After seeing this talk by Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why‘, I couldn’t agree with him more. The synopsis of his theory or idea is that most businesses and their leaders fail to inspire because they focus too much on communicating two things to their clients. Two things which they think are important, ie., 1) what they do and 2) how they do it. Both of these are important, but not quite as important as the other thing i.e.,‘why do you do what you do’.
The Why is nothing but the purpose of the organization or the reason why you do business. He showcases this simple idea through what he refers to as the ‘Golden Circle‘ pictured below. He cites examples from Apple, Martin Luther King Jr., The Wright Brothers and Tivo to drive home his point. Communication he argues happens effortlessly and trust comes naturally, when you feel, think and act with the ‘why‘ firmly in your mind.
In my opinion, it is a fact that most businesses don’t know why they do, what they do. And still seem supremely confident that if they merely create / have a good product and communicate its benefits / advantages (the how you do it), it should basically do its job. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
We need to remember that people essentially buy whatever you have, because they believe what you believe in. You actually managed to create an aspiration that people share in. That’s how loyal customer base is built. The corollary is also true. People may not buy your product / service despite it being very good at what it claims to do because something just doesn’t feel right. It is that unexplainable feeling that can’t be communicated in any better fashion, due to lack of better words.
Watch this wonderful talk by Simon on TED.
Let me give you an example of this by taking a leaf out of our own book, the GetFriday story. While I do that, let me also admit that we are plainly glad (not immodest) that we just happened to get it right without being aware of Simon’s golden circle or doing it any conscious manner. It was a mere hunch that this was the way to go, at that point of time. And we were lucky the hunch turned right.
GetFriday was a pioneering and innovative concept in 2005 and there is absolutely no doubt about that. But to consistently sustain the interest of people all around the world and grow, it needed something more than just being a cool idea for its time. And for the idea to further spread to people in more than 50 countries, it definitely required something extra. That something extra that differentiates you from the rest is the ‘why‘.
If you carefully look at our communication (the site hasn’t changed that much since inception), we didn’t talk about what we did or tom-tom our coverage in the international press on our home page. The ‘what‘ we do is pretty straight forward. We are a Virtual Assistant Service.
Does the ‘how‘ we do things matter? Yes, it does. Though technically anyone with a home computer, a VoIP phone and email connectivity could become a VA. The how we do things is what differentiates us from the rest and helped us scale up. But that still doesn’t qualify to make it the single most important thing in business.
Why do I say this? Around the period 2005 – 2008 (till the recession), we had at least one new competitor or clone arriving on the scene every week with a ‘me too‘ service. Some went to the extent of even using closely resembling, confusingly similar brand names to leverage on the popularity of the GetFriday service. Some tried to copy our processes and many may even have succeeded to some extent. But none or very few really survived through the economic crises. Probably the biggest reason you can attribute apart from bad luck would be that they were in business because it seemed cool, it seemed easy to copy, it seemed to be the ‘in thing‘ and yes, it seemed like you can make money easily.
So that leaves us with the ‘why‘. Why were we in this business? Each time we asked ourselves this question. The answer was this -
We wanted to help people gain time for the things they really wanted to do in life, which they couldn’t till that point for lack of support.
That was the whole purpose of this business. And the communication comes through clear in our tagline ‘Life gets better‘. The tagline didn’t read; the World’s Leading Virtual Assistance Service or something on those lines. The imagery of a father and son / child spending some quality time together went along with the central idea that our goal was to create more time for the things you love, family for instance. The communication was consistent with the why we thought we were in business.
The orange man icons were meant to provide a friendly, but helpful feel to customers. Conveying the expression of being there to help people cope with things.
And thankfully all this combined to possibly convey the magical idea of what we believed in and what we aspired to create. Leading is all about inspiring people to share in your aspirations. We believed that we can make a difference to people’s lives. Help them not to be overwhelmed with things that they are unable to manage or can’t find time to. Help them lead better lives.