Starting with why

One of the hot topics in our industry has been informal learning for a while now. This means different things to different people and I’m not going to get into the merits of informal versus formal learning (not in this particular blog post anyway!).  But something informal I’ve always done and will continue to do, is to learn as part of my professional development through reading books.

I’ve always been a big reader and the (only?!) joy of commuting by train as opposed to driving is I now have a lot more time to read every day.  I’ve also just got my mitts on a Kindle which I’m guessing will increase my reading consumption even further but more on that another day.

A couple of months ago, one of the directors at REDTRAY sent me a link to a TED talk.  I always really enjoy watching these videos when someone sends them through although I’ve never found the time to subscribe to them and watch them more frequently. But this particular talk really resonated with me and I immediately Googled the speaker and bought his book called ‘Start with why’.  The speaker is an American called Simon Sinek and he comes from a marketing background. Obviously in my role I’m always keen to tap into the thoughts and ideas of marketing experts, but this guy’s philosophy is much broader than just marketing.

He believes that successful companies and in particular, successful leaders, are all in possession of a powerful ‘why’. The likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have beliefs and a sense of purpose that are incredibly strong, and it is their ethos that we buy into – not ‘what’ they do or ‘how’ they do it.  Sinek posits that all organisations and careers function on 3 levels. ‘What’ you do, ‘How’ you do it and ‘Why’ you do it.  The problem is, most don’t even know that ‘why’ exists. If you look around at most companies, they start with ‘what’. They start by telling you exactly what they do, and then asking you if you’d like to buy some of it!

I’ve been working on better articulating REDTRAY’s ‘why’ for the past few months since I joined the company – without even fully realising that’s what I was doing until I saw this video and read the book – which is one of the reasons Simon Sinek has resonated with me so much. And I believe that the philosophy of ‘why’ is something we can all apply to ‘what’ we do, including our learning and development. If L&D departments can start with their ‘why’, lead from the front and effectively communicate that to their learners, then the potential buy-in and uptake of ‘what’ they do could increase significantly increase. Even with much derided ‘boring’ areas of learning such as compliance topics could become much more engaging if the audience really understand ‘why’ they are doing it and ‘how’ that benefits them in their everyday roles and the organisation as a whole.  I think most of us in L&D will have a strong sense of ‘why’ we do ‘what’ we do – we just need to explore how we can best communicate this to our learners and inspire them into action.

Check out the video here and see what you think.  The book is on Amazon here.

Take a look and if you have a powerful ‘why’ for doing what you do, I’d love to hear it.


About kategraham23

Start-up founder, writer, connector, librarian's daughter. Interested in learning, HR, technology, online, media, marketing, fashion and cricket. Not always in that order. The views expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the company I work for currently, or those I've worked for in the past.
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3 Responses to Starting with why

  1. Mike Collins says:

    For some reason this blog doesn’t like my comments, they don’t seem to ‘save’ – this is the third time of posting! Hopefully third time lucky…..

    I’ll keep it as short as possible but I really like the post….and love the video and totally agree that people buy ‘why’ you do something and not ‘what’ you do or ‘how’ you do it. Very relevant to L&D and for me I think it brought home that engaging and helping people understand the benefit of being involved in any sort of learning can be more important than the actual content and certainly more important than the way in which it’s delivered.

    The bit that stood out for me in the video was the ‘law of diffusion of innovation” (not sure I’ve got the name right) – this was where Simon showed the innovators through to the early adopters through to mainstream and then to my dad (the laggards). I’ve used this in a couple of presentations in my org to show my colleagues how important it is for L&D to be the innovators and early adopters as we need to lead and inspire action in our business to make things ‘mainstream’.

    I passionately believe in collaboration and that ‘web 2.0’ tools and technologies are enabling us to evolve how we look at learning and change our own methodologies and techniques. I would class myself as an innovator / early adopter but only in terms of my own organisation. Because I believe in the ‘why’ I think my colleagues are becoming more open and ‘buying in’ to the changes becoming possible in L&D. I’m making myself out to be some sort of leader here but being honest…we’re all leaders and if we believe in something enough and help others understand the ‘why’ then we can inspire action, build momentum and help our orgs view learning differently.

    You can also follow Simon Sinek on Twitter @SimonSinek



  2. Damian Farrell says:

    Love this video and even if you just take some of the ideas on board you can change a lot. I quoted this today to our team in Birmingham-and got a look as if I was talking a different language. Just shows how people really don’t think about the ‘why’ at all.

    Keep up the good work Kate!


  3. kategraham23 says:

    Thanks for your comments guys – so pleased you found the video of use, it has really given me a new perspective.

    Damian, I too have had the funny looks from people as if I’m talking a different language but stick with it!

    Thanks 🙂


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