On the positive energy our work life has for us
BY SANDY STRASSER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2015)
Imagine a world in which people wake up inspired and go to work fulfilled. A world in which loyalty and belief are the rule rather than the exception. A world in which we feel secure. Simon Sinek is an unshakable optimist. The 42-year old demonstrates how people are inspired more with enthusiasm and empathy. With the goal of changing the world in such a way that each of us is fulfilled anew every day- In an interview, he tells us the role which the little word ‘why’ plays.
Simon, please tell me: What does ‘Why’ mean?
Simon Sinek: Why is the reason we show up to work. It is the reason our companies exist. It’s a purpose, cause or belief. It is more important than the money we make. And what you find is that the most successful organisations, the most successful leaders all understand why they do what they do. Whereas everybody else is pre-occupied with what they do. The products they sell, or the money they make, for example.
Can we see Why as a type of manifesto?
s. si.: Sometimes the expression of Why is like a manifesto. In most cases it is more like a feeling. We know that we work on something and though it can be exciting it doesn’t necessarily mean that it fulfills you later. I think very many people confuse excitement with fulfilment. Excitement is just a thrill, for example winning a contract. But fulfilment is the general feeling we get when all of our work enables us to be part of something big.
Please tell us something about the background of Why. How did you come up with the idea and what was the motivation behind this creation?
s. si.: Well, it is a personal story. It has nothing to do with academics or commercial enterprise. I owned a small marketing consulting company and was doing well. I had amazing clients, we had a lot of work and I made a decent living. Except, I lost my passion for it. As exciting as it was, I didn’t want to wake up and do it again and again and again and again. I was embarrassed by this. Because superficially, everything was good. So I felt embarrassed to complain that I was unhappy
At some point a friend came to me and said “I am worried about you” – that gave me the courage to try and find a solution for the feeling I had. And that’s when I discovered this naturally occurring pattern. It is based on the biology of human decision-making. And I discovered that every single organisation on the planet even our own careers always exist on these same three levels: what they do, how they do it and why they do it. I knew what I did, I knew how I did it, but I didn’t know why. So it was my own personal pursuit to understand the why. That saved me.
What goal are you pursuing with this?
s. si.: Well, when I realized that my fulfilment, my joy in work was controllable it made me realize how few people actually feel joy in their work. I feel that fulfilment is a right and not a privilege. Everyone is entitled to work in a place that they love to go to work to. Why should it just be me? And so I set out on this mission to share my message and share my story and share some of the tools I learned so that as many people as possible can wake up in the morning and are inspired to go to work, feel safe when they are there and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.
How can people find their personal Why? How can people get in touch with you?
s. si.: There are many ways. We offer a tool on our website called ‘Why Discovery Course’. People can take this course to learn their Why.
But there is a completely different way: go to someone you love and who you know loves you just as much. Not a spouse. That relationship is too close. But a good friend who you ask this question: “Why are we friends?” They are going to look at you like you are crazy. Then you ask them: “Why will you always be there for me?” They will say things like “I don’t know. Why are you asking me this?” They do know. It just exists in the part of the brain that doesn’t control language but controls emotions. So you ask them the question again. And they will say things like “You are loyal, you are trustworthy, I like you” and they will start describing you. That’s the definition of a friend.
This is what happened to my friends. My friends said to me “I don’t know, Simon. All I know is that I can be in the same room with you and don’t even have to talk with you and I feel inspired.” And I got goose bumps. And that’s when I realized the word they used even though they may have all used different words touched something inside me, how I viewed myself.
What professional or career advantages does it offer knowing your Why?
s. si.: Why helps with decision-making. It allows you to better understand and recognize an environment, a particular situation or partnership and how it works. Because very often what we do is we hire people for their skill-set but we never consider whether they belong in our team. Or we very often take a job somewhere because they offer us a lot of money but we never consider if we belong there. If we can trust the people with whom we are going to work. Why allows us to better navigate relationships and the decisions we make for our careers so we will more likely find ourselves in situations where we can thrive.
What happens to people when they find their why? What process of change do they go through?
s. si.: Next you have to understand that finding your Why is a tool, right? I can give you a hammer but if you don’t use it, it is useless. Discovering your Why is one thing but then the decision to actually use it to make decisions, to use it as a filter to manage one’s life and one’s career, all kind of great things happen. People who do this project this tremendous calm and confidence.
Your answers are so wonderful. Like poetry.
s. si.: Thank you.
How can people manage to maintain this particular type of approach long-term?
s. si.: If you want to get to know your personal why, a lot of work is involved initially. It is much easier to live your live on a day-to-day basis, just reacting to anything that happens throughout the day. It is more stressful. It has short-term gains but it is a very high standard to live your life on purpose. Because you will face a choice where you can make more money and push yourself out of alignment or you can make less money but you stay in alignment. We call this integrity. That is what integrity is. The choice to make a decision based on your values not just your sense of results. And when you live in high integrity over the long-term it has a much, much better impact.
How can companies integrate the positive attributes of Why within their respective company structures? How can employers continue to inspire their employees?
s. si.: The reason that we are inspired is not necessarily the work but the people who are doing the work with us. When we work with people who share a common purpose, what emerges is love and friendship and care and empathy, and in the end a wonderful place to go to work.
What measureable effect does that have on the company structure?
s. si.: On the structure it will become less hierarchical and more networked. That is innovation. Better solutions are found for different problems. It allows for bigger thinking because it creates an environment in which everyone feels empowered to do the right thing rather than waiting to be told what to do.
What hope do you have that at some point this way of seeing things will be a given?
s. si.: I have great hopes. The fact that I earn a living with this, that people read my books and listen to my talk shows that the demand exists. I also believe that a lot will change in the future. The system as prevails today, was popular in the 80s and 90s, so it will take just as long to change again
What countries live the Why particularly successfully and intensively? Can you make a general ranking?
s. si.: I think that the first world tends to lead, right? Usually for economic reasons. They lead in the good direction and the bad direction. So I think the web has lead the world down the wrong path where we treat people more like a resource than as a precious commodity. We treat people just as an expandable item. And this approach is now normal in a lot of the developing world as well. We in the western world are setting the example. It is like a parent and a child. It is the one with more experience that others will look to as an example. And the problem is that they are looking to us and are learning all the wrong things. So I don’t think there is any one country that is doing a good job of it. But I think every country has the opportunity to do it right.
Is Germany doing this right in your eyes?
s. si.: Absolutely. I do believe that Germany seems to be concerned with things like values and beliefs more than other places. Look at the immigration crisis. It is the Germans who say “Look, maybe we can do more because that is what we believe. That is the kind of people we are.” This should go beyond politics and be introduced into business as well.
What companies or people have most impressed you and why?
s. si.: There are a few. The ones that I talk about regularly. It is companies like Apple when Steve Jobs ran it, Southwest Airlines, Harley Davidson and Virgin. I think these companies have prioritised people beyond all else. And they are more stable, more profitable, more innovative and most importantly a great place to go to work to.
As you just mentioned Branson: I have done an impressive interview with him as well.
s. si.: Great. I am a big fan of him and his work and I think he sets a great example. The thing I love about Branson is that some people believe that because a company gets big they can no longer do the things that are important such as good leadership and taking care of people. Richard Branson is very honest. He says that some of his companies are doing a better job than others. And he admits that there are places for improvement. The fact that he is so honest I think is the most important thing for good leadership, that they can be honest about the challenges and opportunities they face.
You also had the honour of sharing your ideas at the United Nations, the United States Congress and with the Senior Leadership of the United States Airforce, United States Marine Corps, and United States Army. What differences can be seen in such special institutions in comparison to ‘normal’ companies?
s. si.: There is no difference. All of these organisations are groups of people who come together to do something, whether to sell a product or protect a nation or advance a common good. In all of these organisations, no matter if they are government, military or commercial, if they are well led, the people come together to solve problems and realise things. If they are poorly led the people stay apart to protect themselves and advance themselves. It is the same everywhere. Good leadership is good leadership.
Your unconventional and innovative views on business and leadership have attracted international attention and given you the opportunity to meet with an array of leaders. You also became the second most watched talk on Ted.com. What does this mean to you and what plans do you have for the future?
s. si.: As I explained before, this whole Why thing was simply a tool to help me refind my passion. That so many people have found inspiration in my work is an honour and flattering. To be the messenger for a message I believe in is so powerful. The other part of it is the fact that there is so much demand for my work means it is also missing from a lot of organisations, from a lot of people’s lives. I hope I can continue to work so that other people can find what I have found. And other people can lead the way I have seen others lead. And other people can create organisations that people want to come to work for and give their sweat and blood and tears to see a vision advanced. I am a proud messenger. But I also recognise that we have a lot of work to do to build the world that I imagine.
If you need any assistance in spreading your word, please let me know.
s. si.: Yes. This is very kind. Things like this article that you will write, help me. Because what it does is lead people to the philosophy that I live, to the books, to the pep talks, to the Why Discovery Course. It helps them know that something is out there for me to read, that there is something out there for me to learn, there is something for me to do. So doing this interview is a huge help to me and I am very grateful that you help spread the message.
You are welcome. We do it because we share your philosophy from the bottom of our hearts. One final question. What is the best thing about Why?
s. si.: It is magical. It inspires those who hear it and it inspires those who live it.
Simon Sinek lives in New York and is a trained ethnographer and the author of two books: the global best seller ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action’ and his newest book, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller ‘Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t’.
Picture credits © www.startwithwhy.com