Thursday, January 06, 2011

Why "Why" Matters


I revisited a talk that I heard a few weeks ago from TED Talks by Simon Sinek.  In the talk Sinek explores why certain people and businesses succeed while others that may seem even more funded fail.  As examples he uses the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King Jr.  Sinek makes the point that what set both the Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King Jr. apart from many of their contemporaries who were trying to do the same things is that they kept the "why" ahead of the "what" meaning that they consistently stayed aware and communicated why they were doing what they were doing above and beyond merely what they were doing.  As a result, people who were driven by the same core convictions gathered around them.  As Sinek states in this talk, "Martin Luther King said 'I have a dream' not 'I have a plan'"  In essence King was always communicating the why up front as opposed to many in the political world who simply offer a 15 point plan.

I suspect this phenomenon is why Barack Obama won the presidential election because his whole campaign was primarily about the "why"--hope, change.  While I would consider myself a conservative (or at least libertarian) on most political issues I have to admit that I could not get very excited about John McCain during the last election.  Perhaps this was because he failed to resonate with the core passions of people.  I suspect that this too is why George W. Bush was elected as well because compared to many of the others he came across as someone who was authentic, caring, and uncompromising--intangibles that resonate with the "why" part of people.  Further, this valuing of the "why" over the "what" is probably partly why the same ones that voted for Bush and Obama become disillusioned so quickly when the "why" doesn't come to pass.

So, my takeaway is that I agree with Sinek on most of what he is saying because I have noticed the same tendencies in my life.  Yet, I don't think it is healthy or productive or redemptive to have a "why" without a "what" (reason for doing things but no meaningfully thought out plan as to what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.)

Check out the talk and leave some feedback.

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