Some background – what’s the deal with all this circular talk?
In his famous TED talk a few years back, Simon Sinek introduced us to the concept of The Golden Circle. Since then it’s made TED’s list of the 25 most popular talks of all time (his talk ranks third highest) – no easy feat as you can imagine, given the caliber of TED speakers.
I’m going to draw out what I thought were some of the key concepts from the talk and elaborate on them here so you can continue reading this article standalone.
But if you have a spare 18 minutes, I urge you to check out the talk if you haven’t seen it yet:
So what is the Golden Circle?
The concept of the Golden Circle is very simple. This isn’t some earth-shattering discovery. Simon Sinek isn’t inventing the cure to cancer here.
No it’s so simple that even Sinek himself says “it’s probably the world’s simplest idea.” Yet don’t let it’s simplicity fool you of its potency.
It is so simple and subtle yet so powerful which is why I love it and I built this site’s structure around it.
In Simon’s own words:
About three and a half years ago, I made a discovery. And this discovery profoundly changed my view on how I thought the world worked, and it even profoundly changed the way in which I operate in it.
As it turns out, there’s a pattern. As it turns out, all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way. And it’s the complete opposite to everyone else.
All I did was codify it. And it’s probably the world’s simplest idea. I call it the Golden Circle.
He then proceeds to sketch it out on the whiteboard…and the crowd goes silent…
“What are we back in kindergarten?? Come on bro…we’re here for a TED talk…”
At least that’s what I was thinking when I first saw it.
Here is diagram of it in all it’s simplicity.
Yep, that’s it. It’s just made up of the Why, the How and the What…
The Why, the How and the What
Alright let’s break this down. He is basically saying that in everything you do, you can break it down into the Why, the How and the What.
The What – this is actually what you do. This is the most obvious layer as it is readily visible from the outside. There’s really not much more to say about this as everyone knows what they do.
The How – this is the process, the methods and the techniques with which you do what you do. As Sinek puts it, “some know how they do it. Whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP.”
The Why – this is your purpose, your cause, your belief. Why do you do what you do? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?
To quote Sinek:
Very very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by why I don’t mean make a profit, that’s a result. That’s always a result. By why I mean what’s your purpose, what’s your cause, what’s your belief. Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning. And why should anyone care?
As a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. Its obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing.
But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations…all think, act and communicate from the inside out.
Narrowing the scope
Before I dive into the power of this, I just wanted to clarify that I believe this concept of the Golden Circle has potentially very broad application. In my opinion it could easily be applied to many different areas such as marketing, communicating, storytelling, leadership, relationships, building great organisations and even parenting.
Simon himself mostly focuses on its application towards leadership (whether it be in a business or political context) and inspiring others. However, this is not the focus of my article. If you want to read more about that, Sinek has written a great book on the subject called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. It’s got thousands of rave reviews so I would encourage you to check it out if you wanted to explore these concepts in greater depth.
For the purposes of this article I’m focusing particularly on its application in the context of self-improvement and true/effective learning.
This will turn out to be very useful to you Freedom Fighters as you will need to go through your own personal journey of learning, upskilling and self-improvement in your quest to escape the 9-5.
The power of the Golden Circle
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term “life hacks.” You know how there’s many of those cool articles/videos out there (especially on Facebook) which list cheap, simple ways to “hack life” and make life easier. Quick wins if you will or low-hanging fruit, which are the ways I see it. Kind of like this (I just googled “top simplest life hacks” and that was the top result).
Similarly I view the Golden Circle as essentially a kind of “life hack.” Or more accurately let’s call it a “learning hack” for the purposes of this article as it’s a simple, free way to make learning and understanding new concepts easier.
The essence of its power is that something so simple as just reversing the order of the information, a small tweak, can lead to big results. Kind of like the trajectory of a golf ball when you swing at it. If you’re off course by just 1 degree at the point of driving the ball that 1 degree over a big distance becomes very off target.
Conversely, just a small subtle shift in stance or form can make you drive the ball correctly right from the start and you will come much closer to your target.
This means that when you want to start something or do something, most people instinctively start at the most obvious level, the What. This applies to many things. For example if you’re a student you might be tempted to study just by rote learning and memorizing whatever is in the chapters that will be covered on the exam. You’re simply learning the What. But then what happens right after the exam? One day after. One week after. You’ve probably forgotten what you learnt am I right? That’s because you didn’t understand the Why of what you were learning. As I explained on the About page, I personally was never a great student. Looking back now I can barely remember much of what I learnt in school or college. However I find that there are certain things that stuck with me and I still remember today. After reading Sinek’s book I’ve come to realise it’s because those were the things I studied to understand, not to just memorize and pass an exam.
Why jobs suck…
Another more relevant example is for employees. The reason most people don’t climb to the top is because it’s the nature of most roles to be “what-focused.” This is particularly true in large corporations. You are pigeon-holed into one specific role performing a specific process in one specific team which is one specific function within a specific division and so on. You just do what you’re told rarely getting a glimpse or understanding the broader context and bigger picture. Rarely knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing.
In fact this is one of the biggest reasons most jobs suck and why job satisfaction is so low. It’s why I got restless at my job and wanted something more. It’s why I started this site. It’s this disconnect from the why, the purpose and meaning that causes this. This is why I always emphasize that there are exceptions to the premise of this site. It is possible to have a fulfilling job if you work at a organization that has purpose and inspires you. You feel you are part of something, maybe it’s a noble cause, or a grand vision, or simply because you are given a stake in it in the form of shares or stock options so that you have skin in the game and actually feel part of it.
Again, I can’t go into that much detail about this topic of job satisfaction, but Simon Sinek is the authority on this subject and in fact has another book specifically targeted towards creating workplaces where people are inspired to go to work. It’s the #1 Best Seller in the category of Workplace Culture and it’s called Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Together with Start with Why, it’s highly recommended reading.
To further drive (golf pun intended 🙂 ) this point home and understand it thoroughly let’s explore its sister concept.
Related concept – don’t lose the forest for the trees
So by now we’ve learnt that instead of thinking from the outside in, we should instead shift to think from the inside out.
The sister concept is the following oft-quoted maxim:
Don’t lose the forest for the trees.
It warns against getting so short-sighted and only focusing on the “tree” right in front of you (i.e. the task at hand) that you forget where you are or why you’re even here. It warns against losing sight of the “forest” and having a case of tunnel vision.
I think that not losing the forest for the trees and the Golden Circle both speak towards the same thing in the context of learning and understanding.
Why they are both so effective is because they speak towards the right order of approaching and learning new things.
First start at a higher level. Then proceed into the detail all the while remembering where you are in the broader context, that is, not losing the forest for the trees. Most people dive right into the details but it’s often the wrong level to start at and they grow lost or frustrated. They miss the overarching reason why it is they are doing this.
This is the most effective way of learning stuff and understanding what your doing.
I’ll conclude with a powerful quote on point by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.
The Golden Circle is a simple yet powerful “life hack” that will make you far more effective at learning and understanding new concepts. Its power lies in something so simple as just reversing the order of the information. Just making this small tweak from thinking, acting and communicating from the inside out as opposed to from the outside in can lead to big results.
The reason most jobs suck is because the nature of most roles are “what-focused.” You are pigeon-holed into one specific role performing a specific process in one specific team which is one specific function within a specific division and so on. You just do what you’re told rarely getting a glimpse or understanding the broader context and bigger picture. Rarely knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s this disconnect from the why, the purpose and meaning that causes plenty of job dissatisfaction.