It has almost become cliché to say, “start any project with the why”. But how many businesses actually practice it, and what does it mean?
History of Why
Diving deep into history leads us to a thousand stories of when ‘why’ mattered.
In fact, the only reason you can read this article started with a very famous ‘why’. Steve Wozniak asked why computing was only available to the business community – Why could the impact of this revolutionary technology not be extended to personal use? Not motivated by money (although his business partner, who went on to become a household name, held the commercial motivations), Wozniak was inspired by a cultural purpose. He knew to start with ‘why’.
Fast forward 12 months, and the Apple I and Apple II were built. Skip forward four decades, and what started as a ‘why’ has impacted billions of households, sparking the age of information. Commercially, that company is now worth more than the whole of Eastern Europe’s GDP.
One of the reasons that Apple was so successful is because their ‘why’ resonated with the limbic part of the brain. This area helps build deeper and stronger connections, whilst ‘what’ and ‘how’ triggers the neocortex, which processes actions but doesn’t lead them. Steve Wozniak activated the limbic area of his brain and found his course of action.
What Does Why Mean?
Okay, so you understand that it’s important, but what does ‘why’ mean? For businesses, it’s a fundamental part of inspiring others and growing their vision, both inside and outside the organisation. It helps foster a sense of belonging and purpose and influences people to go above and beyond what is expected of them by giving them a clear purpose.
How Many Businesses Adopt a Why?
As growth consultants, a ‘why’ is one of the most challenging traits to elicit from senior leadership when we first meet.
When pressed, most senior leaders can fall back on a generic ‘why’.
A ‘why’ will always be obvious at a commercial level (“I set the business up to provide a better life for me and my family”). But, when pushed for their ‘why’ at a cultural level, the reason will become fuzzier. It always exists but isn’t always easy to uncover.
Maybe the founders worked together in a previous business that didn’t foster a good work culture. They realised that they could do the same level of business (and make more money for themselves) whilst creating a warmer, more welcoming environment. In essence, they decided to put a higher value on their staff.
If you want to see how this sort of ‘why’ can impact and drive a business, look no further than Southwest Airlines, created by Herb Kelleher in the 70’s.
Why Does ‘Why’ Matter?
If you think about the most successful businesses – those that people would most like to work for and that customers most want to buy from – they all have a strong and well understood ‘why’ in their business.
In a business that doesn’t have a clear ‘why’, staff might ask, “Why do I need to work longer shifts over Black Friday? Why do I have to adapt my role as we grow? Why should I wait that little bit longer for partnership when I have already waited long enough, and I could earn a pay rise by going to one of the competitors?”. There are plenty of ‘whys’ there, but they’re the wrong ones!
Southwest Airlines never had any of these issues, and that is because their purpose was so strong.
“The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to providing our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”
In the case of Southwest, income followed assets and as a result of their ‘why’, Southwest Airlines has proved to be one of the most consistent and stable businesses in US aviation history.
At SGFE we always start any strategy paper with the ‘why’ – no exceptions!
Any work which follows the paper will need buy-in from the majority of people within the firm. If you post a strategy paper that outlines changes, people will be nervous. Humans are notorious creatures of habit, and if you don’t find your purpose and start with ‘why’, implementing these changes will be an uphill battle.
Find your way to give people a purpose, and they will reward you with unrivalled loyalty.
If you don’t know your ‘why’, get in touch with SGFE and our growth experts will help you uncover it.