Tuesday, April 8, 2014

W.B.'s Book Report: Start With Why

The introduction of most products does not go down in history, even if they changed the world. Few people have seen the first advertisement for Coca-Cola or the first cellphone commercial.

But you probably remember (or have now seen) the first ad for the Macintosh computer: A dreary gray room full of gray drones, watching a large viewscreen where a man is giving a pep talk about – well, he’s so boring no one is sure what he’s talking about. It’s a scene straight out of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

A woman in color – orange track shorts – runs up the aisle ignored by the gray drones, but pursued by gray guards, until she stops and heaves a sledge hammer at the screen, which explodes in bright light. Over the blinding sight, a narrator explains that the Macintosh is about to be introduced to the world and “You’ll see why 1984 will not be like 1984.”

The ad established that the Macintosh was going to be a revolutionary product, and it was – before then there were no windows on computers, and no mouses. It also reinforced the reason why Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Inc. – to start revolutions, to make interaction with technology easier for individuals, to put the power in the hands of each person.

All of Apple’s products have been revolutionary – before the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the world was a very different place. The success of the company depends on remembering why its founders started the brand.

I’ve just finished a book called Start With Why by Simon Sinek, and the Apple story is one of the best examples of the author’s theme: The greatest successes occur when you are in touch with why you are doing them, and the greatest harmony occurs when your actions are in tune with that “why.”

Competence and a knowledge of what needs to be done – the “how” and the “what” of things – are also essential, and you can be successful mastering just those two parts of the puzzle. But the greatest fulfillment and the most long-lasting success, Sinek argues, happens when the “how” and the “what” are driven by a clear understanding of the “why.”

The genius of the 1984 ad, which ran over the air just once, during that January’s Super Bowl, was that it sprang from Apple’s desire to put the power of computing into everyone’s hands. They didn’t start out wanting to build a great personal computer; they understood why having such a powerful tool on each individual’s desk could make the world better.

I encountered Sinek’s idea in a talk by Michael Victorson, former president of the board of the United Way of Dane County, during United Way Worldwide’s Great Rivers Conference in Milwaukee this February. In part he was saying you can have a successful United Way that determines what it wants to do and creates a great plan how to get there, but if you start by communicating a clear vision of why you’re doing all this, you’ll inspire people to really get behind the effort.

I think that’s true in any human endeavor. We get caught up in the everyday details of the what and the how, and we neglect the basic motivation: Why are we doing this? And that overlooks the basic fact of human nature that we need to have a purpose.

Get in touch with the why, and those everyday details make more sense – or more important, if the everyday details aren’t in line with your purpose, you understand what needs to be revised, and how. Start with why, and everything else follows. And you and your colleagues will be inspired and more motivated.

I suggest, in addition to nabbing Sinek’s book to learn more, you consider taking this approach, especially if you’re feeling stuck and uninspired: Why are you doing this? And keep asking until you find an answer that excites and empowers you. Once you tap into your “why,” you’ll be ready to start changing your world.

– Door County Advocate, April 9, 2014

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