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Simon Sinek believes that the reason many of us do not get very far when we approach a new problem, whether it be going on a diet, starting a new business or introducing technology in the classroom, is because we have got our priorities all wrong. Too often the focus of our attention is on what we need to do. This could be to lose weight, ship a new product or get devices into every classroom. All too often such actions fail to last because although we think we know what we need to do, our reason for doing so is either missing or unclear. As Sinek points out,

You can get someone to buy a gym membership with an aspirational message, but to get them to go three days a week requires a bit of inspiration

Although fear and manipulation may get the job done once or twice, for long lasting change and innovation you need trust, loyalty and inspiration. This is what Sinek means by the title of his book, Start With Why.

At the heart of Sinek’s argument is the concept of the golden circle. Where most people begin with the what, dictating how we do things and hopefully why we do it. The golden circle is about working in reverse, from the inside out. Everything starts with why.

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The catch is that a why is not something that you simply invent, rather it is something discovered through deep reflection. Our why is the thing that gets us up in the morning, what we actually care about, what cause we are a part of. Once that is worked out, the focus then is to bring all our actions back to this. As Sinek states:

It is not just WHAT or HOW you do things that matters; what matters more is that WHAT and HOW you do things is consistent with your WHY. (Page 186)

Sinek supports his idea about the golden circle with evidence from biology. In the brain are two sections which relate to action and decision making: the neocortex and the limbic brain. The neocortex is analytical and responsible for language, whereas the limbic brain is responsible for feelings, such as trust and loyalty. The catch is the limbic brain has no capacity for language, it communicates instead through the neocortex via gut feelings and intuition. Those decisions which we think are right, but have no rationale way of explaining it. As Sinek explains:

Our limbic brains are smart and often know the right thing to do. It is our inability to verbalize the reasons that may cause us to doubt ourselves or trust the empirical evidence when our gut tells us not to. (Page 63)

Although we may think that with the right evidence all decisions can be rationally decided upon,  at the end of the day, there are some choices which are irrational and made emotionally. It is for this reason that it is important, in any circumstance, to start with why. This not only provides clarity of understanding, but the confidence to move forward without fear and doubt.

The role of the leader then is to create the right environment. One where people are trusted and inspired to drive great ideas. The problem, such things can be difficult without an agreed purpose formed collaboratively. This why, as Sinek points out, is not something that is simply decided in an organisation by those with hierarchical power, instead it is led and supported in an organic manner. As he explains:

Trust comes from being a part of a culture or organization with a common set of values and beliefs. Trust is maintained when the values and beliefs are actively managed. (Page 121)

This comes back to the distinction between those who lead compared to those who manipulate. To lead then is to inspire through charisma and support, not to manipulate through fear and control.

What is weird about Starting With Why is that, like Carol Dweck’s Mindsets, once known it seems so obvious. The challenge with why is to maintain focus, for it is one thing to start with why once, but to maintain the focus day after day, year after year, that is the real challenges.

For a great introduction into Simon Sinek’s ideas, watch his great TED Talk:

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In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek makes the statement that, “people don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.” The problem is that too often we get the two confused, caught up in what we are doing and forgetting why we are doing it. Sometimes we forget because we never actually give it our attention. So this is my attempt to identify the ‘why’ that I always endeavour to start with.

I see my ‘why’ as a learner with a passion for helping other learners find their spark. Whether it be sharing ideas and perspectives or providing support to take the next step or pushing back in order to go deeper. Each action comes back to a focus on creating a greater community.

Although such activities may be about me, my passion for learning, my desire to grow, they are not actions that can be measured through the number of retweets or hits on my blog. For me it all comes back to the African proverb that ‘it takes a village’. When I say that what I mean is that I never achieve what I do alone. A point Keith Hamon makes in his fantastic post, where he states that no matter how much we try, we can never identify all of the origins to our ideas.

In the end, if, as David Weinberger suggests in his book Too Big To Know, the smartest person in the room is the room. The challenge is to develop smarter rooms. For as Weinberger states:

Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider.

So what is your why? How are you building networks? Do you think that I have missed something? I would love your thoughts.

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Everyone has those days. For some they last for weeks. Maybe it was just one incident. You lost it. Raised your voice when you shouldn’t have. Or maybe you started an activity poorly and no matter how much you tried to save it, by clarifying something, talking, adding this, changing that, your hole to hide in never felt deep enough. You just felt like a failure. As much as we try and focus on growth and improvement, there is a voice inside that occasionally says, “You’re a charleton and now you have been found out.” Doug Belshaw identifies this as ‘imposter syndrome‘. The inability to internalise various accomplishments. This feeling of being a fraud often builds up, with one day here connecting with another day there. There is many an answer, sometimes it is talking with a colleague or other times you can gain critical feedback from students. However, the solution often lies within and needs to start with us. One remedy to regain balance is through blogging. Reflection allows us to highlight our positives and come back to the big question, why do we do what we do?

I have written a bit about why to blog since I started. Recently I reflected on the uncanny nature of reviewing the past. However, another reason that I have come upon of late is the opportunity to connect back with your ‘why’. Your central reason for everything. Not everything I do is perfect. There are many moments where I lapse back into what John Goh describes as our ‘default’ value, that initial idea of education which we have internalised over time. However, it is important to stop and reflect in order to remind myself why I do what I do, as well as what I have been doing to support this.

In the closing section of his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek discusses how a few years ago he realised that although he was supposedly using all the right strategies within his business, he had lost sight of his why. He was out of balance. Ever since he has focused all of his actions on his why. As he states:

If it was important to start with WHY, then I would start with WHY in everything I did. There is not a single concept in this book that I don’t practice.

Regularly reflecting on what we do and making our actions visible helps stay focused on why we really do it. For as Sinek states, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

How do you stay centred and maintain your ‘why’ in all that you do? I would love to know. Feel free to comment.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.