There is a discussion amongst those in certain circles of introspective thinkers about a better way to approach business for sustainability and growth. There’s is not a search for something novel or clever but rather for something noble, lasting and fundamental to meeting needs. It has to do with purpose.
One might argue that, over time, markets, economies and human marketplace interactivity have come from a place of mass local specialization (artisanry) to mass production and back again to a form of mass specialization – of a modern, global sort. With this has come pressure to innovate and differentiate to prove one’s worth as a provider of anything. Most take a “product-forward” or “outside-out” approach; marketing products or services and rarely drawing the prospective consumer of them in toward the “how” and even rarer still to the “why”.
Sure, customer focus groups gather data and feedback to test trends and new ideas and product modifications but these are focused on product and “what” the company does – not necessarily “why”. And popular “green” claims are generally “gadget” fads, in my opinion, masquerading as “why” leveraged to justify the “what”.
Most enterprises expound on features, functions and (perhaps) their “value proposition” (“how”) and offer their products (“what”) pretty much at arms length. There is an assumption that we have figured out what our consumer wants and here – maybe with modifications – is what we offer in response. We may hit the nail on the head and be wildly successful, but more often we are successful only for a season. Why? Because we are not connecting our “why” with their “why”. There is no emotional embrace.
Let’s face it, common practice is to draw interest for “what” is offered based on image (if we have marketing), features (if we advertise) and price. A marketing image that attempts to address the “why” through a message of vanity may hit an emotional chord I suppose – but a shallow and deceptive one at that. The real “why” is usually profit and that is generally none of our customer’s business.
As individuals, we generally do this in our pursuit of employment; listing our features, functions and experience aiming for a “price” that suits the economic ambitions of our household. We dress this up in a resume and circulate ourselves as a posting on the appropriate “sites” and we dangle ourselves before the appropriate networks of people.
In some remote and sustainably successful cases there is a noble and truthful “why”. The “why” of such enterprises is rarely for something represented directly by the products in and of themselves but more for an unmet emotional need or a solution to a problem or an approach toward life or an attitude about functionality, or a statement of our individuality, or a need for an experience. For some rare folks their understanding of the “why” of their existence is addressed in their resume and their pursuits take on a much different flavor in their search of employment or purpose and calling through their work. These businesses ARE and they do. These people ARE and they do. They are not WHAT they do.
This approach of determining one’s calling and answering it, answering the WHY, is not new but it is counter-intuitive in today’s society that has bent our perception of the formula for “success”. If success is merely profit – go for it – but don’t expect true fulfillment or sustainability – expect profits – for a season. Profit is a very shallow “why”. The introspective thinker is going to search for meaning beyond circumstances and tie purpose to calling to overcoming. In my view managers do things “right” or how they think they ought to be done, but leaders do the right things or the things that ought to be done.
Definitions of what a leader is abound. I once read someone’s definition of a leader that really stuck in my head. They said that a leader is, “someone you chose to follow to a place you would not go by yourself.” That’s a good definition. What if we all embraced that definition and at the same time the notion that we are all, as individuals or as organizations, leaders of something toward something. What if we embraced the notion that we have a calling as individuals and as business enterprises or organizations to attract and lead others to choose to follow “us” to a place they would not go by themselves? This sort of thinking is of the inside-out sort. This sort of thinking starts with WHY and travels to HOW and outward to WHAT.
With this sort of stream of motivation we can build what Simon Sinek calls the “Golden Circle” with WHY at the center as a bull’s eye, a ring around that center focused on HOW and an outer circle of WHAT that can take the form of MANY products, services … you name it … all centered on a WHY. Sinek’s takes this beyond businesses and to individuals as well as organizations and even movements that purport to have a cause. Why we’re at it, let’s toy with changing all notions of outcome from “for-profit” to “for-cause”. You can watch a very well done presentation by Sinek on this in his TED video (How Great Leaders Inspire Action) found in the link at the bottom of this piece. Sinek remarks on how Martin Luther King’s “why” was a dream. King had a dream, not a plan and people followed the dream.
If you figure out the “why” and are true to it you will attract others who will chose to follow you to the solution that responds to it. You won’t be all things to all people but your “why” will resonate with the “why” of others and they will be drawn to “what” you offer time and time again.
Sinek is not unique in his “discovery” of his “Golden Circle”. Patrick Lencioni expounds on a similar concept in his book The Advantage ~ Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. (I covered this in my last post but it bears reiteration in the context of this theme) In his book Lencioni lays out Six Critical Questions that organization leaders must clearly and succinctly articulate, agree upon and repeatedly broadcast throughout their organizations in order to successfully lead any enterprise. Those six things are:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important, right now?
- Who must do it?
The list starts with “why”.
I am privileged to work with an organization that has a very compelling “why” in my opinion. Truth at Work ~ Christian Leader Roundtable Groups exists to provide a safe and confidential place for Christians who are business owners, CEOs, Executive Directors or Senior Executives of organizations. These leaders gather to learn about best practices for running organizations, to exchange ideas, to bare their souls about personal, professional and spiritual issues they are facing, to give and receive counsel and advice and to discuss how to run an organization in a biblical and God-honoring fashion. Our “why” is about a life and business changing experience. Our “why” is because Christians in these leadership roles cannot find a peer board of advisors they can trust and go to who truly “get it”. Yes, our program has features and content and an annual conference and web-based media and “this and that”. We have a host of compelling and competent “whats” and we have a lot of “hows”. We have a great value proposition. It isn’t for everyone, but the people who explore it and want “in” have first discovered and understand the “why”.
What is your “why”?
Bill Girrier was born and raised on Long Island, New York. After graduating from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and embarking on a naval career, he landed in New England where he has successfully led “for-profit” and “for-cause” enterprises. Bill is presently engaged as the Southern New England Chapter President of Truth at Work Christian Business Leader Roundtable Groups and he helps small and mid-size business leaders define and achieve their ambitions as Managing Director of WayPoints Partners, LLC. Bill is the author of Fruition ~ Reflections on a life grafted-in (Westbow Press, 2011), an introspective on the bountiful potential of every born again Christian. Bill shares on matters of faith, leadership, management and the life experience in “Bill’s View from the Crow’s Nest” at: www.atthemasthead.blogspot.com. He and his wife Denise live in Bristol, Rhode Island.