There are three big questions that drive a lot of human behavior — what, how and why. Finding answers to them is key to most of your personal and business life. Since much of the world outside of the U.S. understands soccer to be a metaphor for life, I thought I would look at these three questions in light of this last weekend’s USA vs. Slovenia match at the World Cup in South Africa.
Here’s a very quick recap if you missed it. Slovenia is about the same size and population as the Greater Kansas City metro and was consequently considered an underdog. Slovenia, it turns out, is actually very good and put the US down 2-0 in the first half. The US battled back to 2-2 in the second half and appeared to score the winning goal late in the match. However, referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali, called a foul on the US and disallowed the goal. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
So, that’s the match. We know what happened – the go ahead goal was disallowed. We know how it happened – the referee called a foul. But, we don’t know why it happened and the referee and FIFA have no intention of telling us. The result is that we are all left scratching our heads, mystified by the lack of understanding — an understanding that we naturally crave. That is the key, a natural craving for the answers to these three fundamental questions and the power that comes from answering them. Without an answer as to why the goal was disallowed, we are left stunned and without direction. Paralysis, dissolution, distrust and any number of other negative responses all put us at a disadvantage because we lack the answer to why. Consider how powerful that is in your business.
A TED talk by Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, describes the processing that the human brain uses in answering the three questions. He calls them The Golden Circle and relates them to how businesses succeed. He compares competing businesses relative to how they can answer the three questions. All businesses know what they do – we make X widgets or provide Y services. More successful businesses know how they do it – we have a proprietary, repeatable process for making it happen. But that’s where it ends for most businesses. They compete on features, benefits and efficiency. The most successful companies according to Sinek begin by answering the question why. They have a purpose in the world – a clear mission. They answer why we should love their brand so that we can adopt their mission. Without it we are left in a similar state to the US soccer fans, somewhat hollow with no burning motivation – not good if you are trying to close a sale.
Simon Sinek explains the three questions in terms of brain structure. The outer layer of our brains is most primitive and deals with what. The next layer in manages how and the fundamental inner core processes why. Without why we are incomplete – we lack closure as in the outcome of the soccer match. But by planning your business by first answering why you gain the advantage over your competitors who are equal to your what and how. It turns out that the greatest advantage in business is knowing why we do what we do.
So, how about your business? Can you answer why, or are you still trying to figure out who’s on first?
Image: Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/audreyjm529/