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  • Jim Shupe

Belief: The Reason You Do What You Do

Simon Sinek is a well-known public speaker. His 2009 TED Talk explained how he linked the way the human brain operates with how the most effective speakers and organizations communicate to inspire people. He’s written a book on the topic which is called Start with Why.

He had two key observations. The first was that if you examine the human brain, you’ll see two primary areas which each have their own functions. The newest structures form an outer layer called the neocortex. It is responsible for language and understanding facts. The central structures form the limbic brain. This section is responsible for feeling and decision-making but has no capacity for language.

The second observation is that when people and companies communicate, there are three key underlying questions to be addressed What, How, and Why. Paraphrasing, Sinek said “Everyone can tell you what they do. Some can tell you how they do it. Few can explain why they do what they do. Many don’t even think about it.”

The reason that addressing the “why” is so important is that the limbic brain makes decisions but is not responsible for rationality or language. It operates on feelings or “gut instinct”. Everyone’s limbic brain maintains a model of the world based on the beliefs they have formed from their experience. Then it makes decisions consistent with how they think the world works or should work. This means that decisions are made to reinforce or align to a person’s existing view of the world. Any facts or data that are also presented are used to confirm that decision.

This led Simon Sinek to the conclusion that, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The companies and individuals that communicate most effectively start the message with their belief, their “Why”. Starting there primes the listener’s limbic brain to decide whether they share that belief. They then describe “How” they go about making that belief a reality and end by describing “What” it is that they do as a result of the “How”.

Since our experience and expectations for the world are so varied, this explains why some people respond well to a product or service offering and others do not. In the end, we generally cannot satisfy everyone so our message needs to be targeted toward those who share our beliefs.

Seth Godin wrote a book about these groups of people who share our beliefs called Tribes. We want to attract these like-minded individuals because it builds a self-reinforcing system of committed supporters. These tribes can be customers, but they can also be employees. People work for money, but those who are working for a cause are far more invested in what they do.Those are the people we want most on our teams. Therefore, being able to put your team’s core belief into words is critical both for explaining to customers why your team does what it does, but also for attracting the best talent to get the job done.


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