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Community Building: Why the Why is Vital

Yesterday, I stumbled across @nickcharney‘s post Lessons in Collaboration on GovLoop. He brings to life a construct developed by Simon Sinek on the topic of how great leaders inspire action. How do great leaders inspire action? It all starts with the why, as in Sinek’s “golden circle” above. The average person, as Nick points out, inverses Sinek’s circle, “focusing too much on what it is that we do. How many of us would describe our work starting with why we have chosen to undertake it?” I absolutely love Nick’s post and it inspired my own imagination to run wild. With community building on my brain incessantly these days, I wondered if it applied. Verdict? You’ll see at the end of this post. But first…

Here’s a quick explanation of the What | How | Why | in the picture above.

What: every single person/organization on the planet knows what they do, 100%

How: some, know how they do it…maybe the differentiating value proposition

Why: but very few know why they do what they do…and by why he doesnt mean “to make a profit” – that is a result – by “why” he means what is your cause, what is your belief…why does your organization exist…why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should anyone care?

Now think of a company who has an entire brand built around why they do what they do. Not one that describes what they make, or how they make it, but why they do what they do – their innermost ideaology. Want a clue? Rather than sell their product with: “we make great computers…they are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly…want to buy one?” they simply start off by saying “think different.”

Yes, Apple.

Rather than the messaging above, Apple says something like this:

“Everything we do, we believe in changing the status quo…we believe in thinking differently…the way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beauitifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

“People dont buy what you do, they buy why you do it” Simon explains.

Simon repeats this phrase probably 5 – 10 times throughout his presentation, and understandably so. It is fundamental to infinitely more ideas than simply how one incredibly innovative technology company became one of the most adored brands in the world today. It is essentially the crux of what allows great leaders to inspire action. One’s innermost ideologies about why they do what they do, is what people can latch on to and not fall off; the notions that can stand the test of whatever other external factors are going around outside of that core.

Essentially what it comes down to, is in whatever you do, know why you are doing it, and if those reasons are the right reasons, you’ll inspire others to action in the same way. If that passion and fire are there, you will yield far more patience, drive, and endurance than if you’re not clear on this most fundamental thinking. Others will hold tightly to the same core and also yield the same patience, drive, and endurance. This is where you want to be operating from…not something else from the How or What because these factors will eventually burn off.

To bring it directly into my ongoing conversation about Community Building, as a Community Manager, operate from this level of Why. Identify stakeholders who understand this Why as well, and believe in it the same way you do. You will then attract others with the same belief and build a community that can stand the test of turbulence and time.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

This is exactly what’s described in Good to Great as the “hedgehog concept” – a clear articulation and subsequent focus on one key theme…often a “why” behind the “what.”

It also reminds me of the core idea behind Viktor Frankl’s classic “Man’s Search for Meaning.” If you know the story, Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and he noticed a difference between people who held on to make it through the horrendous ordeal and those who succumbed to the anguish and stress. He said: “Those who have a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

And that gets at the what, too…I can do anything for a period of time, but if I’m not passionate about it, I’ll move on. What’s interesting about the word passion, too, is that the root of the word is “passio” – to suffer. Few people are willing to suffer for a cause or a company without a deep understanding of the “why” behind their efforts.

Brian Gryth

Sinek’s book can be irritating at times, but you should read it because his underlying idea is really important. And it lays out the information in his TEDx talk more completely and addresses the question you will likely have after watching the talk. The biggest point is that knowing your why is critical if you what build a movement. You must start with why, but the how or execution of the why is equally as important.

Collin’s Good to Great is also well worth a read and if you what a short read get the monograph for the social sector. Collin’s frames the Good to Great concept for the social/public sector in the monograph.

Lauren Modeen

Thanks Brian and Andy – these are truly fantastic comments. You clearly both know exactly what’s going on here! Now I have Good to Great on my reading list (since I actually own it – as soon as this weekend). Andy, I never knew that the root of passion is spun up with the latin root pain. Makes perfect sense. Thanks to you both for such enlightening thoughts!

Joseph Porcelli


Your timing is great, and I really appreciate the thought you put into this post.

This week I’ve been working on developing a “Framework for Action”. The first part I’ve titled “Discuss” – but really is should be titled “Why”? I was caught in the weeds and did not even know it.

I’ve love to get your input on this when you have a moment my post when you have moment.