closely with Simon’s. My reason for doing things is I love hearing new ideas and new ways of thinking about things. I also love being a part of helping someone turn what inspires them into something real, whether that be a change in jobs or starting a business, anything. Knowing you were a part of making someone’s life fulfilled is an awesome feeling. I’m really excited because my why does align so closely with the project I’m working on I hope to change a lot of lives with the company. BTW the destination is: Leading people by being a servant to followers and helping to inspire people to pursue what inspires them.