Thursday, October 10, 2013

always start with why

I have been doing this all wrong.

Simon Sinek would be cross with me.

Yes, Simon Sinek, he whose work has greatly influenced in my life in recent years.  Since November 2009, when my friend Tinu sent me a link to a "Finding Your Dream Job" podcast featuring Simon as the guest, I have been hooked.  In addition to the website of the movement he started, I have gobbled up his book, his blog, his tweets, his articles, his interviews, his conference calls, and certainly his TED talk.  The latter arrived on the list of the most viewed TED talks in 2011 at the 19th spot, reached the 7th position the following year, and looks well on its way to be the most popular of all (watch out Sir Ken Robinson).

Simon devotes much of his time to sharing the WHY.  This is a concept that may be easily understood by considering these questions: Why do you do what you do?  Why do you exist?  Why did you get out of bed this morning?  And why should anyone care?  According to Simon, it is by finding answers to these questions — or finding our WHY, in his words — that we can begin to have more profoundly satisfying lives.  The WHY captures a purpose, a cause, or a belief that goes deeper than WHAT we do or HOW we do it, even though the WHAT and the HOW are also essential.  The combination of WHY, HOW, and WHAT form what Simon calls the Golden Circle, a collection of three concentric circles with the WHY in the center.  Simon argues that life is meaningful and satisfactory when all three are in balance within a person (or within a group of people).  And bringing about this balance when it is little or absent does not involve focusing on WHATs or HOWs.  Instead, it requires remembering WHY.  In fact, that is the first step to restoring the balance, as well as to communicating and relating better with others.

The concept of WHY is as alluring as it is simple.  Perhaps its allure lies in its simplicity.

But I had forgotten it recently, and this for the umpteenth time, as I was too cooked up in the course of events.  It took some afternoon tea near Bastille a few weeks ago with my buddy Rémy for the subject to rise back up to the surface of my awareness.  He had discovered the concept and learned that I knew about it, and wanted to discuss.

But I forgot again when I got home, yet again absorbed with the current event at hand.  I was getting ready to draw something for fourth consecutive day, something that I had never done before.  However, alone in my apartment, on a late Saturday afternoon, the sun shining outside, I was overcome with the same feeling of loneliness that I was already quite familiar with.  I wrestled with my thoughts, and soon found myself asking questions, like "What is the point of drawing again when I feel lonely on a regular basis?", for example.  A struggle it was to begin drawing in such conditions.  Eventually, I plowed through, strongly believing that I had to go all the way despite the circumstances.  After taking a short while to savor the results of a labor more mental than physical, I got on my computer to dig up a list of "Why Exploration Questions" that the discussion with Rémy had brought back to memory.  Once found, I sent it to Rémy.

Back in my seat at the drawing table, I decided to contemplate the list.  By tackling the questions, I was not necessarily trying to clarify my WHY; I was merely motivated to understand why I had persisted in drawing in spite of the recurring loneliness that I was suffering from.  I was well aware that I had done this kind of exercise numerous times before, often finding answers that were neither clear enough nor convincing enough to be retained.  But I felt more confident about what I was about to do, so I forged ahead.  Question No. 1: "In your life so far, what are your greatest accomplishments?  Why did you do these things?"  I noted down discovering flow and desensitizing myself to previously painful events.  I also included learning to speak French fluently, to round things out with an accomplishment that was less "out-there".  Now why did I do these things?  "To discover my passion" was a quick answer.  The next one however stopped me in my tracks once I had written it down:  "To better myself; to stop the habit of repressing my favorite ideas in the face of the masses and/or authority."  I imagined that I could still find more reasons to give for having accomplished what I did and besides, there were twelve (12!) more questions on the list.  But I could not will myself to continue.  It felt that I had stumbled on something fundamental and that it was not necessary to keep looking for more suitable answers.  It was an emotionally powerful moment, during which I experienced a deep peace that would last some while.

So I had a habit of repressing things — not just my favorite ideas — when feeling intimidated by the masses or by authority, and that was why I was driven to accomplish the things that I considered the greatest in my life.  To be honest, I had already made this revelation several times before, though not using the same exact words.  In the end, I felt that this answer to the original question lacked the clarity and emotional power that a WHY needed to have in my opinion — Simon's WHY, for example, is "to inspire people to do the things that inspire them the most" —, but I told myself that it would have to do for the moment.

I figure that my life can only get better (and be less lonely, why not) if I remember to take the time to start with why, or simply to ask why.  So, Simon, I'll try my best.  Please don't be cross.

Note: My words being incapable of doing justice to the value of Simon's work, I invite you to visit the Start With Why website at to find out more.


  1. Hi Dotun ! I didn't find my whys yet, but I think I can identify more some people who did find theirs : from de Gaulle to my bro with Jaccede. I discovered also that the best copywriters have to start with why and finish with what. Fascinating to see the world with these glasses. Thank you for having made me discovered this author.

  2. And thank you for making this article possible.