“Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action”, is a book written by Simon Sinek, who is one of my favourite non-fiction authors ever. Simon Sinek gave one of the most popular TED Talks ever How great leaders Inspire action that gathered seventeen million views. The TED Talk gives you a good tast what the book is about. He develops an activity as consultant for companies like Microsoft and 3M and collaborates with media like The New York Times and FastCompany.
The book of Simon Sinek revolves around three questions from a business point of view:
Throughout the book the author argues that “Why” should be central to what companies do. The “How” and “What” should then derive from do “Why”. The intention is that organizations should inspire workers and customers to act.
Simon Sinek points out that it is easy to describe the “What”. All organizations know what they do. People in an organization can easily know what products and services the organization provides. Moreover, they can also identify what are their functions in the same organization.
To know the “How” isn´t so common either for organizations or for people. Simon Sinek notes that the “How” is often given as one of the following goals: to explain how something is different and/or better.
The “Why” of what they do is more difficult to explain clearly – the number of people and organizations that can do it are actually scarce. If a company doesn´t know “Why” customers are clients, it is likely that employees aren´t aware as well of why they´re members of the staff. Simon Sinek stresses that to have profit is a result and not a “Why”.
What defines “Why” is a purpose, cause and/or belief. “Why we do what we do?” asks the author? Besides aiming to make money, why does my company exists? Why do we got up from bed to go to work on that company?
Personally, I agree that making money is a poor reason to start a business. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to make money. But when we are solely motivated by money, we tend to feel miserable: we are constantly anxious about the results of what we do.
In some way, the “why” must be connected to the world around us. That “why” should also be willing to change or add to that world. One of the examples given by Simon Sinek is Apple. According to him Apple´s “why” is quite clear: to challenge the status quo and think differently. The “how” is to do products that are easy to use and with a beautiful design. The fact that Apple does computers (the “what”) is just a manifestation of its “why”.
Apple is a company that highlights its “why” in all communication to the market makes it easier for customers to accept that it has began to produce other products and services such as mobile phones. Conversely, if the communication to the market focused on what they used to do so far (computers) it would have been difficult for the costumers to accept the introduction of different types of products and services.
In a way the book by Simon Sinek is about how organizations find their vocation by having a clear purpose that guides all their actions in general and communication in particular. To ask “why” is a useful strategy to search for the calling inside each of us
When we think of a vocation we usually focus our attention only on two questions, the “how” and the “what”. For example, suppose you are a surgeon. For the surgeon, to make a surgery is the “how” and the the resolution of various diseases and accidents is the “What”. Most of us ignore the question of Why. To ignore the “why” prevents us from finding our true vocation or if we want to be more mystical, our dharma.
Companies (and also individuals) with a strong “Why” have both advantages and disadvantages. 🙂 One advantage is that a “why” increases the meaning of the lives of staff and customers who share the same “Why”. In a way, a clear “Why” makes it easier for companies (and individuals) to find support from entities who share the same purpose. As it is the case of Apple, companies with a clear “Why” are more flexible in what they do. Even If they venture into new products or services quite different from what they normally do, costumers accept these more easily if they support the “Why” of the companies.Diagram on Why How What
Of course, a clear “Why” both attracts and deviates the ones who are against that “Why”. In the business world there is a small price to pay if you have a clear “Why”. But it is preferable to gain some loyal costumers even if some people are deviated by your clear statement of purpose.
A strong and clear “Why” simplifies the decisions of companies and individuals. If an individual or company want to get all the benefits of a “Why” he must be consistent with it. Without consistency it isn´t possible to get all the benefits of following a “Why” as actions contrary to our “Why” lead us to being abandoned by people we associate with. According to Simon Sinek, companies with different “Whys” make different choices in similar situations. What they do must be consistent with our “why”.
Simon Sinek suggests applying what he calls the “Celery test”, which will help you to know if the “What” and “How” are suited to the “Why”. Suppose you ask your friends what is the best option to buy in a supermarket in terms of snacks and the like. One says that M & M are at a good price. Another suggested rice milk. Still another tells you Oreo cookies. Finally, another advises celery because it is good for health.
Without a clear “Why” companies and individual will probably spend more resources (time and money) in the process of “buying”, which will make you spend both more money and time. Moreover, it will be more difficult for you and the people around you to realise what is it you believe in. But if you have a clear “Why” that indicates that you care about your health, then you will take decisions that are more favorable to your health which will simplify the decision process. Following up upon the example given, the Oreo cookies and M & M will automatically be excluded: they go against your “Why”. The only viable options will then be: rice milk and celery. You can buy both or only one, which serves as tangible proof of your “Why” to yourself and others around you.
One consequence of this is to that it makes you look at the long term benefits. In the case in question, even though it could be more delightful for you to eat Oreo cookies and M & Ms instead of celery or rice milk, having a clear “Why” will make you focus on the benefits hapenning in the future. The choices we make have always some associated costs. All our choices have at least an opportunity cost. If we make a choice, we can´t use the same resources to do something else.
The great question is if the exchange between what we get exceeds the cost of an option.
I agree with Simon Sinek when he says that companies should align their actions with a clear “Why”. “Why” makes you ask to yourself the clear question of waht isyour purpose, and what is your contribution to the world. To have a clear “why” means you are fulfilling your “dharma”.
Ivo Dias de Sousa is a Portuguese writer born in Mozambique. Ivo is also a Professor at Universidade Aberta, Portugal, giving courses on information management. Currently, Ivo is interested in using his experience on information management to construct applications (see http://windit-app.com/ ) for smartphones, in collaboration with others. Ivo holds a Master in Statistics and Information Management (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) and a Ph.D. in Information Management (Universidade Aberta). Amongst his main interests are information management, psychology of luck and literature.