They buy why you do it

Simon Sinek gave a fascinating TED talk in September 2009 called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” I wasn’t drawn to it for principles of “leadership” in the typical sense, but Sinek said some wonderful and thought-provoking things about purpose and vision, which really moves me in light of my recent drive to grab hold of my dreams.

Sinek’s repeated refrain is, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” If you simply talk about what you do in rational terms, it might be useful to people, but still fail to draw them in. But if you lay bare your purpose, the reason you make your product, offer your service, you’ll connect with people who are attracted to that purpose. Sinek says, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with the people who believe what you believe.”

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Sinek explains, “Every single organization on the planet knows WHAT they do…some know HOW they do it…but very few people or organizations know WHY they do what they do.” All three of those components are important, but Sinek is suggesting that we’ve got the order inverted. Lead with the what and people shrug. Lead with the why and a select few people, the very people you want to connect with, will sit up and take note.

This was my experience with my story game in development, The Dreaming Crucible. Before, when I had a creative product, I would hem and haw, like, “well, you see it’s this game, and, er, it’s really good because, see, it focuses on storytelling and, um, provides a framework to help you tell stories of a particular type, which is important because I, like, want to make honest, vulnerable storytelling available for everyone…” and by the time I was done the WHY was lost in mumbled confusion. And I got to share my work with a few people, but I didnt really have the impact I wanted.

But with The Dreaming Crucible, I flipped it: I talked about why I wanted to share my game. “Storytelling for everyone” was at the forefront of my approach. Even the moneymaking angle took on purpose: “I need to raise money to attend a convention and share this game with even ore likeminded people.” And it worked. People came out of the woodwork, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, to get involved and share my dream with me. It was exactly what I’d hoped for.

With my faith community I took it one step further: I attend a church founded on personal healing for people who have been ostracized or abused by religion in the past. So I approached them and told them straight-up: “This game was born out of the concepts of healing for one’s spiritual wounding that I’ve been exploring here for the past 8 years.” And I had people approach me to buy more importantly PLAY the game, people who might have never explored personal, vulnerable storytelling otherwise. Which was exactly what I’d hoped for.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

When I approached people with the WHAT, I got a few folks on board who thought it might be fun or useful for them. But when I led with the WHY, I attracted a whole bunch of people whose beliefs align with mine. It’d be great to spread beyond that core group of supporters and comrades, but that core is what wil sustain my artistic endeavor. That core is why I’m doing my artistic endeavor. And so this approach brings just the right people together. And what more could I hope for?




2 Responses to “They buy why you do it”

  1. 1 buriedwithoutceremony
    June 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Anecdote, somewhat related:

    I’ve been searching for quotes on custom paperboard boxes, as I’m trying to ascertain how much it’ll cost to publish Heart of Ashes as a boxed set (hint: a crazy amount of money).

    I came across this one box company. It didn’t sell paperboard products, just corrugated. So, it was totally useless to me. Still, I browsed their website, because I was in love with it.

    Their mission was front and centre: While quality is important, because of course it is, we exist to engage our customers. We are efficient, consistent and personable.

    It then went on to break down what that meant, for them, in incredible detail: we answer our phone calls within two rings. We respond to voicemails left overnight within 5 minutes of opening. We provide quotes within X hours. We provide samples within X hours. You will never interact with a phone tree. If you don’t receive your order in 5 days, we don’t charge for it.

    And those stats on their own are boring as hell. Those stats, immediately following the vision from which they stem, were amazing.

    This corrugated box manufacturer blew me away with their clarity of vision, and made me wish I had a purpose for thousands of corrugated boxes. No lie.

  2. 2 Joel
    June 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for that story. I’ve never before been inspired by cardboard!

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