Why Do You Do It? – Pt. 1

May 28, 2010 Off By Eric Jensen

Reading Simon Sinek’s new book, Start with Why I was struck by his statement that,  “…people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Sinek describes a simple formula he calls the Golden Circle. The center ring is WHY, the middle circle, HOW, and the outer circle, WHAT. Most businesses he says, talk about WHAT and HOW, but real leaders start with WHY and work outward. WHY is what creates loyalty whether in business, politics, or the arts. I ask myself why I still listen to certain artists and particular pieces of music after decades. It’s not great technique or a killer sound that brings me back, it’s why they did what they did.

Someone told me a story about Ry Cooder many years ago. I don’t know if this is true, but supposedly Ry showed up at a recording studio for a session, to discover that his favorite recording console had been “upgraded” to the latest and greatest. The owner enthusiastically extolled the virtues of his new board but Ry just shook his head, said, “We won’t be making any music today….” and walked out the door. There’s a guy who know why he’s doing what he does.

When I asked LA indie band, Killola what makes them engaging to fans they said, “We tend to reveal ourselves in more realistic light, and show people that we’re just regular folks who just happen to have this outlet for making music in a band.  I think that lends to the accessibility.” Sounds like WHY to me.

37signals is a company that is all about WHY. They built Basecamp because it was the product they wanted to use. This flies in the face of conventional Product Management thinking, yet their approach has built a very profitable, devoted, user community.

Sinek talks extensively about Apple and Southwest Airlines. I recently booked air travel to a city that Southwest does not reach with direct flights. When I realized this I very, very, reluctantly switched airlines. Why this loyalty? Air travel is not a big deal for me one way or the other, but something about my experience with Southwest over the years has made them my default choice. WHY explains it.

Last month, Mark Small wrote a great article in Berklee Today speaking with a variety of Berklee alums about why they make music. When I hear great musicians it is food for my soul largely because there is absolutely no question at all why they are doing what they do. I talk about business models, marketing and all the rest, but let us not forget WHY. If music inspires and deeply moves us, that is the true compass we need to follow. The HOW and the WHAT will fall into line…