The Golden Circle reimagined
Organizational behaviour expert, Simon Sinek’s simple but eloquent 2009 TEDx talk, ‘How great leaders inspire action’, is still one of the most popular lectures on the TED website. Sinek codified the “Golden Circle” for successful leadership in three concentric circles: What, How and Why. The last of these — Why — was most important because it articulates a cause, a purpose, or a belief. The most inspired organisations start with interrogating the very reason for existence so that they can unlock great leadership. This is a much bigger ask than just telling the world how one is different or better than the competition and then expecting a purchase, it states a raison d’etre. Sinek’s insight put forward this idea that people buy your philosophy, or why you do something, before they buy what you do or how you do it. Sinek’s uses Apple as a classic example of how the Golden Circle works. Apple’s “why” is they believe in challenging the norm therefore they “think differently”. PEOPLE BUY INTO THE WHY. How do Apple express their “why”? They design their electronics more beautifully than anyone else in the world – effectively a physical embodiment of their “why”. Result: Apple is the most valued publicly-traded company in history. According to the New York Times, at the close of 2017, the stock price pushed Apple’s market value over $900 bn.
A lot has changed in the last decade since since the Golden Circle was first drawn. The most significant of these changes is pervasive connectivity through The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data in a world of high speed, mostly unregulated information on a multiple platforms and devices. In addition to these incredible leaps and bounds in information and data, transparency is now required for publicly listed companies. When things like equal pay for equal work, behaviour befitting a CEO and paying corporation tax can be discovered and shared at a swipe of a finger, the brilliance of the Golden Circle starts to look a little bit rudimentary.
Why not break ‘Why’, ‘How’ and ‘What’ out of their concentric circles and imagine Sinek’s “ask why” journey in the form of the Ikigai, a Japanese concept that helps to discover one’s reason for being. It’s a relatively new concept here in the West, but similar to The Golden Circle in that it is introspective, but it takes into account the nuances that exist between what we love, what we need, what we’re good at and what people will pay for. This could be a new way of organising how a business thinks about itself and what they stand for.
It might take some time before the business world catches on to the Ikigai, at the moment it is still synonymous with personal and professional development. Although examples of the Ikigai at work in business are slim, here are a couple of examples of businesses leaders who use it in their work for the YMCA in Sydney and in a bee-keeping micro-business in London. There was a time in the workplace when a yoga class was seen as a bit left-field and something you probably wouldn’t mention in the break room for fear of being judged. Today it isn’t uncommon to see yoga classes offered as part of a company’s health and wellness program. Being curious about new approaches and how they might affect positive change is the trademark of the most forward-thinking brands and businesses. If lunchtime yoga and nap-time pods can ease their way into the mainstream, surely a few overlapping circles aren’t far behind.