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Unpopular Opinion:

Stop "Starting With Your Why"

by Eric Parton

In 2009, a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek called How Great Leaders Inspire Action, took the business world by storm and continues to do so to this day.

Probably better known as "Start With Your Why", it's been cited millions of times across boardrooms, classrooms, Zoom calls, articles, pitches, presentations, and more. If you need a refresher or have been living under a rock for the past decade, it's really worth a watch:

Simon breaks down effective messaging into a clear and easy to understand "golden circle" and backs the whole thing up with science, making this the pivotal "ah-ha" moment for millions of entrepreneurs out there. I count myself among that group as well. We all walked away thinking, "Wow, what a great idea!"

What makes a great idea?

When I was in college at the Art Institute of Atlanta studying graphic design (the year before this video came out), I had a professor that taught us how to identify a great idea. The context of the instruction was around knowing when you've created a great logo design, but I've found that it pertains to most great ideas in life.

A great idea makes you say "Why didn't I think of that?"

Great ideas are simple, easy to understand, and often times, obvious. They can seem so simple, in fact, that the excitement and feeling of understanding we walk away with can leave a whole team feeling as if it's all smooth sailing from here.

If you watched the TEDx video above, then you know this whole "Start with your why" thing falls squarely into the good idea category. It's a simple strategy and roadmap to success, right?

The truth is, you and I weren't given the full map in the TEDx talk and the golden circle is surprisingly absent of what is arguably the most important part. It covers Why, How, and What.

But what about, Who?

Knowing Who is key to understanding Why.

It's all about knowing who you serve. It always has been and always will be. Without the Who, you have no Why. And if your Why isn't actually about the Who, then you're probably just selling to yourself.

Let's take a look back at the why-statement used in the Apple example Simon provided in the video:

"Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently."

Ah yes, Tim Cook, Apple CEO. The face of non-conformity.

This why-statement is all about who they serve. That's what makes their brand so effective. They understand who they are selling to and tailor their business to reflect that image back to their customers. Everything they do, from their product design, to their in-store experience, to their purchasing process, and beyond, keeps who they serve at the heart of everything they are and do.

Their success is rooted in their universal understanding of this key point right from the get-go and their "Why" flows effortlessly there-after. Alignment and Positioning come at the start of all our work for a reason.

Your "Why" is an introspection, not your marketing message.

Once you know who you serve and why you serve them, it's important to understand that your why is really meant for you and your team, not necessarily your client or customer. It's meant to inform your messaging, not overtake it. It's your organization's guiding principle and acts as the gravity that pulls your entire organization and your customers together. If you're not living it through and through, that's when you'll see sales drop.

But why?

Good strategy still requires good implementation.

Ah, the rub—the part most people don't want to admit. Identifying and understanding your "Who" or "Why" or any part of Simon's golden circle is actually a lot harder than it sounds. And articulating it in a way that doesn't sound contrived and vague, and then presenting it to the right people at the right time? That's even harder.

In my personal life, I'm an avid DIYer. I own an old farm house in southwest Virginia that's just a little over 100 years old. It's full of life, character, history and a DIYer's dream come true. But as I've learned the hard way over the years, not everything is actually a DIY project. When it came time to rip out the floors down to the dirt and replace nearly all of the termite damaged joists that support the whole thing, I knew exactly how to do it. I also knew I'd only do more harm than good to this old place I love if I tried to tackle that project on my own.

Your organization is the same way. When it comes to repairing the very foundation and ensuring smooth sailing from there, you call in the professionals. It's why we handle the Creative and Activation for our clients as well.

Good strategy with good implementation leads to success.

Eric Parton
A seasoned creative director, digital strategist and full-stack designer, Eric has over a decade of award winning experience helping businesses from startups to Fortune 500s leverage technology and creativity to solve their communications challenges and achieve groundbreaking growth and success.

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