Why we do what we do is worth examining and clarifying because it has so much impact on how we do it and how we persevere when we encounter challenges and obstacles.

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Ben White

Why Start With Why?

One of the best books I read this year is Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why. As happens with such things, ever since I finished the book it seems I hear people talk about “finding your why” all the time now. This includes, of course, our podcast guests. Sinek’s book was published in 2009. He gave a TED talk the same year that continues to get a lot of views.

The basic premise of the book is that in order to be truly, enduringly successful from the inside out, companies must have awareness of and alignment with why they exist. In fact, the entrepreneurial why is more important than the what or the how, although the latter are both important in their own way.

But why comes first.

1. Because why informs you whether your business even has a market. Why serves as the filter that sifts out the people who could be your customers from everybody else.

Kevin Craine expresses this beautifully in his episode when he says:

I think you have to have a plan. But here’s how I would put it. You have to know your why. What is your why? Why is it that you are doing what you do? And there’s a couple answers to that.

 

I guess, certainly “why is it for you.” But I’m talking from the business point of view – and we could talk about why am I doing it as a person – but the business part. What is it that you’re doing and why? Why would your customers care? What is it that you do that makes them care about what you do? Why would they buy your product? And why would they just not go to somebody else? And why wouldn’t they just not do anything? What if they just did nothing?

 

And so, if you start really asking yourself these really hard “Whys?” and finding the answers to those questions that aren’t BS. You know, why would someone hire Kevin Craine to write content for their website when they could go to anyone else or they could do nothing or they could do it themselves?

 

And so now you start getting an answer to, “Is what I’m doing even going to find a market?”

2. Because why supports leaders and employees when times are tough and they question the wisdom or the value of what they’re doing.

Circumstances will not always be in our favor. The same applies to business and organizational life. There will always be challenges and setbacks to test our collective mettle as well as our wits and skill. When they occur or persist through time, knowing and believing in the company’s mission keeps attitudes positive, fosters optimism, bolsters confidence, and fortifies resolve.

In his episode, Jim Akers advises:

Make sure that you connect with your why; the purpose, mission, people use a lot of different words – the why, the mission, the purpose – but why do you want to do it and who is touched or impacted by it? Because the journey gets tough. There’s a ton of resistance. And if that why, those benefits, are not great enough to motivate you and move you? You can’t get there.

Jean Haynes echoes the same sentiment:

Really think why you’re doing this business and the difference you want to make. Because at the end of the day, if that’s not really strong… it’s difficult when you hit those roadblocks or those times when business is tough to keep yourself motivated and going.

Dinesh Kandanchatha talks about the value of why within the narrower context of staying focused on the most valuable and rewarding aspects of becoming an entrepreneur in the first place. He says:

I start out with, why are you starting the company? If you’re starting the company to create a paycheck for yourself, there’s a lot easier ways to make a paycheck than starting your own company. You can go work for someone else whether it’s a larger company, or work as part of a franchise group or a consulting group.

 

The reason why you start a company is because you believe you can bring something meaningful to your community, to your professional association, to your craft. And as long as you’re focused on the meaning and on something that’s going to be material in that way, the job parts of it you’ll be able to power through.

 

One of the tests I use for myself is, if I find that it feels like a job for more than 70% of the time, I need to rethink what I’m doing because I’m probably not doing the things that I really wanted to do when I started the company.

 

So, focus on why and every time you feel like you’re stuck and it feels too much like a job, come back to the why and see if you’ve compromised on the why. Inevitably, when I have these conversations with founders, it’s because they made a compromise on their vision and that’s got them into the place they are.

3. Because why sends such a powerful message to consumers, clients, or other collaborating participants of what the company stands for.

The power of this message is the alignment it enables among like-minded souls. People will forgive all manner of shortcomings and disappointments if they can recognize the purpose behind a business as one they personally believe in and, often, feel quite passionate about themselves.

One of the readiest examples of this passion is seen in software and hardware beta users who care far less about bugs and limitations than they care about being early adopters or about riding the cutting edge of innovation. Apple is one of Sinek’s favorite examples of an organization that has inspired a cult-like following among users who are more aligned with the brand than with any of its specific products.

In fact, as symbols of a company’s why, its products carry far greater appeal to its consumers than mere utilitarian value. They’re tangible representations of the connection customers feel with the brand message; its why.  This is why Apple fans will buy any and all of its products; because Apple is a disruption company, a company to challenge the status quo, a company that could be characterized in any number of ways, but that cannot be reduced to the maker of a single product or even a single category of products.

4. Because why taps into human feeling and emotion, which are more reliable guides to action, behavior, and strategy than a book of rules.

​Having people be committed with their hearts is far more effective than being committed with their heads. Emotion, not logic, is the glue of connection and relationship. It leads people to “do the right thing,” particularly in the face of uncertainty, ambiguity, or the unknown.

This is especially noticeable as the old command-and-control paradigm dissolves in the workplace and front line employees are empowered to act upon their own authority in the customer’s best interests. We see this fairly commonly now in customer service. But it’s also permeating other aspects of business and organizational culture. For example, in some manufacturing companies individual operators are granted the authority to stop production lines when a problem or error is discovered, even though such stoppages can cost money and productivity.

In order to effectively take such responsibility, company agents must have an understanding of the larger context within which their roles and activities function. Part of that context is the knowledge of why they are doing what they’re doing to fulfill the expectations and requirements of the company’s customers while advancing the business’s purpose and goals.

Employees become empowered, self-sufficient, and autonomous when they have a clear why to internalize and to align themselves and their actions with. And under this scenario, leadership can advance from merely managing behavior to providing mentorship and inspiration.

Income: the outcome of clarity

Joel Kessel observes that Simon Sinek’s book and TED talk are both still relevant today. Summarizing, he says, “People don’t buy what you do or how you do it. They buy why you do it. That’s so true.”

In his episode, Joel shares a clarity process he received from his coach and mentor that leverages finding your why as the starting point for taking the necessary actions that lead, almost inevitably, to income.

It starts with clarity. It’s clarity, [which] leads to competence, which leads to confidence, which leads to more influence, impact, and then income; where a lot of people are chasing the income and that’s where they’re frustrated and they give up; where they haven’t taken the time to take a step back and say, “Well, what am I clear about? What do I want to do? What’s my why? Why do I want to do this? Who do I want to serve and help? And once we have that clarity, holy smokes, the rest really tends to fall into place.

 

When I first heard that, it was daunting for me. But it was one of the best pieces of advice that I was given as I was starting this journey of transitioning my business and how I want to work. It really does start with that clarity. And then once you have that, it’s the competence and all of a sudden you’re gaining so much more confidence in what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for. And then, believe it or not, you start to influence and impact people. And then the income is there. It’s a wonderful thing to experience.

 

Start with why. Have that clarity. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to do what I do?”

Why comes first

Why influences so many aspects of your entrepreneurial journey that how well you define it could be the difference between your success and failure.  Take the time to identify your why.  It will provide your business with a foundation for reaching people in authentic, meaningful and valuable ways that transcend your means of reaching them.

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Bram


All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.

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