Start with Why

by Dr. Scott Andersen in , ,

Updated 128-14 (see below)

In so many ways, we should follow young children. They are honest, pure, good-hearted, and they always ask "WHY?" They are searching for meaning.

I am reading a book right now called START WITH WHY by Simon Sinek. Simon calls himself a 'leadership expert.'  I have included a TED talk he gave titled, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" at the end of this post.

While I am reading the book, I am going to share some of my favorite excerpts from it and my thoughts about it.  So this post will be updated frequently as I make my way through the book.

For those of you keeping score, I am on page 45 out of 231.  I tend to go through books slowly so I am not sure how many days it will take me to finish. The fact that I like it so far means I am likely to get through it quicker than normal, whatever that is.

I am going to start off the first posts with a stack of pictures showing some of the things I have highlighted thus far.

The section I am in right now is called the GOLDEN CIRCLE. The illustration from the book perfectly depicts the concept of the GOLDEN CIRCLE.

"Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don't mean to make money - that is a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? And WHY should anyone care?"

"People don't buy  WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it."


Continued reading today about THE GOLDEN CIRCLE.  I liked the analogy that Simon used about milk producers...

Ask a milk producer and they will tell you that there are actually variations among milk brands. The problem is you have to be an expert to understand the differences. To the outside world, all milk is basically the same, so we just lump all the brands together and call it a commodity.

In response, that is how the [milk] industry acts. This is largely the pattern for almost every other product or service on the market today, business to business or business to consumer.

They focus on WHAT they do and HOW they do it without consideration of WHY; we lump them together and they act like commodities. The more we treat them like commodities, the more they focus on the WHAT and HOW they do it. It's a vicious cycle.

As I read this and think about my current work, I can't help but see some parallels.  And even though I don't want them to, they exist.  I think we genuinely aspire to get to the WHY, but we fall short because we are working from the outside in and really focusing on the WHAT and HOW. We seem to not be able to escape the HOW and WHY through our operational focus.  I think that could be one of the causes of our inability to sustain our desired levels of performance consistently over time.

I like the question Sinek poses, "WHY did we start doing WHAT we're doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life?"

 The Sneetches

The Sneetches


My latest section of reading takes me to Sinek's using Dr. Seuss to make a point about the need for belonging and a basic human need to seek it out. He reminded us of the story about the Sneetches.

The Sneetches perfectly capture a very basic human need - the need to belong. Our need to belong is not rational, but it is a constant that exists across all people in all cultures. It is a feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs. When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe. As humans we crave the feeling and we seek it out.

He goes on...

When a company clearly communicates their WHY, what they believe, and we believe what they believe, then we will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to include those products or brands in our lives.

And how do we do that?  We do it through leaders who are good at communicating what they believe.

Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us. Those whom we consider great leaders all have an ability to draw us close and to command our loyalty.

And what happens when leaders and companies do not communicate a sense of WHY?

Companies that fail to communicate a sense of WHY force us to make decisions with only empirical evidence....Under these conditions manipulative strategies that exploit our desires, fears, doubt, or fantasies work very well.

In my work, these can manifest through price-only shopping by families. When we fail to clearly communicate the WHY, parents are forced to decide which school to attend only by data points, and for that reason, we sometimes fail to convince them of what we have to offer.


Yes, it is taking me a while to get through this book. And no, this is NOT unusual for me. Typically when I read a book, I read a little, think a little, try to connect what I am reading to what I am doing, then I rinse and repeat the process...which happens to be a good segue into my share today from the book.

This section of the book is called, "It's What You Can't See That Matters."

In this section Sinek discusses research that was done on people who do laundry. The detergent makers for a while were obsessed with product additives that "made your whites whiter."  However, when people's behavior was studied while doing laundry, most people did not take clothes out of the dryer and hold them up to a light to see if they were whiter.

The first thing that people did when they pulled their laundry out of the dryer was to smell it. This was an amazing discovery. FEELING clean was more important to people than being clean.

This is where I can make a connection to what we at Knowledge Universe call our SERVICE VALUES. While we can technically see the SERVICE VALUES in action, they can easily be relegated to secondary status. It is my belief that when we MASTER the service values and treat them with primary status, we are addressing the "feeling" that is kindred to the laundry experience noted above. Our families will FEEL good about their involvement in our schools and will develop the type of loyalty that I wrote about on my previous update on this post. 


Still adding about the relationship to the KU SERVICE VALUES, here is another thought from Sinek:

Once you know WHY you do what you do, the question is HOW will you do it? HOWs are your values or principles that guide HOW to bring your cause to life. HOW we do things manifests in the systems and processes within an organization and the culture. Understanding HOW you do things and, more importantly, having the discipline to hold the organization and all its employees accountable to those guiding principles enhances an organization's ability to work to its natural strengths. Understand HOW gives greater ability, for example, to hire people or find partners who will naturally thrive when working with you.

Going back to the Golden Circle above, Sinek tells us that there must a be a symbiotic balance between the WHY, the HOW and the WHAT.

Everything you say and everything you do has to prove what you believe. A WHY is just a belief. That's all it is. HOWs are the action you take to realize that belief. And WHATs are the results of those actions - everything you say and do: your products, services, marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire. If people don't buy WHAT you do but WHY you do it, then all these things must be consistent. With consistency people will see and hear, without a shadow of a doubt, what you believe. After all, we live in a tangible world. The only way people will know what you believe is by the things you say and do, and if you're consistent in the things you say and do, no one will know what you believe.


Ok, I have taken quite a hiatus from my reading.  NO EXCUSES. It is what it is.

As I was reading today, I came across the section titled, "Doing Business Is Like Dating". I love the analogy between what not to do on a first date and how that relates to how many companies try to sell themselves to a customer. So often, companies try to first prove their power without communicating at all why they exist.

The most common example I have seen in my company and with other organizations I have witnesses is saying things like the following:

"We've been in business 35 years."
"We have 1,400 stores, more than anyone else in the business."
"You have probably seen us advertised."

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

In the ECE business those could sound like the following:

"We are the largest ECE provider in the world."
"Research shows our curriculum to have greater impact."
"We have the most accredited centers of anyone."

Here is the related excerpt from the book

Like on a date, it is exceedingly difficult to start building a trusting relationship with a potential customer or client by trying to convince them of all the rational features and benefits. Those things are important, but they serve only to give credibility to a sales pitch and allow buyers to rationalize their purchase decision. As with all decisions, people don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, and WHAT you do serves as the tangible proof of WHY you do it. But unless you start with the WHY, all people have to go on are the rational benefits. Chances are, you won't get a second date.

Here's a suggested alternative Sinek proposed that works very well in the ECE industry. Imagine saying this to a family that is touring your school:

You know what I love about our company? Every single one of us comes to work every day to do something we love. We get to inspire [each other and children] to do things that inspire [and develop] them. It's the most wonderful thing in the world. In fact, the fun part is trying to figure out all the different ways we can do that. It really is amazing. The best part is, it is also good for business.

Then you can say things like "and we've been doing that for 35 years and we have more schools in ECE than anyone else and we have more accredited centers than anyone."

You get the point.

Selling the WHY first, sells.