Simon Sinek was right. Your “why” is important.
If you’ve not read the book Start with Why, then here’s a summary.
In this book, Sinek emphasises the importance of understanding and communicating the ‘why’ behind actions and decisions, particularly in business and leadership.
He argues that successful leaders and organisations are those that effectively articulate their fundamental purpose and beliefs, inspiring others to follow.
He then introduces the concept of the Golden Circle, a model that starts with ‘why’ at the centre, followed by ‘how’ and ‘what,’ to guide decision-making and communication strategies.
For some, this sounds like a whole lot of useless navel-gazing with no clear outcome. And I would once have agreed. It felt like cloudy, hazy woo-nonsense designed to tug on emotions and sell books.
But that was until I found myself asking why I conduct my life and business in the way I do.
I am not wildly profitable. I don’t make a tonne of money. I am never going to own a fancy car. I do too much stuff for free and I gleefully give away my ideas and intellectual property to whoever wants it.
That sort of approach is the very opposite of what accountants, lawyers and business advisors would tell you to do.
But I work on a principle of earned authority. By giving tonnes of assistance to those who need it, I then have the experience and credibility to be able to provide deeper value to those who can pay for it.
But this is a slow burn. It’s a long investment to make to get value for yourself later. So why would I deliberately choose this path?
It comes down to my “why.”
I am not a man of faith or belief in much at all. But I do believe in this one thing.
As a child I was a seeker. I was attracted to churches and religions and religious figures. I was fascinated by their authority, confidence and charisma.
More than this, I was enthralled by their absolute certainty that their God was not only real, but that they could have conversations with it/him/her.
I tried hard as a teenager and young adult to capture some of that for myself, but all I did was imitate those I looked up to and found that the heavens were silent. There was no still, small voice. There was no booming directions from the thunder and lightning. And I just couldn’t look past the sexism, racism, homophobia, contradictions, violence and genocide in all the holy books.
As they say, a person who believes in nothing will fall for anything… and I certainly did. I fell for the logic of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I developed a crush on a stunning-looking Mormon missionary. I read Dianetics, got “saved” at Hillsong and found myself reciting surahs from the Qur’an.
None of it stuck simply because I essentially had a mindset based around “return on investment.”
If I prayed five times a day and still had nothing to show for it, that was a bad return on investment. Likewise, if I went to church twice on a Sunday and did a Bible study group on Wednesday nights and all I had to show for it was a lack of money then I had no reason to believe that this was anything but a scam.
But it was in the last few years that I finally emerged from the fog of not truly having a “why.” And my “why’ is going to shock some and maybe even disgust some.
My “why” for doing all this stuff and being the person I am is that I truly believe that only business can save the world.
Yes, that’s exactly what I said.
Only business can save the world.
Not love. Not God. Not peace. Not wind power. Not Elon Musk. Not voices, treaties or truth-telling.
This is going to take some explaining, I know. Hang with me.
At this point, I expect to lose half of my following. And that’s ok.
I need to break this down a bit because I know that this belief is going to put a lot of people off.
Business is inherently self-interested. I admit that.
Yet self-interest is not just the cause of so much of the problems in this world. It is also the solution.
Right now, problems like climate change, social unrest, inequality, racism and the plethora of other issues simply don’t hurt enough.
Yes, they hurt the victims a whole lot. I won’t trivialise that. It’s real. But it doesn’t hurt other people enough. Certainly not enough for us to stop buying things wrapped in plastic. Or stopping us from buying clothes made by children in sweatshops. Or flying in aircraft that pump out tonnes of pollutants into our atmosphere.
But it is this same self-interest that will fix these things.
Business needs certain things to survive and grow. Resources. A degree of certainty. Access to new customers. Repeat customers. A motivated market.
Problems in the world break these things. Wars. Famines. Rising Sea Levels. Disenfranchised people. Piles of plastic in oceans. Pollution in rivers. None of these things is good for business. And we are fast approaching a point where some of these things are starting to hurt a LOT of people en-masse.
When business can’t find a customer because they’re all being displaced by war, famine, poverty or unliveable conditions, business needs to do something. And if enough businesses – especially the big ones – are being impacted by a lack of customer growth, then they have to do something.
Right now, change is only occurring because businesses want to virtue-signal to the world that they are good for the planet, good for people and good citizens in support of important things.
But this is, in itself, self-interest. And again, this is not a bad thing.
Self-interest is what helps us survive, fight out way out of adversity and even have children. We literally procreate because sex feels good and the result of it carries on our genetic line into the future. You can’t get more self-interested than that!
Self-interest is an incredibly strong driver in humans. And while our success as a species comes from our ability to collaborate and work together, even that is based on self-interest. There’s safety in numbers and together we achieve more.
Business will save the world because it has to. It needs customers. It needs resources. It needs to breathe as much as you and I do.
Governments are too fractured and splintered into single-issue factions to save anything but their own seats in parliament. Their motivations are based around election cycles. And that’s too short-term to save the world in the long term.
Charities are a band-aid to plug gaps that governments don’t want to do themselves. They help where they can, but they simply can’t save the world.
And woo-rubbish like positive thinking, thoughts and prayers and reiki-energy-healing manifestation garbage is a feel-good scam that doesn’t even fix the people doing it, let alone the world.
Only business is so self-interested that it simply can’t stand by and watch. I needs to save the world so that it has a customer-base and resources with which to serve those customers.
But what about small business?
Ah… now this is the segment of business that I think can have the most widespread impact.
While corporations can reduce carbon output, change their supply chains and materials and make big steps towards a better world, small business is the unseen hero.
Corporations are like elephants. We like them. They’re hard to miss. And when they move, you know they’re moving. But the reality is that if elephants disappeared, not much would change on this planet. We’d be sad, but we’d be ok.
Small businesses are more like insects. There’s squillions of us. We’re everywhere but we’re largely invisible. Occasionally one us gets noticed and for a brief moment the world becomes aware of us before I goes back to it’s routine and forgets that we are operating in the undergrowth.
But without insects, life on Earth ceases. Flowers, crops and trees don’t get pollinated. Amphibians, small mammals and birds die. Everything that feeds on these then die. Right up to humans at the top of the food chain.
Everything dies without the insects.
Small Business enables women in developing nations to own their own means of production. This enables those women to empower their daughters to own their own means of production. The man who passes his small business to his son passes on a legacy and economic power.
By building a business from home, we enable child-raising again in a post-industrial world that demonises parental leave and punishes women with decreased job opportunities when they wish to re-enter the workforce.
Business provides opportunities to those who don’t fit into cramped, noisy and inhumane workplaces designed for maximum output for minimum input.
The neurodiverse. The disabled. The different. They are all empowered by business when they build and own it themselves.
Business can save the world in the big picture. But it will have its biggest impact when those of us who have the courage to do our own thing (even if it’s on the side!) can empower ourselves out of the same self-interest that causes us to keep breathing, eating, having babies and protecting ourselves from the weather.
Start a business. Save the world.
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