I was recently doing some prep work for a course I'm going through for work and part of the prep work was to watch and write some reflections on the following TED Talk. In the process I got to really thinking about how I communicate why I do what I do and led me to a dramatic conclusion: I have to stop marketing my books. Wait, what??? Stick with me and we'll get there. But first, watch this video.
As human beings, we are hardwired to make sense of the world. As social beings, we seek to connect. As logical beings, we desire to exert some level of control in our lives. We can look around at our complex world filled with lots of "whats" to choose from, be it soft drinks or ivy league schools. But when an organization or person connects their "what" to a fundamental "why", or reason for doing what they do, this taps into our desires to actually make sense of the world, be socially connected, and live intentionally. Various neuroscientific studies indicate that while logical analysis is an important part of how we process things, it is ultimately emotions that drive our decision making. This matches up perfectly with what Sinek discusses in his TED Talk.
We can have many logical reasons to take a job or buy a particular product or attend a particular school. But if we do not fundamentally connect with the real "why" behind that job or product or school, we are unlikely to take action. And if we do, we easily experience "buyer's remorse."
When we connect with a well-communicated "why" we are actually getting a chance to dive into a larger narrative than just our lives. This helps drive our decision making even if we are not fully aware of it. Couple this with the concept of keeping things clear and simple so that people can quickly and intuitively grasp your "why" and how they connect with this "why" as the actual protagonist in the story and not just a spectator, as Donal Miller explains in his book, Building a Story Brand, people will respond with genuine enthusiasm for your product or content.
To go beyond what Sinek discusses in his talk, I would suggest that people aren't just making decisions about the "why" they connect with because of what it does for them, but because saying yes to that "why" allows them to join something bigger than themselves, so experience some sense of connection, significance, and purpose. It may be a way of saying, "I matter, I'm here." It may be a way of expressing, "I care." Or it might give voice to our secret longings to belong.
In one sense, buying into such a "why" is a chance to take a small step out of the ordinary world and into the extraordinary world, to borrow from The Hero's Journey. When leaders and organizations communicate this why well, they are actually sending out the call to adventure, the invitation into the extraordinary world.
As an author, my job is to figure out how best to communicate my "why" around storytelling and the specific stories I am putting out there. So it's not really about marketing. It's about connecting meaningfully, especially as an author seeking to tell meaningful stories.