The power of WHY?

What is the importance of the power of WHY? I have been a fan of Simon Sinek for years. The first minute of his TED talk about this famous WHY and titled “How great leaders inspire action” raises so many good points such as: 

  • Why is Apple so innovative? They are just a computer company with access to the same talent as everyone else.
  • How about those Wright brothers and aviation? Surely the team with the money and access to all they needed should have put that first plane in the air?

They both truly knew what their WHY was! We get confused what WHY means, as Simon says “profit is a result” but if you go back to Steve Jobs and the way he built the company it was all about changing the status quo and thinking differently. After all Steve urges us to pursue our dreams and see the opportunities in life's setbacks - including death itself. If you listen to his Stanford University acceptance speech about connecting the dots, he ends with a mantra I believe in, and makes sense on so many levels… ’stay hungry – stay foolish.’

Let’s apply this into a business setting. The goal is to get your customers to buy WHY you do what you do and not what and how you do it.

This means the culture of a business is also critical. If you can get staff, friends and customers to believe why you do it you will get brand loyalty on all levels. You can also get people to work for you because of blood, sweat and tears not just the money. Passion is so very powerful.

As a marketer that has worked with some of the biggest brands in the UK such as Adidas and Boots it is key I believe that any start up business/entrepreneur should understand this from the outset. Under pinning this are many other business methods and knowing what works for you. I like Steve did not go down the University route but the University of life.

All of the start-up businesses or MSc students I have worked with at Nottingham University Business School, I always ask them to go through the “Golden Circle” question from the outset – WHY – HOW – WHAT and I love to see them think about it. It is challenging for many of them as they are fixed on wanting to make money and living the dream!

Let’s go back to Simon and his thoughts on the law of diffusion of innovation. It’s all about believing, and thinking hard about market penetration as your early adopters will only enable you to get so far in business.

Dr Martin Luther King had a dream remember? He had the “I have a dream” speech and not I have a plan! 250,000 people turned up the day of his March in Washington and it wasn’t about black v white as 25% were white and they believed in themselves. A great example of those who lead inspire us – not because we have to but because we want to.

JK Rowling in her Harvard acceptance speech told us some heartening advice to dreamers and overachievers, including one hard-won lesson that she deems ’worth more than any qualification I ever earned.’

Being in business is hard but has so many rewards. I left the corporate world at the end of 2000 and would not go back as I know my WHY and love what I do and hope that I have become a good leader and mentor to many.

 What does it all mean?

The ability to motivate people is in itself not difficult. It is usually tied to some external factor. Great leaders, in contrast are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.

For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal. They are less likely to be swayed by incentives. Those who are inspired are willing to pay a premium or endure inconvenience, even personal suffering. Those who are able to inspire will create a following of people – supporters, voters, customers, workers – who act for the good of the whole not because they have to, but because they want to.

People who love going to work are more productive and creative. They go home happier and have happier families. They treat their colleagues and clients and customers better. Inspired employees make for stronger companies and stronger economies.

Make sure you listen to JK’s speech as she ends it so very well… ‘So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.’


Melanie Berry the owner of Very Berry Sports Marketing LTD and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Nottingham University Business School