By Simon Sinek, David Mead and Peter Docker
Every one of us has a WHY, a deep-seated purpose, cause or belief that is the source of our passion and inspiration. You may not yet know what yours is or how to express it in words. But we guarantee, you have one…, We believe that all of us deserve to… wake up inspired to go to work and come home, at the end of the day, feeling fulfilled by the work we do.
If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.
Every organization—and every person’s career—operates on three levels: What we do, how we do it, and why we do it.We all know whatwe do: the products we sell, the services we offer or the jobs we do. Some of us know howwe do it: the things that we think make us different or stand out from the crowd. But very few of us can clearly articulate whywe do what we do.
When we meet new customers or clients, the first thing most of us tell them is whatwe do. Then we explain howwe do it or howwe are different. This, we think, will be enough to win their business, sway their point of view or convince them to take a particular action. The following pitch follows that template: We sell paper. We offer the highest quality product at the best possible price. Lower than any of our competitors. Wanna buy some?
This is a very rational pitch. It states clearly what the company does and attempts to persuade potential buyers to choose its product over others’ on the basis of features and benefits. Though this approach may work now and then, at best it will result in a few recurring transactions. As soon as the buyer finds a better deal, they will be gone, because the pitch doesn’t differentiate this specific vendor from other companies in any way that truly matters.
What good is an idea if it can’t be shared? Our company was founded to help spread ideas. The more ideas that are shared, the greater the likelihood those ideas will have an impact in the world. There are many ways to share ideas; one is the written word. That’s where we come in. We make paper for those words. We make paper for big ideas. Wanna buy some?Totally different, right? Starting with WHY just made paper sound really good. And if it can do that for a commodity, imagine what it can do for a product that really can stand out. This pitch is not based on facts and figures, features and benefits. Those things have value but not first. Leading with WHY has a deeper, more emotional and ultimately more influential value.
If you’re an entrepreneur, discover your WHY so you can communicate what is singular about your company to your employees and clients or customers…. If you’re an individual employee knowing your WHY refreshes or renews your passion and connects you to your company’s WHY…. If you belong to a team or division within an organization, it will likely have its own subculture. In some cases, articulating that team’s WHY, the unique contribution the team makes to the organization, can be very powerful. It can help connect those people on the team in a deeper and more meaningful way to the difference the organization makes in the world.
Step 1: Gather Stories and Share Them
Each of us has only one WHY. It’s not a statement about who we aspire to be; it expresses who we are when we are at our natural best.
At its core, the WHY is an origin story. By looking to our past and teasing out the most significant threads—the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve been influenced by, the lives we’ve touched and the highs and lows we’ve faced—we can identify patterns. For individuals, our WHY is fully formed by our late teens. To uncover our WHY we must bring together our standout memories—our defining moments—and examine them to find the connections. For tribes, the WHY also comes from the past—either the origin story of how the company was founded or from specific stories shared by other members of the tribe that represent what makes them proud to be a part of the tribe.
Step 2: Identify Themes
As you pan for your stories and share them, themes will start to emerge, insights about yourself or your team that you may never have expressed before. As the process unfolds, one or two of those nuggets will seem to shine brighter than all the others. They will feel bigger, more important. They will shine so brightly that you’ll point to them and say, “That’s me—that’s who I am,” or “That’s us—that’s our team.” These themes become the foundation of your Why Statement.
Step 3: Draft and Refine a Why Statement
With one or two shiny nuggets in hand, you’re ready to take a crack at your Why Statement. Try to make yours: simple and clear actionable focused on the effect you’ll have on others, and expressed in affirmative language that resonates with you. Eventually, you will put your Why Statement into this format: TO ________ SO THAT _______.
Why Discovery for Groups
An organization has a WHY. And within an organization are teams—subcultures that exist within the larger group. Each of these parts within the whole will have its own WHY. We call that a Nested WHY—the purpose, cause or belief that defines a subgroup within the larger organization. Then within each of those teams are people who also have their own unique WHY—their individual WHY. The goal is for each individual to work for a company in which they fit the culture, share the values, believe in the vision and work on a team in which they feel like they are valued and valuable.
Sharing personal stories and identifying their themes are critical pieces of the Why Discovery process for individuals and groups alike. In the Tribe Approach, we achieve this through what we call the Three Conversations.
CONVERSATION 1: THE HUMAN DIFFERENCE ( 20 MINUTES) Tell specific stories of when you have felt most proud to work for this organization.
CONVERSATION 2: WHAT’S YOUR CONTRIBUTION? ( 10 MINUTES) In each of your stories, what was the specific contribution your organization made to the lives of others?
CONVERSATION 3: WHAT’S YOUR IMPACT? ( 15 MINUTES) After the break, have everyone return to their small teams to work on conversation 3. There’s usually quite a buzz in the room by this point. People will have started to connect to the work they do in a different, more meaningful way. This third conversation is designed to deepen that connection. What did the contributions of your organization allow others to go on to do or be?
Draft a Why Statement
Using a flip chart, or a slide, show the group the basic structure of a Why Statement: TO ________ SO THAT _______.
Many people will immediately recognize the relationship between the output of the three conversations and the anatomy of the Why Statement. Conversation 1 and conversation 2 correspond to the contribution element of the statement; conversation 3 corresponds to the impact element.
State Your HOWs
As a reminder, the Golden Circle consists of three parts: WHY, HOW and WHAT. All three parts are equally important. When those three things are in balance we are at our natural best. We are truly living our WHY. Our WHY is our purpose, cause or belief—the driving force behind everything we do. Our HOWs are the actions we take when we are at our natural best to bring our WHY to life. Our WHATs are the tangible manifestation of our WHY, the actual work we do every day. While other individuals or organizations may express their WHY in a way that is similar to yours, it’s HOW you bring your WHY to life that makes you unique. As a result, the combination of your WHY and HOWs is as exclusively yours as your fingerprint.
Your HOWs Are Your Strengths
Your HOWs are the ingredients you need to be at your best. Together, they are your recipe for success—your strengths. And this is true for both an individual and a tribe.
HOWs as Filters
When our HOWs are clearly stated, we have a recipe to put ourselves into and create environments where we can be at our natural best.
Start using your HOWs as filters for making important decisions. Though not every relationship, project or partnership will be in perfect alignment with all your HOWs, you’ll have a good idea where challenges or tensions might arise. Knowing these can give you an opportunity to talk about potential issues in advance, giving you and whomever you collaborate with the best possible setup for the partnership to thrive.
It works in reverse too. When you find yourself in a situation where you’re frustrated—it “just doesn’t feel right” yet you “can’t put your finger on it”—use your HOWs to see if you can find out what’s out of alignment.
Corporate Values Versus HOWs
Core values are generally aspirational. They express the qualities the company would like its employees to embody rather than those it actually displays. Remember, HOWs are not aspirational. They do not express who we want to be.
Your HOWs Bring Your WHY to Life
When you went through the process of discovering your WHY, you identified a number of themes in the stories you told. One or two of these themes—the ones that resonated most—were incorporated in your Why Statement. The rest of the themes have been sitting there waiting for you to do something with them. Now is that time.
We turn themes into HOWs by making them actionable.
Consider one of the themes from our example list above: Optimistic There are various ways to transform the adjective “optimistic” into a HOW. Here are just a few possibilities: Find the positive in everything See the glass as half full Look forward, not backward Find the silver lining in every cloud
Once you’ve articulated your HOWs, you can strengthen your relationship to them by writing a short description that gives each one some context and suggests what it might look like in practice. The descriptions don’t have to be complicated. In fact, keep them as simple as you can. That makes them easier to put into action.
Take a Stand Do the Things You Say You Believe
Taking the time to discover our WHY and articulate our HOWs is simply how we begin the journey. Next comes the hard part. We have to act on them. We have to bring them to life. We have to share them.
Share Your WHY
We find that the best place to practice is among strangers. When meeting someone for the first time, they almost always ask, “What do you do?” This is your opportunity to start with WHY.
Simon, for example, might say, “I inspire people to do things that inspire them, so that, together, we can change our world.” This is his Why Statement word for word. He sometimes says, “I work with leaders to build inspiring organizations that put people first. I believe that if enough organizations do this, we will change our world.”
If he’s talking about Start With Why, our organization, he’ll say, “We imagine a world where the vast majority of people wake up inspired to go to work, feel safe when they are there and return home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work they do. Every product we make, every partnership we have and everything we do is to bring this vision to life.”
It’s not about using the exact words of your Why Statement, though that’s a good place to start. It’s about finding ways to share who you are and what you stand for.
Live Your WHY
Remember, the times we feel most fulfilled are the times we are living our WHY. It has always been that way; we just couldn’t put it into words. Now you can share your WHY and act on it intentionally. When you keep your WHY on a piece of paper in a drawer, you have a piece of paper in a drawer. When you live your WHY, you thrive and so do the people around you.
Keep the WHY Alive
To keep the WHY alive over time, we must keep it front and center, communicating it and committing to living it—on purpose, with purpose—every day. Otherwise, a WHY can fizzle, fade or be forgotten. In an organization, when the WHY goes fuzzy, we call this the “split.”