Simon recently appeared on Reinvention Radio and Steve & Simon had a very interesting conversation about one’s WHAT vs. one’s WHY.
Steve Olsher: Where did the whole concept of the Golden Circle and the whole Start With Why initiative come from?
Simon Sinek: Like any idea, it was an evolution. It was also born out of a personal need. It wasn’t an academic or professional exercise, commercial exercise. I was always curious why some marketing worked, and some marketing didn’t. I was a marketing guy. I looked at the order that great marketers marketed. It was based on this why, how, what thing. I put it on a shelf. It was good for PowerPoints. Then I went through this personal crisis where I’d lost my passion for what I was doing. It was a really dark period for me. I think a lot of entrepreneurs at some point go through it. The question is can you get through it. Really, all of my energy went into pretending that I was happier, more successful, and more in control than I felt. I was also very embarrassed by this feeling because superficially everything was good. I owned my own business. I made an okay living. We had amazing clients. I didn’t want to complain that I didn’t want to wake up and do it again the next day, so I kept those feelings to myself. Like I said, all of the energy I had went into pretending that I was more in control than I felt. It was a confluence of events. I met somebody who started telling me about the way the human brain worked. I started putting pieces together and realizing there was this pattern. I realized I knew what I did, and I knew how I did it but I didn’t know why. That’s where it came from. It came out of personal need. It was born out of struggle.
Steve Olsher: Any take on the what versus why?
Simon Sinek: Semantic. It’s a semantic debate. It’s like I got tired of having the discussion with people, “What comes first? Vision or Mission or positioning or brand?” Because it’s a semantic debate. I ask people who believe vision was primary and they said, “Well, it’s why we do what we do.” I ask people who believe the mission was primary and they said, “Well, it’s why we get out of bed in the morning.” I ask people who believe brand came first and they said, “Well, it’s why we exist.” I said, “Okay. Well, let’s call it the why. We can all agree.”
Steve Olsher: Does the why stay constant once you find it or can it modify over time?
Simon Sinek: Your why is fully formed by the time you’re about 17, 18, 19-years old. The youngest person I’ve done a Why Discovery with was 17-years old, and it worked perfectly. It’s fully formed by that age, and it never changes. The rest of your life are simply opportunities to either live in balance with your why or not. That’s why knowing your why helps you make decisions whether you should or shouldn’t do something or whether you should or shouldn’t work with someone.
Steve Olsher: Your TED Talk crushes. You’re an in-demand speaker. What keeps the fire going for you at this point?
Simon Sinek: I’m driven by my cause, to inspire people, to do what inspires them. It hasn’t waned at all. I have a vision. Whenever anybody says, “Simon, you’ve done all of these things and all of this stuff,” it’s tip of the iceberg. I think about the vision that I have, and I have so much more work to do. I have this vision of creating a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired to go to work, feel safe when they’re there, and feel fulfilled when they come home at the end of the day. I am way, way far away from success, and anything that I’ve achieved up until now are simply stepping stones that will help me get to where I need to go to.
Steve Olsher: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from one of your business failures or mistakes?
Simon Sinek: You can’t do this stuff alone. The biggest mistake I made was thinking that I had to have all the answers, or if I didn’t, I had to pretend that I did. The biggest lesson I learned was to ask for help and accept it when it was offered. No one can build a business by themselves. You’re a fool if you think you can.
Steve Olsher a/k/a Mr. Bold. Our Reinvention Radio host, is the New York Times bestselling author of What Is Your WHAT? Discover The ONE Amazing Thing You Were Born To Do; founder and Chairman of Liquor.com; creator of The Reinvention Workshop; and 25+ year entrepreneur who has built several multimillion-dollar businesses.