Start With “Why” not “What”

I’ve been catching up on my RSS feeds this weekend, and loved a piece that the great Eric Barker wrote on the secrets of great presentations:

The part of the piece I’d like to focus on is the very first point, which he sums up with a quote from Simon Sinek, the author of “Start With Why”:

“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it… Start with “Why.”

I love this advice, but not for the reasons you might expect.  Sure, it’s a great way to persuade people, but I think it’s an even better way to manage the entrepreneurial life.
Most entrepreneurs focus on “what” they’re doing.  They rarely focus on the “why.”  When asked, many will spout platitudes about “changing the world” or “making a difference.”  It’s a great line when Steve Jobs, who actually did change the world, speaks it; it’s an empty cliche for most of the rest of us.
You might not like the honest answers you give when you try to articulate your “why.”  For many entrepreneurs, many of the following whys apply:
  • To prove my worth to all the people who doubted me
  • To make a lot of money
  • Because I’m envious of all my friends who got rich starting companies
  • Because I suck at working for others

These are not good reasons to start companies.

I met Michael Wilkerson through the Unreasonable Institute.  Michael is the founder of Tugende, a microfinance institution that helps Ugandans buy their own motorcycle taxis, while earning a decent return for investors.  He’s already helped 300 entrepreneurs get their own motorcycles.

Michael has a clear “Why”–he wants to help more Ugandans become entrepreneurs.

Your mission doesn’t have to be so altruistic, but it has to be equally sincere and personal.  Start with “Why.”

1 thought on “Start With “Why” not “What”

  1. I really appreciate this post.

    It ties in with a post I wrote recently targeting energy managers who similarly must focus on seeking explanation
    Six poor ways of finding waste – And "Why?"

    My reasoning is that all other standard questions elicit facts not motives.

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