Do Not Be Constrained by WHAT You Do

ROI, Strategy

I‘ve just recently started reading Start With Why by Simon Sinek. It’s a great read, and I recommend it to anyone who is up for a challenge; a challenge to begin thinking differently. Near the beginning of the book, Simon challenges companies to define themselves by asking WHY and not WHAT or HOW. 


Real quick vocab review:

WHAT: describes the products or services your company sells

HOW: how you create value through your product

WHY: what is your purpose?


The image above is what Simon calls the Golden Circle. By using the Golden Circle we can see how companies define themselves…and then how companies should define themselves. Starting with WHY obviously leads us from the inside out (WHY – HOW – WHAT), but so many companies today start with WHAT.


When companies start with WHAT, they constrain themselves to a physical product. WHAT do we offer? WHAT can we add? WHAT are we? A company like HP is defined as a computer company; they brand themselves to us as a computer company…are you really going to buy a HP mp3 player if it was ever offered? These kind of companies are heavy; and it’s hard for them to move around in an ever-changing market (product or service). Could this computer company quickly shift to an emerging market (tablets, mp3s, mobile phones) and dominate despite their thought process of WHAT?


Let’s switch gears and look to a company that does it the right way. I know it may be cliché, but let’s look at a company like Apple, Inc. Simon uses them as an example to really drive his point home. Apple’s product offerings cover a range of markets in the consumer electronic industry. From the iPod to the iPhone to the Apple TV and finally the Macbook, they are not really defined by any one of their products, and even with the wide range they offer, Apple dominates in these industries. Sinek even went so far as to point out the name change from Apple Computer, Inc to Apple Inc. This is because their WHAT (products) follows the question WHY. WHY do we exist as a company? WHY do we make WHAT we make?


Apple’s WHY is to challenge the status quo, to take the industry standard and raise it up a notch. Because they are defined by this WHY, they are never constrained to a single product. As long as they stick to this mantra, talk the talk and walk the walk, WHAT they provide will dominate and will relate to customers who want ‘something better’, ‘something that challenges the status quo’. 


Do not commoditize your products and company by asking WHAT. Differentiate your company and inspire others by asking WHY…stick to it and your WHAT and HOW will follow suit.