The CIO Reading List: Start with Why

We dont want to come to work to build a wall, we want to come to work to build a cathedral.” —Simon Sinek, Start with Why

CIOs can’t succeed unless they can communicate.

The CIO Reading ListWhether we’re convincing our C-level colleagues to support complex, cross-functional programs, persuading our staff that our strategy will enable their success, or proving to customers that we can relate to and help solve their biggest challenges, it’s the CIO’s job to convince people to take huge leaps of faith. We don’t just ask them to accept our view. We ask them to invest significant time, budget, and effort in initiatives that could be disruptive and risky. And if we can’t communicate effectively and persuasively, we can’t deliver on the promise of transformation we’re offering.

That’s why I sat down with Simon Sinek’s best-selling communications bible, Start with Why, based on his now legendary TED Talk. Sinek has become a favorite among leaders of all stripes for his thesis that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s a strong, provocative stance, grounded in biology and neuroscience, and it’s valuable advice for anyone looking to inspire change.

Why ‘why’ works

Sinek argues that the most successful people and businesses thrive because their work is driven by a purpose, because they focus on communicating that purpose, and because that focus attracts others who believe in the purpose—the “why”—and will execute that vision, whatever the odds.

He cites Apple as an example. While every other tech company focused on “what”—telling consumers that they make great products—Apple focused on the “why,” showing them that they were disrupting the status quo. They invited us to “think different.” Once customers bought Apple’s vision to stand out and do new, remarkable things with technology, they not only bought its products, but bought into its brand.

Sinek’s theory applies in the workplace as well, and much of his book explores the art of inspiring action among your colleagues.

He rightly points out that building an airtight business case will only get you so far. Even if people understand the value of your initiative or program, they won’t necessarily follow your lead. They need to believe in the purpose of your work to be inspired.

Inspiring transformation

One aspect of Sinek’s book that made a big impression on me is his discussion of the logical and biological aspects of our decision-making. He points out that while almost everyone understands what they do and how they do it, many of us have lost touch with the why—the inspiration and passion that make us choose to do what we do. And that’s really what drives our decisions in the first place.

I’m lucky. I’m inspired to come to work every day because I believe in why my company is transforming. As CIO, it’s both my responsibility and key to the company’s success to make sure that my team is just as inspired. Sinek suggests how I can do that: Instead of starting with the what (we need a new data lake), start with the why: “We could increase sales at least 10 percent next year and guarantee an employee bonus if we knew what features our customers use most; and to do that, we need a new data lake.”

CIOs who start with the why help their teams aspire to a goal that’s bigger than just implementing a tool or saving money. That builds trust and loyalty. Or, as Sinek writes, “The opportunity is not to discover the perfect company for ourselves. The opportunity is to build the perfect company for each other.”

What inspires you to go to work and build the perfect company? Add your why in the comment section below, or find me on Twitter. As always, thanks for reading!