Start With Why, And The Golden Circle

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In my post on the Chasm Diffusion Model, I outlined one of the theories on how mass-market success or acceptance of ideas occurs. But what strategy can be employed to reach the Early Adopters, and drive the 15% market share needed to cross the chasm?  

Simon Sinek has great theory around this called The Golden Circle on his TED Talk 'How Great Leaders Inspire Action'.

So let's break this theory down.

The first proposition is why do some organisations or people seem to be able to succeed or achieve things that defy all of our assumptions? They generally have the same access to talent, agencies, consultants and media. Why is it that they seem to have something different?

Simon believes he has codified the underlying pattern through three simply statements - What? How? and Why?  


The Golden Circle.

Every organisation knows what they do (at least if they want to stay in business). 

Some know how they do it. This is generally vocalised as their Unique Selling Proposition, proprietary process or differentiated value. 

What very few know is why they do it.

A big note here. Profit isn't the why. Profit is a result of the why.

So what is the why? The why is the purpose, cause or belief that drives you. It's what gets you out of bed in the morning, and the way you communicate from deep within you. Regardless of their size or industry, all inspirational leaders or inspired organisations think and act from the inside out.

A Bit About Our Brains

Funnily enough, the human brain when viewed from the top down corresponds to the Golden Circle. 

Our newest brain, the Homo sapien brain or neocortex corresponds with the What. This area is responsible for our rational and analytical thought and language.

The middle two sections make up what we call our limbic brain, touching on the How and Why. This is responsible for all of our feelings, human behaviour, decision-making - so things like love and trust. It however has no capacity to process language. 

Why the Limbic Brain Matters

Think of the majority of organisations in the world, and the way they market and communicate. They tend to start with the what, and throw out a bunch of facts and figures and complicated features. Conversely, we as humans can absorb and understand this vast amount of information as it arives. 

But this doesn't drive behaviour. 

So what happens if we reverse the circle, and start with the Why? When we communicate from the inside out, we're sending a message to the part of the brain that controls our behaviour. We can then rationalise it after with the things we say and do.

This explains gut decisions. The part of our brain that handles decision making is being activated, but as it doesn't control language, we often can't vocalise why we feel like this is the right thing to so. We can have all of the facts and figures, but it just doesn't feel right.

Crossing the Chasm

So how does this help us cross the chasm? If you think about the Innovators and Early Adopters, these are people who have made a gut decision to buy your product or listen to your ideas. These are people who didn't just buy what you do, they bought why you did it, and what you do simply proves what they believe.

The things you say and do are essentially symbols. If you put out false or fake symbols, you will attract people, but eventually you will be found out and accused of begin inauthentic. That is why the whole process of market research or positioning studies can sometimes seem ridiculous - you are doing a study to find out from people how you can be more authentic. 

If you instead communicate the true and authentic why of your idea or business, you will do the opposite and attract people who believe what you believe - and they will influence other people to your cause by carrying on your inspiration. 100% of clients, customers and employees and people after all, and we are social animals.

Some Examples

Simon uses some great examples of successes (like The Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King) as well as failures (like TiVO and Dell). But probably the simplest example is Apple.

When you think about Apple, they could communicate the what. It would probably sound like this:

"We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?"

Instead, they market from the why. They sound like this:

"In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. We do this by making our products beautifully designed and simple to use. We just happen to make great computers. Do you what to buy one?"

No wonder so many people are seen as Apple advocates.

What are some examples of companies that start with the why that you can think of? When was the last time you felt like you made a gut decision, and what was the thing that drove you to make it?

The Golden Circle - Steps.

This post continues my series on Mental Models.