Why is not the first question any more, but what is?
I’m not sure if you’ve seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk “How great leaders inspire action.” Yes, the video with more than 40 million views about the golden circle or better known as the video on “Start with Why.”
In this video, Simon Sinek explains how he codified “how” and “why” inspiring leaders and organisations in the world act and communicate in a completely opposite way to everyone else. They start communicating with “why they do it” first instead of “what” they do and “how.” With “why,” he means: “Their purpose; cause; belief? Why they exist? Why they get out of bed in the morning?”
He also relates that this is all grounded in the tenets of biology. Simplistically explained, that our neocortex, the outer and newest layer of the brain responsible for rational and analytical thought and language, corresponds with the WHAT level and the limbic or middle brain responsible for emotional and motivational processes and feelings, like trust and loyalty, corresponds with the WHY and HOW.
In his book Find Your Why (the companion to Start with Why), I read: “Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled and to better understand what drives your behaviour when you’re at your natural best. When you can do that, you’ll have a point of reference for everything you do going forward. You’ll be able to make more intentional choices for your business, your career and your life. You’ll be able to inspire others to buy from you, work with you and join your cause.”
Before I start questioning what is written here, I want to say: Yes, I believe from personal experience, and it has been proven by science over and over again, that having a purpose gives a point of reference for everything you do going forward and not only when you’re at your natural best. It gives you resilience in challenging times – and in moments like today (forced to stay at home due to COVID-19) it gives (me at least) an anchor with which I can adapt more easily to the new situation.
But something bothers me with this “Start with Why.” First of all, it’s very rigid… it is portrayed (or am I perceiving it wrong?) as “this is the way it is done and no other way.” Secondly, it seems very much based on a behaviour that is outdated and controlling. Simon Sinek comes from the advertising industry. So his background is about how to influence our emotions. In his book, he says it himself: “Leading with WHY has a deeper, more emotional and ultimately more influential value,” and remember the title of his talk is “How great leaders inspire action.”
So “WHY” talks to our emotions, and our emotions are coloured through our past experiences, culture and so many other factors. Today, we also live in an era where there are many people living predominantly on fear-based emotions… Fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat (COVID-19, emerging technologies taking jobs…). Fear causes physiological changes and ultimately behavioural changes, such as fleeing, hiding, freezing but also panic-buying tons of toilet paper and pasta. Fear is not about others; it is about the individual…
So, now I’m thinking in terms of the concept “Evolving on Purpose.” Evolving on purpose meaning deliberately participating in your evolution, which requires a more distant and integrative long-term view on your life. These faculties are related to the neocortex. The neocortex is that part of the brain involved in higher-order brain functions such as perception, cognition, spatial reasoning, visualisation and long-term projection.
So, in this concept, if “why” is related to the limbic brain, it is NOT the question we want to ask first. The first question becomes “WHAT” … For example: “WHAT do you want to feel?” or “WHAT kind of world do you want?” This “WHAT” is specific and should not be based on our emotions.
So, when I look back at Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, I see another circle emerging that goes beyond the model and folds itself in and around it (toroid… what else?! 😉).
So instead of “start with why”… start with WHAT!
Ask yourself: “On an ideal day, WHAT do I want to feel?”
My response is: “No matter the situation, at any moment in my life I want to feel contented, healthy and fulfilled.”
Question: How many of the “whats” I mentioned do you want to feel too?
Now, stretch your imagination a bit. Can you imagine that everyone wants to feel this way? I can.
So now comes forth from a future holistic overview perspective: What can YOU do that no-one else can do to make this feeling a reality, and HOW?
Why? Because you want that feeling… (in another post I’ll write about why you need to differentiate feelings from emotions)… which is associated with your potential and being in your element in the collective.
If we want to evolve on purpose (meaning with volition), when we want to transcend our outdated programming we have to start reasoning from a different perspective. A future perspective that we evolve into is a scenario I’m participating in.
Your input below is very much appreciated.
4 thoughts on “DON’t start with why!”
I am a fan of Simon Sinek and I totally see where you are coming from in your article. I have come to the conclusion that if finding your why gives meaning to your life and an anchor, being obsessed about finding it can actually backfire at you. I have come to the conclusions that sometimes you just have to move and do (what in your article) like in Nike’s motto and adapt in order to go in the direction of where you want to go and eventually your why will appear, reveal itself. And it might even evolve over time as you question your values. Actually I have learned over time that what really dictates your why at the end are the values you live by and the behaviours that align with it. Easy peasy ? No. Worthwhile? Yes. Toodeloe !!!!
Thanks Alexandra and I follow you in this completely. I often see it in my patients that “Finding your why” is too big a question. They don’t even start reflecting on it even when given an easy roadmap. There is so much resistance that I change tactic and ask them “How do you want to feel?” as it is more tangible. Although I’ve seen people even struggle with that one but here there is less resistance. When nudged just a little bit they can come up with some feelings. That becomes an anchor point to built upon.
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