Start With WHY, not WHAT

October 3, 2012

I just finished a great book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why. It really challenged me to think about the way I view my own personal mission, but even more so, how I view and articulate the purpose of CARE for AIDS. In this book, Simon illustrates how most organizations tend to talk about WHAT they do and HOW they do it better than others, but they forget to clarify WHY they do WHAT they do. It is the WHY that inspires people, not the WHAT. “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Simon also says, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: inspiration or manipulation.” We are surrounded by subtle or overt manipulations everyday, and they are so commonplace that we don’t even recognize them. Companies and even non-profits use peer pressure, fear, aspirations, promotions, or price manipulations to drive sales or donations. The problem is that this only results in short term gains, not long-term loyalty.

Great leaders inspire people to act. They give people a sense of purpose or belonging. People are willing to pay a premium or endure inconvenience for that cause or company. The best companies have crystal clear clarity on their WHY. Southwest wants to make air travel possible for the common man. Apple wants to challenge the status quo. Many would argue that there are better, more affordable phones out there than the iPhone, but no one can touch Apple because of their WHY.

Just above is our adaptation of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. It is a visual representation of how we should start with WHY then go to HOW and WHAT. Here is my best effort as clarifying the WHY, HOW, and WHAT of CARE for AIDS.

The WHY of CARE for AIDS: To model the unconditional love of Christ by meeting the immediate physical needs of those living with HIV/AIDS, so we can earn the right to help meet their spiritual needs.

The HOW of CARE for AIDS: The HOW is basically the “unique selling proposition” that makes HOW we do things better or different. For us, that means utilizing local leadership, partnering with local churches, providing comprehensive care, focusing on parents so that they can help their kids, and leveraging partnerships with other organizations to make it cost effective.

The WHAT of CARE for AIDS: The WHAT is the products or services that we provide. Basically, it is the model that deployed in our centers that includes counseling, vocational training, medical support, spiritual education and food distribution. This might be the thing we talk about the most, but it is not what gets me up in the morning or inspires you to support the ministry. What gets us fired up are the lives that are being redeemed through this model.

In conclusion, this book reminded me that if we have a clear sense of our WHY, there are a bunch of different WHATs to accomplish that purpose. In CARE for AIDS, I wholeheartedly believe that our current model is most effective as tangibly demonstrating the love of Christ to people living with HIV/AIDS, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t change in the months or years ahead. As long as the WHAT aligns with our WHY, we are still on track.

What does this mean for you personally? I think that we get too caught up in WHAT we do for a job or a career, and as a result, 80% of Americans are unhappy in their jobs. If you can get clarity of what your WHY is, there are infinite WHATs that can allow you to achieve that WHY.

What is your WHY?