There’s a good chance that one or more people are an inspiration to you. They’re probably great leaders of a movement, a country, or an industry. They have something about them that urges us to make their ideas and products parts of our lives. Why are these people so inspiring?
In 2009, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action” by Simon Sinek was published. This book makes clear what the differences are between three basic questions: WHY? – HOW? – WHAT?
These basic questions can be asked about the actions of politicians and entrepreneurs, and about the operations of organizations and companies. And there’s a particular order in these questions.
According to Sinek, politicians and entrepreneurs who don’t know how to answer the WHY question resort to manipulation. For example, companies put a lot of energy in price reductions and promotions, in messages that anticipate fear or good intentions, and in novelties (usually mistakenly called innovations). Manipulation yields short-term results, but is not sustainable in the long term.
Leaders know how to inspire people, which results in faithful voters and customers. Great, charismatic leaders start with the WHY question. Questions like: what is your objective, what makes you tick, what do you belief in? These are the questions that are connected with leadership, questions about the idea behind the act. In organizations these questions are typically answered by the Director – the visionary.
Then, the HOW question is addressed: how can something be done better or differently. It concerns the acts that are needed to achieve the belief (the WHY). These are the questions about organization and infrastructure – about the route – that in organizations are typically connected to Heads of Units.
Finally, we cannot ignore the WHAT question: what do you do? These are the questions that in organizations are typically connected to the workplace – the execution and the results. The WHAT is the expression or the proof of what an organization stands for.
Most people can easily tell you what they do, sometimes how they do it, but rarely why they do something. Leaders of leading companies make clear why they do something. According to Sinek, people don’t buy from you because of WHAT you do, but they do because of WHY you do it. Instead of asking "WHAT should we do to compete?" one should ask "WHY again did we start doing what we do?"
And concerning the employees: the average company gives its personnel something to work on, an innovative company gives its personnel something to work for (tweet this).
Diffusion of innovations
Sinek connects his ideas with Everett Rogers’ theory of innovation (“Diffusion of Innovations”, 1962). Rogers distinguishes five groups by speed of accepting a new product or idea: innovators (2,5%), pioneers (13,5%), early adopters (34%), late adopters (34%), and leggards (16%). Success in the mass market (i.e., among the early and late adopters, in total 68%) can only be achieved if 15-18% of the market (i.e., the innovators and the pioneers) has been reached.
This group (those 15-18%) shares where you stand for and wants your ideas, your products, and your services to become parts of their lives. They are faithful customers who are prepared to pay a bonus and accept inconvenience (to be the first) to use your product or service.
So, first explain WHY a product or service was developed (i.e., the values and what you stand for) and only then, WHAT it is or does (i.e., the characteristics and benefits).
This group will recommend the product or service to others. And then the next phases of diffusion come into the picture.
Sinek mentions examples of great, charismatic leaders. The most striking examples are Martin Luther King, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. I think, in this context, the example of Martin Luther King goes without saying.
Bill Gates is constantly searching for ways to solve problems. He saw the computer as the perfect technology to help us become more productive and to fully exploit our potential. Currently, he solves different kinds of problems with his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Steve Jobs was somebody who challenged the status quo. Apple represents the lifestyle that fits with that attitude. Just have a look at the Apple commercial with which the Macintosh computer was introduced, back in 1984.
My question: what type of person are you: the WHY, the HOW, or the WHAT type? Remember that the world needs all three of them.
This blog post is a repost of my (Dutch) July 8, 2013 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.