When we were kids, we were full of questions. We would often pester our parents, our elders, and our older siblings in order to get those questions answered.
Perhaps the most well-known question that came from us as kids are the simple: Why? It seemed like no matter how much detail came with the answer, there was always an additional “why?” to come rushing after. But we can’t get but so upset with kids when they do this. If anything, it just shows that kids have already caught on to the fact that it is a lot easier to do something when we know why we’re doing it.
This rings true today. At some point in our lives, we stopped asking WHY and simply settled for the WHAT and the HOW in every given situation. We oversimplify our life, which has us also oversimplifying our purpose.
Why Do We ‘Start With Why’?
In Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, the author lets us know right away that people do not buy into what we do. Rather, people buy into why we do what we do.
I feel like all of us have someone in our circle with big aspirations, someone who owns their own business and/or creates their own product. If someone were to ask you “Why do people start their own business” the easy and obvious answer would be: to make money. This, however, isn’t the person or company’s WHY. Truthfully, you can make money doing a lot of things, and you can make money working a regular 9 to 5. Making money is a reason to own a business, but it’s not what keeps the business owner going every day.
Sinek references companies that have a strong WHY versus companies that don’t. And the biggest example he cites is Apple, Inc.
How do you know this company has a big WHY? When it was announced that Apple would be entering the mobile phone market with the very first iPhone, people were literally waiting in lines for up to 6 hours in order to be the first to get their hands on the product. Keep in mind these people could have just waited a few days and gone to the store to purchase the phone without all of the hassles, but they chose to inconvenience themselves. That’s the product of a strong WHY.
So often we feel like we have to nail down the WHAT and the HOW immediately. And while you clearly need both of those mapped out, it’s still not a reason to completely forget about the WHY. The WHY is what helps us stand out from the others, it is what brings in loyal clients that give us referrals without even asking.
The WHY is also what keeps us motivated and inspired even on days when the goals seems to difficult or too out of reach. Many people have opted to start creating ‘vision boards’ i.e. posters that hold visual aids that mean the most to you. If you’re looking to lose weight and get healthy, you might have a vision board full of fit bodies and pretty clothes that are harder to find in your current size. If you are aspiring to own properties, you may have pictures of houses on your vision board. The reason we create vision boards is to keep our WHY or something that we really want to accomplish, in front of us. It’s a lot easier for me to work hard in my weight loss journey when I have a vision board in my room that constantly reminds me of why I’m doing it in the first place.
The Golden Circle Concept
One thing that has been implemented amongst companies and organizations alike is the concept of The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a simple structure that provides evidence of how much more we can achieve if we remind ourselves to start everything we do by first asking why.
As we can see by this image, we see that the largest circle is the WHAT, the second largest is the HOW, and the smallest one that is dead center is the WHY. The idea is that with whatever we do, the laws of human decision-making suggest that we always begin with WHY and spread outward, rather than starting with WHAT and going inward.
Going back to the business owner example, we already know that people open up businesses in order to make money. Whether it is selling out of your home, out of an Etsy shop, an online store, or a brick and mortar–all of these people want to make money in their business. One would assume that everyone in this equation had started out knowing “what” they wanted to do already. And, while that is sometimes the case, not necessarily.
Most people who open up their own businesses have a certain WHY in mind (even if they don’t realize it themselves)! Some people have the intention of making their small business into a big business because they want more control over their time and money. Others may have the heart to serve others, so they create products for everyday use or they begin serving as a private chef/caterer. Others have been motivated to start their own fashion/design companies in order to see more representation for their preferred style as well as their own body type.
Either way, what a lot of these people have in common is that the purpose is a lot bigger than themselves. It is a direct correlation to what they value. Chances are, the person you know who owns a catering business loves to see the looks on people’s faces when they take their first bite of a special dish. The person you know who crafts or creates outwear loves to see how people feel confident and beautiful in something that they made. The key factor is that, at any point in time, the WHAT and HOW can definitely change.
For Robyn Rihanna Fenty, better known simply as Rihanna, she began Fenty Beauty with just liquid foundation. But what set her apart wasn’t just her name, the fact that she is a mega pop star. It was the fact that the shades (beginning at 40 but has since expanded to 50) filled the color gap that had been so common within the beauty industry. The gap that said all white/light shades can be included, but only a small number of deep shades can be included as well. By doing something that seems like common sense, her company was able to prompt other beauty companies to be more inclusive in their shade colors instead of only prioritizing the White market. Her WHAT may have been makeup, but her WHY is in the Fenty slogan: “Beauty for all”.
Some of the largest companies we know started off in completely different industries. The founder of Wrigley started off selling soaps and baking powder mixtures but found that having a freebie (aka sticks of chewing gum) included in the package enticed the customers to the point where they were actually more concerned with the gum than the soap.
Colgate started out selling soap, candles, and starch.
The founder of AVON started out selling books door to door. But to entice more female customers, he would throw in a small gift of perfume.
Before Nintendo specialized in video games, they started out in playing cards, then a taxi company, then a hotel chain, then a TV network, then a food company.
Marriot International and Marriott Corporation started off as a root beer stand.
There are countless other examples but the point lies in this: When there is a solid WHY at the center of what we do, the HOW and WHAT are customizable and we can still get to the end goal.
How Do We Find Our Why?
All of these success stories are good and well, but where does that leave the rest of us? I’m speaking specifically to people who aren’t entirely sure of their WHY, who may have no idea what their WHY is just yet.
Make no mistake, finding our WHY isn’t an overnight process. A lot of those previously mentioned companies may have changed industries, but part of the reasoning for those changes is that they had to figure out their ultimate WHY.
Sinek compares finding our WHY with maneuvering a bow and arrow. Before an arrow can gain any power or achieve impact, it must first be pulled backward. This is also how a WHY derives its power. Contrary to what we may think, finding our WHY isn’t necessarily about looking to the future and what we want to achieve. Rather, the WHY (for both an individual and an organization) typically comes from the past. To reference Rihanna and Fenty Beauty again, her love of makeup started off as a little girl being entranced by her mother’s lipstick. Yes, the brand’s goal is ultimately to provide ‘beauty for all’. But that mantra wouldn’t have started if Rihanna didn’t experience the power of makeup and what it did for her confidence at a young age.
Certain clothing brands have been created because someone looked back on their youth and said “Wow, I wish there were more fun clothes for me to wear at that age. But everyone said I was too big”. Some books have been written because someone desperately wanted to read stories that they could relate to, stories in which they could see themselves.
Even for myself, my WHY has shifted a little over the years. And at the time of this writing, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it is I want to accomplish and what kind of impact I want to leave in this world. I would like to believe that I’m slowly progressing to understanding what my WHY is and I know that when I do, I won’t feel too much pressure when it comes to figuring out the HOW and the WHAT. If you are like me, and you still need a little more time to find that WHY it’s okay. But, I would challenge you to start thinking about it. And I mean intentionally taking out the time to think about your end goal. But know that finding your WHY isn’t this high-pressure situation. If anything, it should be at least a little bit fun.