Remember the days when you demanded why for just about anything?
Where’s that kid now?

At some point while growing up, we’ve stopped asking why. Or more precisely, we’ve stopped asking it out loud. Instead, we’ve started assuming other's motivations for their actions.

In fact if you were to honestly ask yourself, we as people are intrigued more than ever about what makes others tick.

Why else are mystery and crime solving shows so popular?! Because they let us take part in a journey uncovering the motive behind people’s behavior.

Last week, we started off by presenting business as an infinite game. For anyone who may have missed the article, I highly recommend reading that first as it will open up your perspective of business and better prepare you for the ideas ahead.

Know The Game That You're In: Business, An Infinite Walk

There’s a fundamental reason why we ask why, it’s part of our human nature! And if you’re a business looking to stay in the loop playing the infinite game, then it’s crucial that you know and start with why!


To start off, what exactly is the Golden Circle?

Actually, humans very intuitive beings. If I were to ask you now to identify the major companies that truly inspire, chances are Apple will appear somewhere on your list.

But what makes them so unique and why do they stand out from the rest? Upon facing this question, leadership expert, Simon Sinek, started looking across the board at different companies.

What he discovered was that there are three fundamental levels in which companies can function in. What, how, and why.

“What” refers to the thing you do.

Be it something tangible like baking cakes, building a car or something intangible like providing a spa treatment, every company knows what they do.

“How” refers to the way you do it.

This is your differentiating factor. What sets you apart or your unique selling proposition (USP). Some companies know this and for the most part, majority of companies function on these two levels.

However, there’s a third level and it’s “Why”.

It is your cause or belief, the reason behind your company’s very existence, why you or anyone else should care.

Very few people and organizations can clearly articulate this, but the ones who do, often find themselves with a loyal following.

Communicating from the Inside

When companies function on the first two levels, people are buying their product or service for what they are. There is no intrinsic value, and the product itself exists only on a physical/ practical level.

To better grasp the concept, think of the Golden Circle with this analogy.

Imagine this, you have an errand to run. Maybe the lights died at the house and you’d like to go to the store to buy new bulbs, that is your purpose, your why.

In order to do that, you have to decide the manner in which to get there.

Perhaps you’re a bit rushed and agitated, or maybe you are more laid back and cheerful. This is the how, the attitude you take in reaching your goal.

What, would then refer to the mode of transport you take to get to your destination. Say it can be by car, bike or even by feet. It is the way in which you choose to make it to your destination.

So why is it so important to start with why?

Well according to our analogy, why communicates purpose.

By knowing a company or a person’s why, we are able to assess if our values align on a deeper dimension.

If a company or person were to only operate on the first two levels of what and why, their communication of value would exist solely on a material level.

When you buy a product, above the practical need that it satisfies, if it can go deeper and represent a cause for which you stand for then you are more likely to buy it.

Think back to Apple. If they were to market their products like everyone else it would sound like this:

“We make great computers. They are beautiful designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?”

This is how they actually communicates:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we do it is by making our products beautifully designed, that are simple to use and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

By starting with why and communicating from the inside out, you tap into something that’s way more valuable than the physical object.

When you communicate why, the product becomes secondary to your cause.

When clients buy, they buy for what they believe in, relating on a deeper level. That is why, when inspiring companies like Apple are able to dive into different markets, selling a variety of products and still have a following.

Because at the end of the day, the product is not the ultimate measure but simply a manifestation of their cause.

This is also why, when other companies like Dell try to come out with phones it doesn’t make sense for the consumer. For they have grounded their brand so deeply in the what, doing anything else seems irrelevant.

Identification & Assumed Purpose

When you communicate why, you are providing people with a context in which to evaluate your behavior.

Continuing from our car analogy, say if you weren’t told the purpose of the trip, would you be as willing to join whoever it is for a ride?

However, if you were told the reason, you have more context to help you evaluate their behavior and whether or not to accompany them.

The same mentality applies when a consumer is considering your product. If the why is not properly articulated, the best one can do is assume your purpose.

I’d go as far as to say if you don’t provide a why, then more likely than not, people will assume your purpose is for money.

In such a setting where personal gains is the end goal, you reduce the business to one big transaction. Placing your clients as your opponent, in the long-run is a losing battle for both sides.

By starting with why, you appeal to people in a way that invites them to join your cause. A non-zero sum game where both parties win.

But more than being an ineffective way to appeal to your customers, money can’t actually replace or be your why. Don’t get me wrong, money is in the equation. It’s just not the end goal.

Money is the result, the byproduct of your company’s actions. Moving forward and making distance is not the same as having a reason to go somewhere.

Having and starting with why is not to say that money isn’t important. Quite the opposite. Instead, it is because there is a cause, money becomes even more important with the purpose of fueling your ambition.

Balance & Alignment

We’ve been emphasizing the importance of starting with why, but you cannot just end with why. The essence of the Golden Circle lies in the balance of all three elements (What, How &, Why), with why being at the center of everything.

The theory hangs on the idea that if a person or an organization knows and lives for their why, they are naturally more inclined to behave in a way that promotes their cause.

If someone actually lives for their why, they are easy to spot for their behavior is an extension of their beliefs.

This is when trust is formed, attracting other people who believe in their cause. The circle breaks down however when there is a disconnect in the three levels.

Having a why does not give you a pass to produce bad products. It does however allow you to go against norms and expectations when pushing towards your cause, helping you stay in the infinite game.

Over the years, Apple has pushed out products that were probably not as powerful as their competitors, even questionable at times. For example, when they first announced the removal of the CD-Rom drive in their latest Mac when it was still relevant.

Because they have consistently demonstrated that they are driven by their cause, that they look not at the present but to the future and changing status quo, people who share their value follows.

On the other hand if your what and your why are not consistent, people will respond with distrust.

When someone says one thing but acts another, what they are actually communicating is that they are not to be trusted. That they have hidden agendas and are out to manipulate you. That is why it is crucial to truly integrate your why into every aspect of the things you do.

Staying in the Infinite Game

There are actually many successful and well-known companies that thrive financially yet only exists on the first two levels, so that is not to say you cannot succeed if you don’t have or communicate your why.

In the context of the infinite game however, knowing and communicating your why makes it easier to stay in the game. It readjusts your mentality to that of an infinite player whereby the existence of your company stems from the inside out.

By relying on the core essence of purpose and identity, you are less likely to sway under the pressure of the current but instead lead and inspire change. Making your organization less reactive and more independent.

So what is your why and how have you articulated it with your customers?

This article was inspired by Simon Sinek. Make sure to watch his talk on the Golden Circle and other articles from this series!