Simon Sinek began his inspiring TED talk recently with a very simple question:
“How do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?
For example: Why is Apple so innovative?
It seems like a rather simple question and thus a simple answer. Apple must make higher quality products than its competition. But, that’s probably not the case (as an Apple addict, I would probably argue otherwise, but that’s fodder for a different article). He goes on to explain how Apple has access to the same talent, the same agencies, to the same consultants, the same media. Yet, why is it that when Apple releases a new Iphone, people stand in line for hours or even days to be one of the first few to get their hands on their products?

All of the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether they are Apple, Martin Luther King or Obama, all think and communicate in the same way. And it’s the exact opposite of the rest of us. Simon Sinek calls it the Golden Circle. And as it turns out, there is a pattern to this behavior. The premise is pretty basic.

The Golden Circle

What inspires you to get out of bed in the morning? Why should anyone care about your business or the products you create? This is the WHY to which Simon is referring.


Why is it that some organizations and leaders can inspire and others can’t? It seems, the successful ones (think Google, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target)  think from the inside out and the rest of us, think from the outside in. Take a look at the image below. We think and act moving from the “what”, to the “how” to the “why”. Great leaders and companies do the opposite.

All organizations know WHAT they do. They sell widgets, software, shiny hats with bells on them etc. Some organizations know HOW they do it – perhaps you call this your differentiated value proposition, but very few organizations know WHY they do what they do. And when Simon refers to why, he does not mean to make a profit. That’s a result. He is referring to the purpose behind why they sell.


Simon gives a great example using Apple:
If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: We make great computers (what). They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly (how we make them and why you want to buy one). Want to buy one?
That’s how the rest of us market and sell. We tell people why our product or company is great and encourage folks to buy it.
Then, Simon goes on to explain how Apple actually communicates from  the”WHY” place:
Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?
Recognize the difference? Now, you probably want to go out and not only buy a computer, but an iphone, an mp3 player for your kid and who knows what else. And all he did was reverse the order of information. He started with WHY. then went to the HOW, and then ended with the WHAT.
People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.

The Science of Buying

He bases this thinking on brain research. If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, looking from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the Golden Circle. The part of the brain (the neocortex) which is responsible for all of our rational thought and language corresponds with the “WHAT” level of the Golden Circle. The middle two sections make up our limbic brains are responsible for feelings like trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for human behavior and decision making, but has no capacity for language.
In other words, when we make decisions from the outside in, we can understand features and benefits of products, but it doesn’t drive behavior. When we make decisions from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior where gut decisions are derived. This is also where feelings are felt.
You know, sometimes you can give somebody all the facts and figures, and they say, “I know what all the facts and details say, but it just doesn’t feel right.” Why would we use that verb, it doesn’t “feel” right? Because the part of the brain that controls decision-making doesn’t control language.
So, the moral of the story is, be true to yourself and your company. If you don’t feel inspired by what you do, then don’t do it. If you can’t find something in your product that excites you, than it won’t excite your customer. Your content is the soul of your business and if you have no soul, then neither will your product.

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why do it.


Cindy Frei

* If you would like to learn more about how to use content to share the “soul of your business” and in so doing, generate leads and customers, learn more about what we do at Vizolution.


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