Start With Why

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” -Simon Sinek

In his classic TED talk, Simon Sinek poses his thesis that why you do what you do is more powerful than what you do.

Sinek’s model of the Golden Circle illustrates a hierarchy of purpose. Starting from the center we have why, how and what.

When people ask us what we do, we usually reply with the “what” part of the Golden Circle.

Most brands work from the outside in – starting with what they do, elaborating on how they do it differently, and then sometimes tacking on a half-assed vision statement of why they do it.

Simon encourages turning the process around.

We start with why we do what we do – our reason for being, then elaborate on how we achieve that purpose in general terms, and finally clarifying what exactly it is that we do in practical terms.

Think Different

In the case of Apple, he gives this example:

  • Why: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently”
  • How: “The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly”
  • What: “We just happen to make great computers”

In this example, the computers are almost an afterthought (they aren’t but it gets the point across).

The reason Apple is so successful isn’t because their computers are the highest performance computers; it’s because they earned raving fans by leaning into their why and making Apple products about much more than computers. Buying an Apple computer is a symbol of thinking differently – it is a symbol of personal identity. That’s the power of branding and starting with why.

If you know why you do what you do, and are truly inspired and motivated by that why, then you will always find the courage and energy to continue even when times get tough (and they will).

If your audience knows why you do what you do, and they are in resonance with that why, then your products and content become second order. They are still important, but the thing that people are subscribing to is your why, your sacred cause.

The irony is that we don’t even need to know our how, as long as our why is compelling enough.

Martin Luther King said “I have a dream”, not “I have a plan”.

He didn’t neccessarily need a plan – that’s not what created the movement. What he did have was a powerful vision of what could be, and rallied millions of other Americans to get on board with that dream and demand that it become actualized.

It didn’t matter how it became real, all that mattered is that it did.

And indeed, that dream became real almost overnight.

We all need dreams that electrify us and stir us into powerful action.

We all need a sacred cause.

That’s what makes life worth living.