6 Reasons You Shouldn't Start With Why

Are you one of the many millions of viewers who’ve watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action?

(If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it above)

I especially love the section from 2:08 to 4:28 minutes where Simon explains the way Apple communicates and why it’s not only the opposite to the way most organisations operate, but why it’s made them one of the most successful brands in the world.

I believe this concept helped to kick-start a revolution. It helped to rally a new generation of purpose-driven entrepreneurs who want to make their business a force for good. Me included.

It also helped me to understand the world of difference between those businesses with a strong WHY and those that simply exist to make money. It’s often a subtle difference, but we can all feel it. We all know which business we trust most.

That’s because as Sinek demonstrates in his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action the WHY taps into the part of our brain that’s wired for emotion and for meaning; the limbic brain.

The limbic brain also controls behaviour, which means that if your customers resonate with your WHY they’re more likely to actually take action to buy from you.

However, while I still believe that having a strong purpose is powerful and important, I have come to see that putting Sinek’s theory into action is problematic for most businesses.

Here are 6 reasons why you need to proceed with caution.

1. Not every business has a strong WHY: Let’s be honest. Most people don’t start a business because they have a strong WHY but because of necessity. Perhaps they were made redundant, began to hate their old job or felt as if they didn’t have the freedom to achieve what they want to achieve working for someone else. These things may not make strong mission statements but they are definitely enough to keep you driven. That’s what matters most on the rocky road to business success.

2. You might have a WHY-NOT: As I just pointed out, most often starting a business is more of a reaction against something rather than a quest for something. That’s because we humans don’t tend to change what feels comfortable but give us something to rebel against and we’ll fight tooth and nail for change! Many people are in business because they want to change the way their industry operates or they’re fighting against a traditional way of doing things. That’s powerful stuff. We’ll look at that in a future blog post, so stay tuned. :-)

3. Uncovering your WHY is not always easy. If I were to put you on the spot and ask you what it is, you’d most likely freeze. Your mind would go blank or you’d struggle to put it into words. Most people find it hard to express why their work matters. It often takes someone else to hold the space, help you dive deep, ask the right questions and reflect your answers back to you. Something I can help you with, by the way.

2. But, nobody else can tell you what it is. I’ve also seen some terribly dry and emotionless WHY statements in brand strategy documents. It has to come from you! It has to be authentic. And it has to be emotive if it’s to resonate. It’s got to hit you in the gut. It has to make you buzz with excitement.

5. It’s not a magic bullet: I know it’s obvious to say this, but just adding your WHY or mission statement to your proposals, brochures or websites won’t magically turn you into Apple. Dammit. It has to be a true driving force for everything you do and how you do it.

6. Don’t forget the final ‘W’ Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle method covers the why, the what, the how. But there’s one important ‘W’ missing here; the WHO. Who are you here to serve? How can you matter to them? How can you show that they matter to you? Don’t make the mistake of looking inward, without looking outward too.

This last point is crucial. Even if you can’t find your WHY, it doesn’t feel powerful enough or you’re struggling to live it in the day-to-day, you can always focus on serving your customers. That’s often all the magic bullet you need.

But if you do want to put your WHY into words, I’d be honoured to help. We can hop onto a FREE 20-minute Brain Blitz call to explore it.

Photo credit: Tom Bolton on Flickr

About the Author: Anna McLoughlin

Anna McLoughlin, Copywriter

Anna is Director of Inkspiller. An incurably curious writer and brand strategist, she has made it her life's mission to truly see others, then reflect their brilliance back out to the world.

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