Unless you are the parent of a young child who has asked the question a million times, the one question we should be able to answer is “Why?” More specifically, “Why does our organization exist?”
I have been thinking about mission and vision and the future quite a bit recently. Because the external environment is so unstable, most of us are doing what we need to do to stay viable. We try to search for growth opportunities. We think about the products and services we offer, we might think about what our customer value proposition is, but we rarely think about “why” we exist.
Luckily I stumbled across Simon Sinek who appears to have made a living out of helping organizations answer this “why” question. What really got my attention was his 18 minute talk on Ted TV in which he teaches us about the power of knowing why our organization exists. He postulates that when we know the answer we will attract more customers and employees.
The Golden Circle. Sinek, who was first in the advertising business, uses several examples to teach us about what he calls the Golden Circle. He says it is the rare business that starts with the inside “why” question and moves outward to the “what” question.
The inner-most circle challenges us to answer “why” we exist or what we believe questions. The “how” circle is where the organization determines how they add value for their customer. The outer-most circle is where the business determines “what” product or service they will sell to customers.
He says most businesses start with the outside circle and move in - first make a product or design a service, then think about what the value proposition or differentiation strategy is. Then try to find a customer to buy it. Rarely, do they even talk about why they exist.
Sinek says that when you start with and understand what you believe in, it shows-up in your products or services. It resonates with your customers and potential employees. It provides you the foundation you need. Let’s look at Apple, which Sinek uses as a great example of a company that does this.
I have created an Exhibit here of Sinek’s Golden Circle with his Apple Computer example. He believes Apple and their late CEO, Steve Jobs, always began with the inner “why” circle and moved outward.
If you ask Sinek why Apple exists he says, “They believe in challenging the status quo and doing things differently.”
“How” Apple does this is by making products that are beautifully designed, unique, and easy for the customer to use.
After attending to these inner-most circles they present their products to customers. When we think about what Sinek says you can see how the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad flowed from an understanding of the inner-most circle.
Steve Jobs himself was someone who rejected the status quo and energized the growth and development of the “How” and “What” Apple did.
Wright Brothers vs. Samuel Pierpont Langley. Although I have read accounts of how both the Wright Brothers and Samuel Langley tried to build the first airplane, until listening to Sinek I hadn’t thought of the “why” question before. Langley, who was the head of the Smithsonian Institute, was leading a team of people trying to invent a flying aircraft. He had plenty of money and resources at his disposal. “Why” was he leading the project? For the fame and fortune that would surely follow. The Wright Brothers only had the money and parts from their Ohio bicycle shop. “Why” did they do it? Because they wanted to fly and do it as a team.
As soon as the success of the Wright Brothers flight got back to Langley, he quit the project. Clear to see he mostly believed in himself.
Sinek reminds us, “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”
What do you believe? The answer will lead you to the “why.”