We have been looking at this 18 minute TED talk by Simon Sinek. In it he answers the question as to why is it some people and organisations are more inventive, pioneering and successful than others. Is it just a matter of luck or more opportunities? Sinek’s answer is that it has to do with the most fundamental and basic of questions – the question of why.

The power of  why can be seen from both a personal and organisational perspective. The question of why is so fundamental that when people lose their why then they eventually lose their way. They become distracted and side tracked by all sorts of good or potentially good ideas, but they lose their fundamental core of what they are really about and why they do what they do.

But when we became crystal clear about our why and can articulate that to others, then we either attract or repel them. What we lose is lukewarm, tepid neutrality. Here is how Sinek puts it on the video:

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

Sinek illustrates this with the example of the discovery of powered flight in the early 20th century. Then as now people always point to three factors to get to a challenging goal – the need to have enough money, the right people and the right environment.
The person who appeared to have all that at the time was someone called Samuel Pierpont Langley. He was given $50,000 by the US War Department to develop a flying machine. (A huge amount at the time). He was extremely influential with connections to Harvard, the Smithsonian and the greatest industrialists of the day. He was a celebrity who was avidly followed by the media at the time. And yet now he is practically unheard of.

Compare Langley then to the Wright brothers. They had no money and paid for their dream with the proceeds from their bicycle shop. There was no one in their team who had a college education. They were practically unknown. The difference between them and Langley was they were driven by a dream. They believed that if they could figure out how to fly they could change the course of world history. According to Sinek, Langley simply wanted to be rich and famous. His further proof that Langley was motivated by the wrong thing is that the day the Wright brothers achieved flight, on 17 December 1903, Langley quit and gave up. He made no attempt to build on their discovery. He just gave up.

In his book Sinek also gives the example of the English adventurer Ernest Shackleton who set out to explore the Antarctic in the early part of the 20th century. This was intended to be “the biggest polar journey ever attempted” (quoting Shackleton to The New York Times on 29 December 1913). It did not go according to plan. Leaving with a crew of 27 men on a specially constructed 350 ton ship, the Endurance, in December 1914, Shackleton and his crew were stranded in icy waters for almost a year before the ship eventually sank in the frigid waters of the Weddell Sea. Shackleton and his crew were now stranded on the ice and using their life boats managed to land on tiny Elephant Island. There Shackleton had to leave all but 5 of his men as they set out on a dangerous 800 miles of rough seas to get help, which they did. What is remarkable about all this is that throughout the whole ordeal no one died. Everyone was rescued and there was no mutiny or cannibalism in what were hugely challenging circumstances.

The reason for this Sinek puts forward is that Shackleton had ensured that he had got the right men for the challenge in the first place. He did not advertise as we might choose to do today, by saying something along the lines of, “Men needed for expedition. Minimum 5 years experience. Must know how to hoist a mainsail. Come work for a fantastic captain.”

In contrast Shackleton was looking for a crew that belonged on such an expedition. Here is the advertisement that Shackleton apparently placed in The London Times:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

There is some controversy about the origin of this advertisement, but I think it illustrates the power of a big enough why to bring clarity and the right support.

So what is my why for this blog? Why, using the language of the tag line to the blog do I want to “make sense of life in a challenging and complex world”?
Here are my answers to the why question:

  • No one else, as far as I know, is producing such a holistic and bespoke package of ideas and concepts like this.
  • There are literally millions of people out there who are confused, distressed and hurting like I was and who need help.
  • I believe I have an ability to bring truth and concepts together in a unique way that will help many people.
  • I have a unique platform from my faith, leadership training and psychiatry background.
  • This will create a platform for future teaching and training.
  • I will be able to reach out in a deeper way to friends and family.
  • I can help people who I will never meet.
  • People who will be helped can in turn help and encourage so many others.
  • Why should  so much that is negative and soul destroying preoccupy so many people’s minds and time?
  • This is a great opportunity for me to bring together my life journey and learning for the benefit of others.
  • I love processing and thinking through these ideas and concepts and seeing the positive impact on others.
What are your thoughts on the power of why?