Business experts like to make a claim about why companies are successful and then point to Apple as the poster child for their theory. I’m always skeptical of this because it is very easy to point to success and claim it’s because of a certain reason.
Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, starts by pointing to Apple as a successful company because they have a clearly defined WHY (to “think different”). I was immediately suspicious and was worried the setup in the first few chapters was going to lead to a disappointing remainder of the book.
Boy, was I wrong.
The basic premise of the book is a simple one. Most companies and organizations define WHAT they do and HOW they do it. If everyone defines what they do (sell widget A), then their only points of differentiating their commodity are based upon manipulative features such as price and promotions. However, for the few companies that define WHY they do WHAT they do first, their WHAT and HOW naturally follow. Customers then purchase products and services to affirm who they are in conjunction with the organization’s WHY.
Clearly defining a WHY also clarifies the purpose of an organization. Sinek states that a janitor in a major company should be able to know whether the company should do one thing or another based upon the WHY behind the organization. If Southwest’s goal is to be THE low-cost carrier, then a choice between offering an expensive meal or not on the flight is a simple one.
Sinek talks about a WHY as something that does not change during one’s life. The WHATs that someone does can be dramatically different, but they should all align with the WHY. Sinek’s WHY is “to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.” This book is one WHAT that aligns with that WHY. He started a company called Sinek Partners that does the WHAT to his WHY. He talks about the excitement of finding new WHATs that align with his one WHY.
My next step is to think back through my life and the music, work, projects, athletics, and causes I’ve pursued to find the common WHY. Sinek said not to look forward to find that WHY, but to look back. It should be the same. That WHY should then be the first thing I communicate about my business instead of the services that I offer. I’m looking forward to trying this new method of communicating about my business going forward.