Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, is one answer to the question that lots of businesses, artists, writers, inventors all ask themselves when someone else has massive success: “Why them instead of me?” According to Sinek, it isn’t what they did so much as why they were motivated to do what they did. One’s intrinsic motivation matters - a lot.
Each one of our widely respected, beloved American icons had one thing in common. Sinek has found they all worked from the inside out, a process he calls The Golden Circle, co-centric circle of Why, How and What.
Sinek has also done extensive work with the RAND Corporation, which is an amazing entity in itself. It happens to be an organization that the government uses to conduct all sorts of qualitative research. I have a friend who worked there - we don’t talk all the time so maybe he still does — and he told me that he could tell by the spelling of my name that my parents were middle class because they spelled it with an ‘e’ at the end. “Rich people end with an ‘i’ for your name.” There are crazy amounts of any kind of human behavior research and studies and reports that happen non-stop in that building in Santa Monica. Sinek is an adjunct there. That means that he teaches or lectures there. He probably has carte blanche to all of that serious cache of info and intel.
Sinek’s theory isn’t new to psychologists, or actors; every single action in a script you’re blocking has to have a motivation — the character’s why behind the movement. Action is much more powerful than a sentence for showing the audience who that character is. In fact, they always tell you “actors don’t tell; they show.”
The statement about acting is aligned with the Golden Circle, that “what you do is the proof of what you believe (your why).” It’s not really a new idea, but it is a fabulous name for the way psychologists have found that we human beings make our decisions. We have to have a strong emotional feeling that connects us to our project or our audience, or we’d never get past the reptilian part of our brains that runs on pure survival and are constantly scanning for the bad intentions of others. It’s how our DNA got passed down to us — without that, we’d all have been eaten, or ransacked and tossed into a ditch. So to bypass survival brain, you gotta have a lot of passion, strong intention, and a core belief that aligns us all, or forget it. And, it’s the reason that copywriters have to get emotions involved, or no one will ever get off the couch to pick up a phone to order a pizza. Feelings as motivation. Passion.
The underlying emotion it seems that Sinek was hooking into was great love — love of making something (or lots of somethings forever and ever) that people will love, the love of flight, the love of his people, his country, all people. The Wright Brothers were the first to get a plane into the air because they loved it. Samuel Pierpont Langley was ahead in the game, but in it for the wrong reasons, so he lost his “why” - his motivation - after he wasn’t going to be first.
So, if you (or your company) have something you want to take flight, it’s crucial to have in your flight manual, a very strong mission statement that sheds light on why you’re going to need the devotion, the “blood, sweat, and tears” of yourself and your flight crew. The higher you fly, the bigger your crew gets, the more you need to know why you’re up there in the first place.
This year is one of those rare (thank God) ones that has had me asking these deeper questions even more so than I usually do — the kind of gut wrenching losses that make you question everything about your life.
Truth be told, I have often suffered ideological crises. I have found that when I don’t spend enough time writing, singing, performing, or too much time alone, life loses its meaning. It’s that disconnect from my own “why” that torments me in the depths of my being.
I used to think that love was the reason I did everything — the need to be loved, for true love, for the fairy tale. But the fairy tale is truly a work of fiction. It’s based on the lives of history’s princes and princesses, and if you open any history book, you’ll find that no one lived happily ever after.
Upon deeper reflection, it gets pretty hippy dippy. My real motivation is lose myself in the service of something greater than myself. It’s the expression of the Truth, the search for something real, and the expression of that truth - whatever that is for me in that moment (I have a voracious appetite for learning new things, ideas, programs, etc.) To be a conduit, a channel of whatever is moving through me that needs to be expressed — to be shared, to bring people together, to create a hook, to honor the hook that has me by the solar plexus, that must be fed daily to serve my creator by creating.
I am a creator and in order for me to feel that I will not slide off the magic carpet that I’m borrowing to move through space and time, I need to make stuff and share it with as many people as possible — with whoever wants to hear it. I work to feed my temple, keep the lights on, the dogs of the world at bay so that I can have the peace and space to live, and living means creating and connecting.
One other thing about Sinek’s theory that I know is absolutely true from personal experience is that if you want to reach people, you have to come from the inside out. I’ve performed in front of enough audiences as a singer/songwriter to know that the moment that I start worrying about how I’m coming across to people, I lose them.
As soon as you have a single thought about what other people think, you’ve lost your own voice, and your authenticity. It’s like when you’re talking to someone and they’re too involved with how they look or how they’re coming across to be real — it’s repellant. That’s why in social media and marketing in general, for the last several years, people have been overusing the words “authentic” and “raw” and “real” until we just gag when we hear it. It’s so #thirsty that we hate it.
Yet, my obsessive search for the truth, which is also a quest for a vision of the possibility of true magnificence, continues to be my core motivation. I really do want to find something real, write about it, and share it to whomever it may concern. And, I actually do hope that in the process, I unite people toward a greater good, whether it’s a cleaner planet, or just fighting for those EPA laws that reduce NOX particles from the air above the 405.