ICON14: Simon Sinek – Start With Why

(Notes from presentation by Simon Sinek at ICON14)

Simon Sinek - Start With Why

Leaders are the ones responsible for creating the environment to help you feel safe. Time and energy you spend to protect yourself in a business (CYA: Cover Your Ass) means this is a badly organized business. Incentives to repeat successful actions work both for your body as well as your business.


E,D,S,O (Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin)


Endorphin release is the good feeling you get when you exercise. This is why athletes love to exercise.  Also, it’s why humans are such good gatherers. Your body rewards your hard work and keeps you wanting to exercise more. Pain from the workout comes much later.


Dopamine is the good feeling of crossing an item off a list or winning a game or eating. As you keep making progress, you keep getting more dopamine hits. (Try making a list with first item on the list ‘Make List’ so that when you are done, you already get to cross something off and get that good feeling of progress) Also, this is why it is so important to have written out Vision Statements, Goals, Targets, etc. You need to know if you are making progress. Metrics are designed to help you see if you are making progress.


Dopamine can be highly addicting and it can reward bad behaviors. Gamblers receive dopamine when they win, and this good feeling is sought after as much as the financial rewards. Addiction to video games helps prove this point as there are no monetary gains and (in the case of in-app purchases) more money spent seeking stronger characters/ elite units/ or time saving benefits. How clever for a gaming company to make someone feel good for spending $1 to continue the game right now instead of waiting 2 hours. And for those unwilling to spend money, convince them to share this game with others in their network for the same rewards. There is a reason why this ‘gaming strategy’ is being copied by non-gaming businesses.


It feels good to be rewarded. This is Serotonin. Graduation of college is reinforcing the feeling of doing something worthwhile. The award ceremony is not a requirement to finish a college/university. The administration could easily just send a PDF of your diploma and be done, but people want to be recognized for their efforts as well as share the feelings of accomplishment with friends and family. In fact the people you thank and share an award with also share the effects of Serotonin as well. Being proud of yourself or being proud of someone else; both trigger a release of Serotonin. [Tweet “Why not get your diploma by PDF instead of attending a graduation ceremony? Serotonin.”]


Being an Alpha (if you are uncomfortable when meeting someone, you aren’t the Alpha) and knowing you are the Alpha keeps the flow of Serotonin going.   It feels good to be Alpha, and that is why people seek to improve their ranking. Buying items with logos are ways to try to show yourself as an Alpha. That’s also why the logos are on the outside of a product or so well displayed. It’s not just so you know that you have the product, it is so other people can identify it as well. Think Starbucks cups. However, it also feels good to help someone you feel is Alpha. If Steven Spielberg was behind you at a door, would you hold the door open for him? Likely you would and also tell someone else later “Hey, I just held the door for Steven Spielberg!”


Leadership is a choice, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have responsibility. People who are willing to sacrifice others for their success doesn’t make them a leader. People who are successful leaders are willing to sacrifice themselves to help others first. A successful leader can be found ANYWHERE in a company, not just at the top. A coworker who helps you with your workload even though his own is equally difficult is behaving as a leader.


Also, successful leaders are not seen negatively for their success. When a successful leader is rewarded, it is accepted. People don’t begrudge a CEO of her high salary if they feel she does her best for the company as a whole and puts the needs of the company before her own needs. Being a parent or going to the gym are not actions that will be rewarded immediately (successful parents may take 20+ years before being truly rewarded), but over time you see the glimmers of success. Business is the same way. You will know a successful business leader by the things she will give up things to help you.


Oxytocin (aka the “trust hormone”) is the warm feeling you get for being near someone. Hugging someone (try doing it for 6 seconds longer than you normally do it). Human beings are looking for people they can trust. Acts of generosity give you oxytocin. People who give up a non-renewable resource like time has a higher value. If a person makes a $500 donation, that will be seen as very generous, but giving up a weekend to help out in person is considered even more valuable. Sending an email to say ‘Good Job’ doesn’t do nearly as much as just going over to the person to say it in person. Spend more time on the phone. A handwritten thank you note saying the exact same thing you would say in an email is nearly the same cost, yet it is so much more effective. When you feel Oxytocin for someone, you will ‘do anything’ to help this person. [Tweet “For a shot of Oxytocin, try holding your next hug for 6 seconds longer.”]


Even witnessing an act of generosity can give you a release of Oxytocin. Seeing someone being nice to someone else can make you feel good and could possibly keep the pattern going with you helping another person in need. This is the meaning behind Pay it Forward Set the pattern to help others first (successful leadership), and that will continue.


The more Oxytocin you have in your system, the healthier you are. It also makes you less susceptible to addictions (the negative side of Dopamine). Great businesses are the ones where people feel safe and want to work together even if they are not making money. One company decided to offered people a 4 week furlough to take instead of doing layoffs. This actually improved moral. Military personnel say that they aren’t being heroes ‘because someone else would do it for me’. Sometimes one soldier may risk his life for someone he doesn’t even like because of this belief. It’s a long held military tradition that officers eat last because they believe that you help those you are in charge of first.


Start With Why Golden Circle


Networking groups are so important because you all are part of the same situation. Everyone needs a partner in her business even if she is not part of your business. (Look up Simon’s TED talks).   Your responsibility is to help and protect those people you can help directly. Don’t worry about the people that you can’t work with directly. Overcoming the last step in Alcoholics Anonymous is to help another alcoholic. That last step (leadership and Oxytocin) is what really helps you beat the disease.


A small way to make someone feel better is to put your phone away when you speak with them. Don’t put your phone on the table when eating or at a business meeting. Practice doing nice things like holding a door open, changing the water cooler, making a new pot of coffee, picking up a piece of trash on the ground or at the beach WITHOUT BEING ASKED. These kinds of decisions make it easier to do nice things again later. Even if you don’t get recognized for doing things, it will make you feel better.


These notes are from Simon Sinek’s presentation at ICON14.  Nearly all of the content are in his words or paraphrased.  I’ve added only minor bits for clarification or example.  For more notes from ICON14, please check out my InfusionCon Notes category of posts.

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