Friday, November 07, 2014

Starting with why

A few years ago I got introduced to Simon Sinek. More specifically, I got introduced to his TED talk "How great leaders inspire action". He is a great communicator. His message of starting with why did resonate with me.

Apple is the obvious example to make his case. Apple is always the example. If I needed to convict a ham sandwich(1)  I would resort to Apple to make my case.

When I listened to his talk, I wasn't just thinking about Apple. There are a couple of other companies I admire, purchase from, and which have this principle down. Whole Foods, Patagonia and even Volvo come to mind.

Recently the video started surfacing again in discussions among colleagues and friends. We planned to use it to define why a team exists and why somebody would want to join the team. I decided to watch it again:
When it comes to marketing your service or product, don't lead with what, lead with why. Love, not diamonds or chocolate. Coachella stage, not guitar or keyboard.
The video and story from Sinek is interesting. When I watch it, I come back to the same question: so what? What do you do with this? It may be a good intellectual exercise for Simon Sinek to analyze about the why of a company. Why does Apple do what it does? Why did the Wright Brothers succeed? I do not think either Jobs and Woz or the Wright brothers ever pondered that question.

The why of a company is not something you have a lot of control over (other than perhaps during an interview). It is indeed as Simon Sinek points out, all rooted in biology. Steve Jobs didn't set out to challenge the status quo. That's just who he was: a rebel hippie who attracted other rebels. Yvon Chouinard didn't decide it was time to care about the outdoors and the environment. He was a climber and surfer who wanted to let his friends and people surf or climb with great gear. Joel Cascoigne didn't make a conscious decision that he could more website hits if he was more transparent about BufferApps's finances and salaries. No, all of the qualities which drive their companies are what is in their nature of their leaders.

It is similarly in my nature to be a product person who cares that stuff works and keeps working. Today the why may be to be enable the power of intelligent machines through infrastructure software for real-time distributed systems. Software which works, which scales, which rocks! Tomorrow, it may be some different product. What makes me tick is not the ambition to change the world. There are other visionaries which can aspire to make a lasting dent in the universe. My ambitions remain more modest: I want to be part of a team building a product which works!