What’s Your Why?

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What gets your engine revved up in the morning? What propels you through the day full of enthusiasm even in the face of great obstacles? What keeps your wheels spinning, generating new ideas and creating new solutions? What drives you forward? What is your “why?”

In 2009, Simon Sinek wrote a book entitled, Start with Why. The book sold over one million copies and the associated TED talk was, at one point, the third most watched talk of all time. The reason is clear. The book lays out a simple, but powerful concept that has great utility.

Sinek observed that most individuals and organizations think of themselves in terms of what they do and can easily describe themselves in those terms. Some think a bit more deeply and can describe how they do what they do. But only a few exceptional people and organizations think about and define themselves in terms of why they do what they do.

This is a consequential idea. Rather than explaining your firm in terms of its features, benefits, or points of differentiation, this concept calls for self-reflection. It demands that we get in touch with the passion underlying our firm’s creation and identify what motivates us. We set our firms apart based on the fire within us, rather than the specifics of what we do or how we do it.

“That’s too hard,” you say. “There are so many firms that do what I do.” You still don’t get it. You’re thinking in terms of your firm’s “what” not its “why.” “OK, I see that now,” you say, “but how am I ever going to set myself apart based on some crazy intangibles that no one can see.”

Sometimes it’s easier to understand concepts like this by sharing examples. Sinek uses examples in his book that everyone knows – Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers. My examples are different.