Sinek's "WHY" explained

Simon Sinek

writer icon Samuel Christiansen     Simon Sinek   |   Business     🕐 16. Nov. 2018

Since his TED talk in 2009, Simon Sinek has been throwing down the gauntlet to managers, leaders and executives. Sinek challenges each and every one of them to discover the core of why their company does what it does.

The challenge extends to discovering why the employees believe in the company, and why the customers trust the company. Sinek believes that understanding this motivation will help leaders to excel, by in turn helping their employees excel.

There is value in belief
Sinek aptly explained - “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.”

There are as many different types of leader as there are people. Some get results through directing or steering their reports. Others are less forceful, but they also offer less development or feedback. Sinek theorises that the most successful leaders are those who can genuinely inspire people.

He has studied their patterns of leadership, looking closely at how they communicate, as well as how they act. Sinek discovered that, whether they are aware of it or not, inspiring leaders all follow the same pattern of behaviour.

The Golden Circle
Sinek calls this behavioural pattern The Golden Circle. It is made of three levels - Why?, How?, and What?. Everyone knows what they do, and almost as many know how they do what they do. Far fewer people understand why they do what they do.

This translates seamlessly into business. Knowing what a business does and how - that is the product. That on its own is most likely not enough to attract customers. The business has to connect with the customer through their why.

Rooted in science
Sinek explained that this occurrence is grounded in pure biology, and is not a matter of opinion.  “If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the golden circle.”

Sinek went on to say that the three sections have evolved at different points. The newest part, the neocortex, corresponds with the what level. This part is rational, logical and analytical. The other two sections of the brain developed earlier in human evolution. They control our feelings, such as loyalty and trust.

Start with why
What Sinek is saying is that, while a company can communicate about its what and how, this approach is not always successful. This can be the case, even when a company presents something that can logically be seen as a sound product with excellent specifications.

At the same time, if a company flips it around and communicates with the why first, then they are speaking to the part of the brain that controls feelings and behaviour.

“This is where gut decisions come from. Sometimes you can give somebody all the facts and figures, and they say, ‘I know what all the facts and details say, but it just doesn't feel right,’”
Sinek said.

Apple tried and tested
Sinek draws a comparison with Apple. In the TED talk, he explained how Apple communicate by leading with their why. They have their values at the forefront. This sets them apart from other companies, who lead with their product, their technology.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he famously said during a question and answer session at the WWDC

“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.”

Sinek has zoned in on this fact. “Apple’s just a computer company. Nothing distinguishes them structurally from any of their competitors”, he pointed out. Nevertheless, by starting with why, Apple has become the worlds most successful tech company. “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it “, Sinek stated.

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