Starting with why
Having a clear, precise vision that you can articulate both internally and externally can serve as a powerful tool for inspiring and motivating others as Sinek explains using the examples of Martin Luther King Jr, the Wright Brothers, and Apple.
Oftentimes, people and organizations spend too much time on ‘what’ and little time understanding ‘why’. As such, vision is little more than a generic statement on a web site: it lacks meaning and is disconnected from everyday life.
Investing time to determine the right ‘why’ and then explicitly articulating it (i.e., talking big) can have very practical benefits for your company in terms of credibility, trust, and value.
Similarly, individuals can also benefit by better understanding their sources of motivation.
Let’s say there are three stone artisans who answer as follows when asked what they do for a living:
Artisan 1: I polish stones
Artisan 2: I build walls
Artisan 3: I build cathedrals
Who do you find more credible?
Whose advice would you trust more?
Which one do you perceive as delivering more value and would you be willing to pay higher prices for their goods and services?
The professional why
Several years ago, I was interviewing with the CEO and COO of a hot start-up. I was thrown off when the COO asked me why I was there. I took his question literally to mean why I wanted the job proceeding to explain the ‘what’ of my experience, and how it aligned with the requirements of position.
I did not get an offer.
Perhaps if I had thought more deeply about the question, a better response would have been to articulate my personal ‘why’ and then to provide examples of ‘how’ and ‘what’ as reinforcement.
Subsequently, I have spent time thinking about my professional ‘why’. What are my passions? Where do I excel? What gets me out of bed in the morning?
My professional ‘why’ is:
- Simplifying the complex
- Addressing bottlenecks and increasing throughput
- Making the hard to understand more easily understood
This has helped me understand why I have been willing to ‘go down with the ship’ in some professional situations, even when it was apparent that all was lost: my professional ‘why’ was strongly aligned to that of the company.
In other situations, I have left positions or turned down what many view as ‘hot’ career opportunities, because I did not sense strong alignment with the company and its vision.
Investing in why
Given how much time and effort we invest in our professional lives, it is important for us to understand our professional ‘why’. This will enable us to make better decisions relative to our careers and to evaluate potential job opportunities that come our way (especially important given the current market).
If a company is unable to effectively articulate its ‘why’, this should be cause for concern both for you personally as well as for the company in terms of its ability to differentiate from competitors, motivate employees, recruit partners, acquire customers, and expand beyond its initial offerings.
Start with why, think big, and then talk about it.