You simply have to know your WHY

I’ve been thinking about my WHY a lot lately. I met Simon Sinek, the ‘why guy’, a couple of weeks ago.  And I was super excited to meet him, but right before hand, got really nervous.

See, a few days earlier, I watched another one of his talks, but in this clip, he was calling people out on their so-called ‘whys’.  He shared stories about meeting executives that didn’t operate from a place of WHY, and ultimately how, in 100% of those instances, not having a WHY led to their demise.

He shared stories of how incredibly dangerous working from NO WHY can become.  For example, if we stop asking ourselves why, then we stop asking other people about their whys. He even talked about Nazi Germany as an extreme example — what can happen when you get people to not ask why. Bad things happen.

But it was also the pattern in any downfall/collapse… of any leader, regime, company, government, etc.  A collapse has always been in the absence of a greater purpose, cause, or belief.

But then he shared stories of success: companies, governments, Civil Rights, any movement that has ever required change — when we operate from the WHY first, we can change the world.

So, just before meeting Simon, I was like, “Damn, what if he asked me my WHY? Would it pass his WHY test?”  I was actually trying to think of a word, or phrase I could use, if he asked me my why.  Something catchy, but I was struggling.  (well, he never asked me my WHY, but it was a neat meeting).

But if he did, how would I squeeze the enormity of what I have experienced in my own Story Leaders journey into a phrase, into a few words?

And a couple of things happened this past week that reinforced my own WHY:

First, the whole election thing dawned on me this week when I listened to Romney’s Conference call with his big donors that was made public. He attributed his loss to a bunch of WHAT. For example. minorities were given gifts, Obama mobilized poor people, etc etc.  —  He talked about his version of WHAT happened. And it reminded me of something bigger: He never, ever operated from a place of WHY.  Ever.  It was always about whats and hows.  And, it of all makes sense now, right?  This election was never about policy or who’s plans are better. Its about something bigger. Everything is.

The people that go ‘there’ win.

And then, just this week I did a workshop in San Francisco that reinforced this…  At the end of the workshop, the VP of Sales, Brian, closed the workshop by saying that these past 3 days had been extraordinarily difficult for him because he was struggling with his WHY.  He actually said, “I always thought I was shallow…”  And he felt ashamed about it. And then he talked about how nervous he was going into the workshop because he knew he would be forced to search out his WHY.  But he had no idea where to begin, in an effort to even find out his WhY. He said he even watched Simon Sinek’s video a year prior, and he still had no idea how to get to his WHY.

And then, he told the group, his direct reports, how after he shared his WHY I AM story, and then even more so, after he listened to everyone else’, he got his WhY.  He talked about how much he believes in a greater cause, a greater purpose, and its not just about ‘selling’.  For Brian, its about moving people away from the status quo. And he talked about his belief in change and growth, and how this week was about growth for him.  He said what he learned in the workshop is that selling is about moving people away from the status quo.

It was incredible hearing him share this to the group.

When I heard that, I was reminded of my own WHY…and now, as I write this story, I think about how meaningful this work is… to do the messy work necessary to find why we do the things we do.

Not everyone goes there in our workshops, and that’s OK, but this Story Leaders tribe of people mobilizing around me, is connected by those who believe in something bigger. Giving people the voice to change the world.


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Categories: Story

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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2 Comments on “You simply have to know your WHY”

  1. November 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Oh yeah…the why! As a company enters that stage beyond launch where the money starts to get tight and sales become the most important thing, it’s easy to lose sight of the why. We get caught up in the big what of “we need to sell more of these in order to survive!” It makes me wonder if this cry is the beginning of the death spiral of an otherwise good idea. Primal7 has a noble why – we exist to empower people to be human again. You see, we make a device that enables nearly anyone, regardless of their current level of ability, to move their bodies, exercise and do the basic fundamental human movements that can take a person from nearly dead to fully alive. We’ve seen 420 people drop over 100 lbs. We’ve seen amputees pumping out squats and push ups and pull ups. We’ve seen Marine Corp vets with TBI empowered to take their lives back by engaging in real human movement again. And we do this with a simple device, inspired by one man’s prayer almost a decade ago. Our why is inspiring. Tomorrow must begin anew with a focus on our why – the what (and the sales) will surely follow.

    • November 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

      Thanks for the comments, David. You make excellent points.

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