“Start with Why “ by Simon Sinek: Useful Insights By Amal Sanderatne

My previous blogpost was an account of my reflection on Sinek’s book, here I explore his concepts in depth and present a snapshot of useful insights.

To fully grasp Sinek’s concept we need to identify the WHY, HOW and WHAT in a COMPANY. The following extract from the book helps us visualize these elements.

Sitting at the top of the system, representing the WHY, is a leader; in the case of a company, that’s usually the CEO (or at least we hope it is). The next level down, the HOW level, typically includes the senior executives who are inspired by the leader’s vision and know HOW to bring it to life. Don’t forget that a WHY is just a belief, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief and WHATs are the results of those actions. No matter how charismatic or inspiring the leader is, if there aren’t people in the organization inspired to bring that vision to reality, to build an infrastructure with systems and processes, then at best, inefficiency reigns, and at worst, failure results. In this rendering the HOW level represents a person or a small group responsible for building the infrastructure that can make a WHY tangible. That may happen in marketing, operations, finance, human resources and all the other C-suite departments. Beneath that, at the WHAT level, is where the rubber meets the road. It is at this level that the majority of the employees sit and where all the tangible stuff actually happens.

As I mentioned in my previous blogpost, I struggled to identify the “why” to incorporate it into Frontier’s purpose statement.

Why is it so Hard to describe “WHY” ?

  • The Brain makes it hard

“The Limbic brain comprises of the middle two sections and is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. This area of the brain is responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making. It is where our emotional connection takes place, and it has no capacity for language. It is this disconnection between these areas of the brain that makes it so difficult to articulate our feelings. Simon talks about how when you meet ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs Right’, how hard it is to put this feeling in to wordsSource

  • Because it’s a “Founder’s Why “ and the company is just one way of expressing it
  1. Shows Bill Gates as someone whose “WHY” in life is to remove obstacles to ensure that everyone can live and work to their greatest potential.
    Living through the computer revolution, he saw the computer as a perfect technology to help us all become more productive and achieve our greatest potential.
    Now he still believes that if we can help people, this time those with less privilege, remove some seemingly simple obstacles, then they too will have an opportunity to be more productive and lift themselves up to achieve their great potential.
  2. In the case of Apple, which is the main example Sinek uses in the book , he says Apple was a way for Steve Jobs to challenge the status quo and think differently,  just as what he did in his Hippie days

A comment I have is, this is a look-back, historical way of bringing everything together. I don’t think Bill Gates ever thought about his WHY when he started Microsoft or would articulate his current WHY the same way as Sinek has implied his “WHY” is now.  But it’s not a criticism, because again, it is something inherent, not something that can be communicated easily.

Is it enough to have a great “WHY”?

No.

“WHY” people need “HOW” people to succeed 

WHY types have the power to change the course of industries or even the world, if only they knew HOW.

WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at building structures and processes and getting things done

HOW-types don’t need WHY-types to do well. But WHY-guys, for all their vision and imagination, often get the short end of the stick. Without someone inspired by their vision and the knowledge to make it a reality, most WHY-types end up as starving visionaries, people with all the answers but never accomplishing much themselves.”

Bill Gates, for example, may have been the visionary who imagined a world with a PC on every desk, but Paul Allen built the company. Steve Jobs is the rebel’s evangelist, but Steve Wozniak is the engineer who made the Apple work. Jobs had the vision, Woz had the goods.

“HOW” people can be successful Entrepreneurs but not change the course of industries.

Although so many of them fancy themselves as visionaries, in reality most successful entrepreneurs are HOW-types. Ask an entrepreneur what they love about being an entrepreneur and most will tell you they love to build things. That they talk about building is a sure clue that they know HOW to get things done. A business is a structure—systems and processes that need to be assembled. It is the HOW-types who are more adept at building those processes and systems. But most companies, no matter how well built, do not become billion-dollar businesses or change the course of industries. To reach the billion-dollar status, to alter the course of an industry, requires a very special and rare partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW.

The exercise of trying to figuring out the “WHY”  and  “HOW” helped me understand and prioritize what I need to do for myself and frontier.

At the end, after reading through the book, what I realized is that it’s not about incorporating a WHY into a purpose statement as I was originally trying hard to do, but rather about communicating that WHY in a broader way through all our communication as well as making sure the HOW happens and is reflective of the WHY.

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