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  • Carolyn Butler-Madden

Why “Start with Why” has made way for “Start with Who”

This article originally featured in Inside Small Business. Read the original article here...


I wonder how many people over the years have referred to Start with Why and the Golden Circle framework, which Simon Sinek shared in his 2010 TED Talk and book.


Using the example of Apple, Sinek explained that nearly every organisation on the planet understood WHAT they did – that is, the products or services that they sold. Some organisations understood HOW they do what they do; what makes them special – their point of difference. But few organisations know WHY they do what they do. WHY is not about making money. That’s the outcome. WHY is a cause or belief; the reason your organisation exists.


WHY: ‘At Apple, everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.’ HOW: ‘We do this by making products that are beautifully designed and user friendly.’ WHAT: ‘We just happen to make great computers.’

The Apple Golden Circle was a brilliant articulation that captured the essence of Apple’s “Why” – the inspiration that drove its success a decade ago. “Start with Why” was a powerful model for inspirational leadership.


But today, that expression of “Why” is too limited.


The world has changed dramatically since 2010. The needs of society that were bubbling beneath the surface have risen to the top. Huge issues including climate change, inequality, racism and mental health have proven too big for government alone to solve. There is now a clear expectation that business must take a leadership role in tackling society’s challenges. Today, societal leadership is considered a core business function.


The evolution of purpose


This has led to an evolution of what being purpose-led means.


Understanding the “Why” behind a business – is no longer contained to an inspirational context for your products or services. It’s about the change that a business is committed to creating in society through and beyond its products or services.


Purpose today is, in fact, social purpose. It inspires action, innovation and drives meaningful impact. It challenges the very notion of business being driven by financial success (with positive impact as an outcome), to the idea that it should be driven by impact goals (with financial success as the outcome).


The most successful purpose-led businesses build movements of change through their own people and those they serve. They have reframed purpose through the lens of identity: who they are, what they care about and how they show up for the common good.


Start with “Who” and get clarity on your organisational identity


Businesses like Patagonia, Intrepid Travel, Future Super and Outland Denim are all led by a social purpose. In serving that purpose they each have a clear identity built around a core belief or vision of a better future.


Listen to our podcast interview with Simon Sheikh, Co-founder of Future Super



As a result, they attract and retain quality employees who are inspired by their purpose. Their customers are fiercely loyal and self-appointed brand ambassadors. These employees and customers are emotionally invested because they share a common narrative.


Partners and suppliers who share this narrative also want to support the aspirations of the business. And investors too. Impact investing is one of the fastest-growing areas of investment today.


Unsurprisingly, purpose-led organisations perform better financially than other organisations and are proving to be more resilient during times of crisis.


Starting with “Who” is vital for any business seeking to define its higher purpose. Because “Who” you are – the narrative or worldview that drives your identity – will ultimately drive why you exist and what you stand for.



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