Simon Sinek: Start with the Why

Great interview on mixergy today.  Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why explains his theory on leadership, success and passion.  Essentially, many people get stuck on “What” they do and “How” they do it.  But each individual’s passion, and their ability to attract others and be successful, depends on WHY they are driven to do the work.  Simon clearly shows how magnetic passion can be – both through examples and his own passion for his life’s work.

People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.  And what you do servers as the tangible proof of what you believe.

Passion for the idea is more important than a desire to get rich and famous.  He compares the Wright Brothers, who self-funded their flying machine, to Samuel Langley, who had significant funding and hired the best engineers.  The most successful startups are driven by the Why – not making money or retiring early.  Think about Facebook and Craigslist.

He also uses Apple as an example.  They clearly start with the why – a great user experience – which then drives what they do and how they do it.

Day to day, It’s easy to fall into a trap where you are just thinking about what you do and how you do it.  When you lose sight of the why, you lose motivation.  Simon explains how this happened a few years into his own startup.  He talks about how great it is when you quit your job to pursue your passion.  Your focus on the Why inspires friends to quit their jobs and follow you – not because you’re trying to get rich, but because you have a similar vision.  But after a few years, a startup can be draining, and he lost sight of why he was doing the work.  Without motivation, he found himself on the verge of depression.

When I think about my own life experience, this theory makes sense.  When I started at Microsoft, I was on a new team whose leader set a clear purpose: to beat Google on customer service.  We knew our product was inferior, but we also knew that advertisers were getting fed up with Google’s support system – and we set forth to attract and retain customers with superior service, a factor we could control.  When I left Microsoft, I wasn’t sure why I was doing the work I was doing.  Over time, my only purpose became a paycheck.  Like Simon, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I’ve seen the other side of this theory in action since I started LazyMeter.  When I state the problem I’m trying to solve, people get excited.  Many people I speak to about what I’m doing think about leaving their own jobs as well.  Everyone wants to have a passion for what they’re working on, yet it’s easy to end up in a situation where you have no passion at all.

For those thinking of founding a startup, be sure you are passionate about why you are doing it.  I’ve met a surprising number of entreupreneurs whose only Why is “I was tired of my job and this was the first idea I had”.  I usually lose interest in their project immediately.  When you talk about why you are doing your project, you attract followers.  The more people you talk to, the more that will be available to help you.  And the more clear your goal is, the better your product will be.

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