I first saw Simon Sinek in his TEDTalk How Great Leaders Inspire Action and was so impressed that I got his book – Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action  and now I am hooked.  I find his work inspiring.  In both his Ted Talk and his book, he describes the core of how great leaders inspire people to action.  He calls it the golden circle.

Golden Circle.jpg

Simon says every company knows what they do, most know how they do it, but few know why they do it.  And making a profit is not why it is a result.  Why is the purpose, the cause, the belief of the organization, the reason to get out of bed every morning.

All great and inspiring leaders think, act and communicate the same way.  They start from the inside of the circle:  they start with why.  If Apple were like everyone else, its marketing pitch would be something like this:

  • [what] we make great computers
  • [how] they are beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly
  • want to buy one?

Instead, Apple approaches things from the inside out.

  • [why] Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo.  We believe in thinking differently
  • [how] The way we do it is to make our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly
  • [what] we happen to make great computers
  • want to buy one?

Simon argues that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  It explains why we are comfortable buying a computer, a mp3 player, a phone or a DVR from Apple [a computer company].  He contrasts this with failures of other computer companies to be able to sell these products.  Gateway produced flat screen televisions that few people bought and that Dell produced mp3 players and PDAs that few people bought.  He even goes so far as to apply his golden circle to dating — compare your response to someone who says “I am wildly successful” to someone who says “Every day, I get to do what I love” — from whom do you want to hear more?

Simon tells the story of two stonemasons.  One stonemason says

  • [what] I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous.  I work in the scorching hot sun all day.  The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking.  I’m not even sure this job will be completed in my lifetime.  But it’s job.  It pay the bills.

The second stonemason says

  • [why] I love my job.  I’m building a cathedral.
  • [what] I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous.  I work in the scorching hot sun all day.  The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking.  I’m not even sure this job will be completed in my lifetime.  But I’m building a cathedral.

Both stonemasons are doing the same job [what] but one has a purpose [why] and that makes all the difference.

In his book, Simon relates stories about Southwest and Continental airlines, TIVO, Walmart, Ford Disney,Microsoft and Orville and Wilbur Wright.  The stories about these companies demonstrate the power of WHY and how it inspires people.

There are four more points Simon makes that stick with me.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. gave the “I have a Dream” speech and not the “I have a Plan” speech.  This clearly sums up the people aren’t inspired by what you do, they are inspired by why.  Simon mentions this in both the TEDTalk and his book.
  • Henry Ford said “If I asked people what they wanted, the would have said a faster horse.”   This encapsulates people’s focus on what and not why.
  • The celery test.  Simon describes the celery much better in is book (starting on page 165) than I can summarize here, but the celery test basically says that when you go to the grocery store, and you got to the checkout counter with celery, carrots and rice milk, anyone can tell your why.  In contrast, if you arrive at the checkout line with celery, Oreos, rice milk and M&Ms, no one knows what you believe.  The celery test helps you how and what you do to make it more consistent with your why.
  • In 1415, King Henry V of England defeated a much larger force at Agincourt because the English had the long bow.  The long bow makes an arrow a deadly weapon by pulling the arrow back before it is released.  By pulling back, the arrow gains it power.  Similarly, finding out your why comes from looking back and discovering what inspired you to do what you did.

I thoroughly enjoyed Simon’s TEDTalk and if you have 18 minutes, by all means you should watch it.  But I strongly recommend his book which goes into greater depth and provides more examples.