Do you know one thing that Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright brothers all have in common? Purpose. They understood that the best way for someone to buy in to an idea, project or product is to understand why it is important – not what the idea is. People do their best work when they are inspired to be part of something bigger and more important than themselves. It’s the difference between turning up to work 9-5 to collect a pay check and getting in an hour early and staying 2 hours later because you are excited to be part of something bigger. This is the fundamental concept of “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. So, what exactly does the book teach us?  

Success is the result of long term planning not short term fixes

There’s a famous story about a group of American car manufacturers who visited Japan to inspect the country’s car factories to see what they could learn. When they were inspecting the assembly lines, they noticed that they were identical except for one difference. In the United States they employ a person who inspects the car at the end to ensure the doors close properly and everything is in working order. In Japan, this job did not exist. The Americans were confused as to why this job did not exist, as surely, they should have someone make sure it all works properly. They asked their Japanese counterparts why this job does not exist, and the Japanese responded, “because we make sure it works when we design the car.”  

This has become a key problem in so many companies around the world, everyone is looking for the short-term fix instead of actually focusing on why the problem exists in the first place. Successful companies have a clear strategy and direction, they don’t need to employ a man with a hammer to fix the car after it is made, they design the car to work properly. They understand why they are doing what they do and are not just focused on what they do. Although it may take some more work to redesign the process, than to employ a short-term fix, over the longer term the organisation will be more efficient and productive. Whereas the organisation with all the short-term fixes will be slower and more inefficient with higher costs.

Teams focused on why outperform those focused on what

Have you ever heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley? The chances are that you have not. He was supposed to be the man who invented the first airplane. He was funded by the US Government and industry leaders of the time such as Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. News reporters literally followed him around all the time and the entire US public was supporting him in creating the first airplane. His success was considered guaranteed. But of course, as anyone who knows their history, it was the Wright Brothers who actually built the first flying machine. They did not have any fancy backing or funding. In fact, their project was funded largely from the profits of a bicycle shop they owned. They did not even have a college degree. But there is a key difference as to why they succeeded. They started with why. They were trying to solve the real problem of flight over balance. Langley on the other hand was motivated only by fame and the chance to be first. So much so, that when the Wright Brothers were first, rather than carry on with his project he simply quit.

The leaders ‘why’ were translated through to their teams. The Wright Brothers would fail 5 times in a day and then go in have dinner and carry on the following day because they were motivated purely by trying to solve the problem. They were not concerned with trying to be first, or to be rich and famous, they simply had a team of people that thought it would be cool to build a flying machine and worked hard to try and figure out how. Whereas Langley’s team were paid purely to do a job. Some on his team didn’t believe it was possible, they didn’t care if they succeeded or failed as long as they got paid. They were merely there to do a job. A team with a clear purpose will always outperform a team just doing a job.

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