Simon Sinek draws three circles, the innermost is why, followed by how, and what. The why is tied to the oldest parts of our brain, the part that deals with emotion. The how and what are tied to the parts of our brain that deal with language. The why deals with our gut intuitions and our feelings – things that we can’t verbalize because they are generated by the part of our brain that doesn’t deal with verbal logic.
People typically communicate using their logical reasoning faculties. The how and whats. Simon gives the example that Dell communicates that they are a computer company and build computers. Simon asserts that it’s much more effective to communicate with your why first, because your why touches the emotional centers of the brain and will produce an emotional reaction and it’s that emotional reaction that truly builds loyalty and success in the long term.
He gives the example of Apple. Apple’s why is to fight the status quo. They set out to make computers because they saw computers as a way for the common man to fight the power of the corporations and a computer would give a person the ability to do things that previously required massive amount of capital and the support of a big organization to accomplish. From that why they are able to constantly develop technologies that fight the status quo and that’s why they’ve been able to be successful across a variety of industries. If they didn’t start with why they might have been stuck as a “computer company” like Dell and so many of the other players who make computers.
Simon asserts that leaders need to start with a clear why and constantly communicate it. That starting with a clear why will attract and retain people who are passionate and that will be the core of what drives great success in business. You don’t need people that want to build computers. You need people that want to fight the status quo. You’ll get much better results from hiring the latter as opposed to the former even if how you’re fighting the status quo is by building and selling computers.
He gives examples of companies who started with a clear why and had great success but then a “split” occurred, where they lost that sense of why and instead focused on the what, and that’s when the company started its decline. Wal-Mart started as a place that Sam Walton envisioned to help better the community, and he wanted a shop that really treated its employees and customers well and how he did that was by creating a chain of discount retailers. The split happened when Sam died and the company started focusing all of its efforts on the how and the what – selling cheap goods, so they drove down costs wherever they could at the expense of employees and thus started the spiral of huge lawsuits and overall poor public perception. He points out that Costco operates on the same business model as Sams club yet Costco has much higher benefits, treats employees better, and has better profit overall.
- Communicate your why, be very clear on your why.
- Your how and what should reflect your why. Build your how and what based on your why.
- Focus on the why and everything else will take care of itself.
- Be careful not to lose your why. Don’t get stuck on the how or what once your company has grown.
- You need to be very clear on communicating your why as your company grows. Small companies it’s easy to see the why embodied in the leader but as the company grows that why often grows fuzzy.
- The why is what will inspire you day after day. Focus too much on the how and what and you’ll find any project will turn into drudgery.
9/10 book. Worth the read. It has fundamentally changed how I will approach branding and communications in all of my business and life endeavors.