Why are some people and organisations more inventive, pioneering and successful than others? And why are they able to repeat their success again and again?
Because in business it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it.
Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King have one thing in common: they STARTED WITH WHY.
This book is for anyone who wants to inspire others or to be inspired.
If I’m honest, this is not normally the sort of book I would choose. It’s largely aimed at a business market – from the big multi-national to the small one-person enterprise – and I feel like my working life operates in a rather different way. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t valuable lessons for me to learn from this book, so when Steve selected it as “a book chosen for you by your spouse” as part of my reading challenge last year, I was interested to see what I would get from it as it’s a book he returns to again and again, recommending it to anyone and everyone!
Based on his 2009 TED Talk, Sinek’s premise centres around what he refers to as the “Golden Circle”:
Using Apple as an example, Sinek explains that every single company in the world knows WHAT, they do, some explain HOW they do it (usually by giving information about their USP), but very few clearly explain WHY they do what they do. Yet it’s the WHY that people buy into. If our beliefs are the same as those of the company, we will buy their products even if they are not necessarily the “best” on the market by other measures. WHY is about building trust, sharing values and stimulating emotions rather than simply appealing to the logic centres of our brains. When the WHY is clear, loyalty grows; when we lose sight of our WHY and focus instead on WHAT, failure is more likely. Throughout the book Sinek charts this through examples of success, failure and comeback, linking each closely to how firm a grasp a company or leader has of their WHY.
So what can I take from this either in my working life or as a runner?
In teaching, I need to have a clear sense of WHY: why am I teaching this topic? Why am I taking this approach? Why is this pupil not meeting their potential? and so on. Young people frequently ask WHY, they need to understand the reasoning behind what they are being asked to do, particularly if it is a task they find challenging. If I lose sight of WHY, then learning and teaching in my classroom will suffer.
Sinek also devotes a chapter of the book to trust, something which I consider important in my classroom in order to build positive relationships and make behaviour management easier. Teachers are leaders of learning, and leading means creating an environment where others willingly follow (as opposed to being a leader which is the status of holding the highest rank). How can I possibly get a room full of teenagers to follow my instructions and advice if the trust is not there? My pupils, like everyone else, base their trust on the sense that someone else is driven by something more than their own self gain. If the WHY is clear, the trust emerges and hard work happens.
And this is also true in running. It’s all very well to go for a run, sign up for a race or set a goal; knowing WHY these hold importance leads to a much more positive experience. WHY could be the difference between positive training and junk miles, between racing for the sake of it and targeting an event, between meeting a goal and sitting on the injury bench. Sinek’s clear message is that if you don’t know WHY then you can’t know HOW. That make sense to me: it’s all very well knowing WHAT my goal is, but knowing WHY it’s my goal gives me the added motivation to overtake it. If I know WHY then I can work out HOW to make it possible – the workouts I need to do, the paces I need to hit, the timing of events, etc. Knowing my WHY will lead to great success than simply knowing WHAT.
WHY is also important in thinking about those we surround ourselves with. We have evolved to form groups, or cultures, who come together in a shared set of values or beliefs, that’s why in times of great debate we don’t always see both sides of that debate reflected in our social media feeds as those we follow tend to believe what we believe. In business, this means employing people who share your WHY and will be inspired to be productive. In running and other sports this means surrounding ourselves with people who will be positive and encouraging. When I picked up an injury in training for my first marathon, I lost count of the number of people who told me it would be impossible to complete the race on the mileage I had completed, but I chose to listen to those closest to me who believed it was possible and adapted my training because I was clear on WHY I wanted to achieve this goal. The result? I completed the race and got the marathon bug!
These days I prefer to train alone, but I still find those who share my values and beliefs through social media. WHY is the reason I believe so strongly in the message of Sarah Williams of Tough Girl Challenges. She wants to motivate and inspire women and girls by sharing stories of women taking on incredible challenges, fighting through adversity and achieving amazing things. I became a member of her closed Facebook group the Tough Girl Tribe because I saw the opportunity to connect with other women who share my WHY. I may never meet many of those women, but I know they are joined through a culture of support, encouragement and positive belief. Our WHYs are in line with each other and that will help us all to succeed in whatever personal challenges we set.
If I’m honest , I did become a little frustrated by the book as I felt the point became a bit repetitive. Perhaps as a business leader I would feel different, but for me it just became a few too many examples of the same thing. That said, I still think it had a positive message for me and as a result of reading this book I do think about WHY much more often, both in work and in the rest of my life, and have a much greater awareness of those who also consider WHY. I may not be a leader in the sense of a CEO of a huge global organisation, but I am a leader in my classroom and a leader of my own life. Both of these can be much more successful when I remember my WHY and use it to influence HOW I approach things. And that is where the magic happens…