The Golden Circle: why => how => what


As some of you might know already, some years ago I was working as a PhD-researcher on the topic of relationship marketing. In the mean time I have swapped consulting and scientific research for a job that suits me far better: Coaching and consulting people towards a higher level of happiness in their personal as well as professional life. I accumulated a lot of personal experience on the topic and added up various trainings and courses. And yes, I do enjoy my job far better now than I did before.

Yet I must admit that regularly some concepts of marketing swirl into my coach’s mind. Just recently I was at a training session on commercial communication, and while the trainer was explaining his concept totally from a marketing point of view, I realized that this approach could very well apply to the context of interpersonal relationships too. And provide me and my clients with a new perspective.

And those who know me, know how I do like every new perspective, as long as it is sensible and effective. So let’s take the test together. Follow me on this short dissertation and please, do tell me what you think and feel about it.

The central idea I would like to share, is the concept of the Golden Circle. It is briliantly explained by Simon Sinek in his 2009 TED-talk. It says there are three levels at which a firm (yes, marketing) can communicate : what it does, how it does it and why it does it. Most common communication is based on the ‘what’: we make cars, we make cell phones, we provide insurance services, etc…. Some smart guys take it one step further and tell you ‘how’: we build tailored cars, we make userfriendly phones, we adapt insurances to you profile… Very little firms take it to the centre of the Golden Circle, and tell you exactly ‘why’. And yet that seems to be the most unique message a firm can send to its customers, a message that drives decision, and feelings of loyalty and trust. Outside the boundaries of logical thought. Outside the boundaries of language.

Indeed, the ‘what’ speaks to the logical mind, the neocortex, whereas the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ speak to the lymbic system, a centre of the brain that contains no concept of language but that drives decision and feelings. In short, how a company breathes its belief at all levels is the true unique key to success. Now, if this is true in building a marketing relationship, it might also apply to the context of human relationships, don’t you think? Let’s see…

In relationships, often we speak at a level of ‘what’s’: doing the dishes, cleaning the room, giving a kiss, sending a message, having sex, telling the truth, telling a lie,… The ‘how’ is the domain of the more indepth exchange, where we come across the underlying attitude, e.g. carefull, responsible, egocentric,… But how often are we aware of the deeper ‘why’ of our wishes?

Why do we wish to have this kind of relationship instead of that kind? What drives us really, what are our deepest beliefs, the callings of our heart and soul? Why do you want to be in a partner relationship? Why do you have children? Why do you have friends? Or colleagues? Why are you doing this job instead of that one? Even if the theory says you cannot capture these feelings in language, it might still enlighten us about the kind of relationships we attract if we take the time to focus on the why.

Let’s take the example of a partner relationship. Why are you in a relationship? What drives you to be loyal to a partner? Being clear about this ‘why’ question will attract the people who respond to your belief. How easy will it be then to have fulfulling relationships? Moreover, being clear on this ‘why’ brings the ‘how’ and even the ‘what’ in line with our deepest wish, the unspoken belief that nurtures ‘how’ and ‘what’.

In my opinion, it also works the other way around. What we do and how we do it, is an expression of our deepest beliefs. When it ‘feels right’, that means somehow what we do and how we do it is in line with unconscious beliefs. When it does not ‘feel right’, somehow we sense that we are diverging from our true self, our true path. Hence observing consciously the ‘what’ and ‘how’ that makes us happy and oppose them to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ that makes us unhappy, should lead to grasping our own underlying belief. Even if we must accept that we will not be able to capture it in words, lymbic it should remain.

The good thing is, when you get an idea of the central belief that drives you, you can also discover a multitude of ‘what’ and ‘how’ options that do express your belief but you never even came across the idea to explore. Thus this self-observation results in a positive spiral, bringing you closer to your deepest beliefs and bringing what and how you do it more in line with these beliefs.

A golden cirkel. Like a ring you put on your finger, as a promise to cherisch and hold your own beliefs, nurture them and respect them, both in easy and in hard times, till death do you part… You gradually become a strong message of who you truly are. A true message. Just by daring to ask ‘why’. Like a child. Remember those days, when every single thing you experienced or heard, you reacted to with that single question that drove your parents mad, once in a while: WHY?

Now, I must admit the thought puzzled me, and I’m not yet able to answer it for myself. It is a process of bringing dormant beliefs to consciousness. But I have come across the experience that daring to ask a question is at least half the answer to it. So I bear the question in mind… I wonder if you will?

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