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Why? The key to building an active following

Children say it all the time: ‘Why?’ they ask when they’re told to turn off the TV, or put their coats on. Idealistic teenagers do it when they rage against the authorities, ‘Why are you destroying our planet?’ When we become responsible adults and get jobs many of us suddenly stop asking this important question? Instead we say ‘what?’ ‘What shall I do with this brick?’ If we’re curious or ambitious we might ask ‘how?’ How can I build this wall better?’ Imagine for a second that we ask the brick ‘why?’ The answer to this question is much more interesting.

‘We want to make you safe.’

‘We want to keep them out.’

‘We want to keep you in.’

Suddenly the brick takes on a much deeper significance and the person holding it more invested in their purpose. This is exactly how the most successful businesses, leaders and influencers work, asking themselves why they do something and selling the public that message. Leadership expert Simon Sinek describes this in his ‘golden circle’ theory and says that by asking ‘why’, we are tapping directly into the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls decision making. He argues that if you answer that question persuasively enough then the brain responds positively. Suddenly you have a compelling reason to do what you’re doing. Sell that idea to somebody else and you could have your first follower.

The question ‘why’ is pivotal on so many levels. It informs the relationships we make, the politicians we vote for and the houses we buy. If the people at the heart of your organisation make ‘why’ their central question, its power will spread through your staff then on to customers and followers. Suddenly you have something much more than a ‘team’ and a ‘client base’ you have a community of genuinely passionate advocates for your brand and message.

Let’s get practical. How can you establish and communicate your ‘why?

'Stay hungry, stay foolish'

Steve Jobs famously used this quote in an address to students of Stanford University. It got to the core of his vision for Apple computers, a company that never settles, keeps adapting and growing. Follow your aspirations and stick to your beliefs, no matter how unlikely they seem he was saying. It’s this idealism that kept his company going through the lean years and ultimately allowed Apple to become one of the biggest tech firms on the planet. The reason was never ‘what,’ after all rival companies also made excellent computers. By asking why and sharing the Apple ethos they engaged customers and turned them into loyal followers.

Discover your 'why' and you will understand your 'how' and your 'what'

Most companies or organisations begin with their ‘what’, then move on to ‘how’ they achieve it, before finally, almost as an afterthought, working out ‘why’ they are doing it. Reverse that formula and the better placed you will be to deliver your product or message effectively. It’s worth taking your time to find the answer. If you are an established organisation, listen to your staff and existing followers, they’re on this journey with you for a reason. Even if you don’t yet understand ‘why’ there’s a chance they might already know the answer.

Start small, focus on happiness

Your ‘why’ isn’t a shortcut to instant world domination, it is a tool to be deployed one person at a time. The best route to growth and longevity is to start small. Communicate your message to the individual and they will listen, and spread the word. The great thing about this approach is that it’s something you can start today, learning and perfecting as you go, without incurring the sort of costly mistakes which happen when you attempt to rapidly scale up.

The same, but different

To return to Apple, at the heart of their ‘why’ is a point of difference from the competition. They aren’t the only company making quality smartphones, laptops and tablets, but in everything they do is a focus on that which makes them unique. Their mission is to create products that stand apart from everybody else through beautiful design and user friendliness. They don’t want people to see them as a computer company, but as a brand that strives to make our experience of using machines better. Why wouldn’t you want that?

What makes you stand out from the crowd? Answer this and you could be at the beginning of something amazing.

4 weeks ago | Tips & Techniques

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