Have you ever wondered why some people seem to make incredible progress with their lives and others seem to get stuck or even go downhill? Why in some cases 30 years of experience is just one year of experience repeated 30 times?

The following 18 minute TED talk by Simon Sinek powerfully explains why this is. He uses the examples of large companies like Apple, the innovation of flight by the Wright brothers and the impact of Martin Luther King. However, at the start of a new year I believe what he is saying has important implications as we seek to grow and develop in our lives and the things that matter to us personally.

I would strongly encourage you to take 18 minutes out of your day to watch this video. You won’t be disappointed and it might just change the way you look at life. It is also apparently the second most popular TED talk of all time:

Sinek has very helpfully simplified the process into what he calls the golden circle…

Most people and organisations go from WHAT to HOW to WHY. It is what comes naturally and seems logical. What is in front of us is what needs to be done or achieved. It is tangible, it is measurable. We focus on explaining the what – we spend huge amounts of time and resources on the what. Then we wonder why nothing changes or why we are having much less impact than we expected or hoped for.
The reason Sinek would say is that the greatest and most successful people and organisations go in the exact opposite direction. They start with WHY move to HOW and only then do they decide on the WHAT.

This can be explained by human biology. Putting it very simplistically we can divide the human brain into an outer part called the neocortex and a middle two sections called the limbic brain.

The neocortex corresponds with the ‘what’ level. It is responsible for all of our rational thought content and language.

The limbic brain corresponds with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ level. It is responsible for all of our feelings like trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all human behaviour and all decision making, but it has no capacity for language.

The implication of that is when we communicate from the outside in, then others can hear and receive all the complex information they are given, but it does not lead to change in behaviour.

So, for example, I can know cigarette smoking is bad for me. I can be told again and again how bad it is for me, I can read all the dangers it can cause me, but it does not lead to a change my behaviour.

It is also the reason why, according to Michael Hyatt, 25% of people abandon their new year resolutions after one week and 60% within 6 months. The average person will make the same resolution 10 times without success. And even after a significant event like a heart attack only 14% (or approximately only 1 in 7) will make any meaningful change around eating or exercise.

Contrast this with when we communicate from the inside-out. Then, Sinek says, we talk directly to the part of the brain that controls behaviour. From that foundation we allow people (and ourselves) to rationalise it with the tangible things we say and do. This also explains where our so-called ‘gut’ or intuitive decisions come from. So when we are presented with all the facts and figures, all the information that clearly points to a single irrefutable conclusion, we say something like ‘it doesn’t feel right’. The reason is that the part of the brain that controls decision making is not the same part that controls language.

In previous years in this blog I have talked about Why I Don’t Believe in New Year Resolutions. I have also given 5 Keys To Make New Year Resolutions That Can Actually Succeed. The power and simplicity of what Simon Sinek is saying takes this thinking to a whole new level.

I hope to explore this in future posts, but for now what strikes you about what Sinek is saying and can you see any implications for your own life as we look ahead in this year? Feel free to add your thoughts and observations in the comments section below.

(For more on Simon Sinek also see How To Fail And Lose Well Part 2).