Why Successful Doers Ask Why
Do successful Doers know why they do what they do? Whether personally or professionally, I think Doers know exactly why they do what they do. Doers inspire the change they want to see in the world. Doers seem to see a need, or a void, or an injustice, and they instinctively want to be a part of the solution. I wonder if they don’t usually begin by thinking about the why. Why should I? Why can’t I? Why wouldn’t I…?
I read a wonderful book a while back, Start With Why, by Simon Sinek. It is an inspirational book that encourages us to follow our dreams, and it all starts with asking the simple question why? Good question, right?
Before I had read his book, I heard Sinek speak at a CEO conference in Austin, Texas. It was a surprisingly intimate conference, considering how many people were in attendance, and the highlight for me turned out to be Sinek.
This young professional, who holds several degrees, including a law degree, introduced himself as he walked up to a perfectly centered, old school paper easel. I have to admit I caught myself wondering what this “kid” could know about business, and how he could have anything to say to this group of business veterans. I thought many in the group were probably thinking the same thing, so I paid attention to reactions around the room.
He walked up to the easel slowly, then used a felt marker to draw three concentric circles on the blank sheet of paper. He let everyone look at them for a while and then asked the group if they knew what the most important thing to a business is. I think we all started rolling EBITDA, cash flow, top line revenues, etc., around in our minds. He let us consider this for a minute and then he put a three letter word right in dead center––the bull’s-eye. Can you guess what it was? He wrote the word why. He said everyone in an organization needs to know and understand why they do what they do.
It seems a pretty basic concept, but riveting in its magnitude in business. To me, it’s much more important than all the other typical and cliched measurements of a business.
Now, don’t get me wrong, knowing your why without sustainable income gets you to the same place—out of business. So when I say you need to know why, let’s keep in perspective that all of the key metrics need to come into place, too. It just makes us much more comfortable when we know the why of what we are doing. It might even help make our business more successful, maybe because when we know why, we have a stronger motivation to make sure that those traditional metrics are in place.
So, let’s look at an example. How about Howard Schultz, Founder of Starbucks? Why does he do what he does? To sell coffee, obviously. But what actually fuels his why? What if I told you it is “To inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person at a time, one cup at a time and one neighborhood at a time.” Now, how do you feel about Starbucks? Next time you go in for a coffee, I bet you think about the why. Does your human spirit feel inspired and nurtured?
Here’s another example: A friend of mine, Jason Levine, has a large sunflower company (I hope to have a profile on him soon, he is an incredible Doer!) This friend totally understands the power of why, if fact, he posts signs about it all around his business. When you read his company’s why, you just get it––“Sharing a passion for sunflowers is our mission! We love what we do and grow every sunflower with the purpose of bringing smiles and cheer, sharing the HAPPY with everyone!”
When you walk through his facility, with 100s of employees, you feel good about “sharing the happy.” There are sunflowers everywhere, and the sunflowers really do make people smile. Can you think about a happy sunflower and not smile?
My friend’s why is intoxicating to me. It’s a key to the incredible success Dos Gringos Sunflowers enjoys today, and a tribute to Jason, the founder and CEO, who understands the power of why.
Another example of why “why” is so important comes from Netflix. When it comes to creating a flexible culture and a driven group of employees, Netflix has done an incredible job and their performance over the last few years can be directly attributed to it. Their cultural manifesto ends with a quote from The Little Prince, which I love. I hope it stimulates you to think about the WHY in a different way, too.
If you want to build a ship,
don’t drum up the people
to gather wood, divide the
work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea.
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
So, now my question to you is, do you know your personal why? Do you know your company’s or your organization’s why? Does your personal why fit with your organizations why? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, start thinking about it. Knowing your why is the best place to start.