What if the world doesn't want to be changed?
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Heresy, I know, but I think Simon Sinek might be wrong. I think he might be wrong with his "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it". There are too many examples where that patently doesn't apply (I refuse to believe that people buy their decaf latte from a place because it wants to nurture the human spirit one cup at a time). But that's not the point. Well, it is, but not here.
The point here is with his 'magic circle' model, and how that's encouraging people to think about 'purpose'. Start with the 'why', go through the 'how' and then the 'what' is framed differently and irresistibly. That's why we all buy Apple, apparently. Except the "we" is not a part of that model. At no point is there an explicit recognition of the people who are going to buy why we do whatever we do. And that seems a serious error in a number of ways.
First, it's presumptive. How do we know what those people want, and what, how or why they buy from us, if we don't ask and show that understanding? That kind of thinking could be either arrogant or ignorant - and each is as bad as the other. (Sinek himself says that he can look around at the people who are with him on his "journey" and feel comforted that, yes he is changing the world. Was it ever asked?)
Second, it can create an enormous gap between promise and delivery. People won't - can't - commit to a promise that is too big or vague to be credible or doable (especially if it's been made on their behalf). Checking with the people who are meant to be the beneficiaries would help set expectations that are real and achievable.
Third, it can easily become introspective. It's all about 'me' or 'us' - which of course is vital in motivating people, but if the measures and definitions are not understood in terms of the people to whom we're selling or serving, any sense of purpose will quickly become not only self-congratulatory, but also self-defeating. Some sectors, professional services especially, have inward-looking and self-serving traditions - the last thing they need is more reinforcement of them.
Why is this important? We're seeing more and more businesses embracing the idea of 'purpose'; and because we know the value this can bring when done well, we have concerns over the chances of it being done badly. If this goes the way of 'TQM' and previous 'sustainability' drives, it will be seen as another firework trend that captivated everyone briefly and then fell out of the sky. The opportunity to build real value in the brand, in the most holistic sense, could be lost.
A brand is a promise kept, and that promise is made to all of its stakeholders. Not including the ones who ultimately determine whether that brand endures or not, seems to ignore the most basic 'reason why' for that result.