What's your WHY? Start here!

If you haven’t yet seen the iconic 2009 TED Talk by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire trust, cooperation and action, please drop everything(!) and watch it now. His simple but paradigm-shifting model has absolutely transformed the way I think about communication and branding, and I have a feeling it just might do the same for you.

(You can find a link to view it at the bottom of this post.)

What I want to talk about here is how you can apply Sinek’s thinking to your own business to strengthen your story and forge a powerful, personal connection with your audience.

Here’s the thing: you could probably tell me the WHAT of your business without even thinking — what’s the thing you are doing, selling or providing; and what does it look like? Ditto for HOW you do what you do. These are the steps you take, the nitty-gritty details of your service or product, and how it all works together to give people something great or somehow make their lives better than they were before.

But your WHY…your WHY is the underlying belief, goal, or purpose that’s propelling you. If you’re in a mission-driven business, it’s the thing you feel so deeply that you can’t not follow it and, in many cases, orient your life around it as well as your business. It’s a part of your value system, your worldview. Your WHY is unique to you, yet it’s the very thing that enables you to connect deeply with your ideal customers and clients.

Alas, it’s not always as easy to find as it might seem. Hone in on your WHY, though, and the clarity it brings might just revolutionize not only your communications, but your own sense of purpose and alignment. Oh yes!

Most people answer the “Why” question with something like this: “I want to _________ (what you do or provide) for people, so that they can ___________ (feel better, be happier, safer, more fulfilled, etc).” And this is great. But….I want to challenge you to go deeper.

Why does this kind of service matter to people? Why does it matter to you?

Bring on the clarity!

Here’s a simple exercise that can pay off hugely in connecting with and articulating your WHY. Open up to a blank page in your notebook, and write at the top:


Now, finish the sentence at least five different ways (but make sure they all ring true for you!).  Write down everything comes to mind in the place where your deep core beliefs meet — and drive — what you want to do in your business. The goal here isn’t to write a mission statement or belief statement that you’re going to share with others; it’s to help you get yourself clear on the deepest roots of your WHY.

Here are some of the statements that I came up with when I first did this exercise:

I believe that design and communication can — and do — change the world.

I believe that life is about people more than things, and that our stories connect us, make us softer and stronger, and teach us how to see.

I believe that building a community that fosters connectedness, dialogue, inspiration, and good storytelling is some of the most valuable work I could give myself to.

I find myself going back to this list fairly often. It’s really helped me to clarify my own WHY, and it also helps me realign with my purpose when I'm entering a new season of business-building, or when I'm drowning in details and just need a reminder of what's really in my heart, and what I really want to give myself to.

Your turn! If you do this exercise, please leave a comment here and let me know what you came up with. Did it help clarify your WHY?

Here's the link to Simon's TED talk: