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In Conversation: Simon Sinek

Sunday, December 18, 11AM-1PM, Simon Sinek will be visiting STORY to greet fans and sign copies of his latest book, Together is Better. The beautifully illustrated book promises to inspire readers to ask for help, help others, and discover their own courage through a charming story about change. We caught up with the eternal optimist, author, consultant, and legendary TED Talk Speaker about finding his, “Why,” lessons he’s learned, and his personal productivity hack.

The core of your philosophy is that your “Why” is the foundation of what you do, and what powers each of us to propel forward. What is your “Why,” and how has your “Why” changed over the trajectory of your career?

My Why is to inspire people to do what inspires them. My Why is the foundation for my vision: I imagine a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single day inspired to go to work, feel safe when they are there and return home fulfilled at the end of the day. This is what I believe and it is unwavering.

A Why is not something we change.  It is not something we adapt from time to time.  A Why is the sum total of who we are. It is made up of all the experiences we had when we were growing up. Our Whys are fully formed by the time we are in our late teens and the rest of our lives offer us an opportunity to live in balance with our Why. This is what gives our work and indeed our lives meaning – that the thing that inspires us remains constant throughout our lives.

What is changeable is what we do to bring our Why to life. I write, I speak, I teach, I advise and all sorts of other things too. What I do has evolved over the years, but my Why has remained true north. Early on in my career, for example, I shared my message door-to-door, person-to-person making $100 helping people discover their Why.  Then more people invited me to share my message, and I shared it.   It was because of my Why that I was invited to speak to a room of people at TEDx Puget Sound. It was this talk that went on to become the third most watched Ted Talk of all time. At the same time, it was because of how consistent I was about my Why that I was introduced to Adrian Zackheim, the original publisher of Good To Great, the publisher of Seth Godin’s and Gen. Stan McCrystal’s books.   It was because of my vision and my Why that Adrian decided to take a bet on me. He offered me a book deal three days after we met. That was the deal that produced Start With Why. And as my message has spread, my Why remains exactly the same as it was when I first started talking about it ten years ago.

It is the consistency of our Why – of who we are – that makes What we do successful.

Tell us a little bit about the inspiration for your latest book, Together is Better

Through all my work, everything I’ve learned about leadership, teams, trust and cooperation, there’s one theme that shines bright in all of it: we are social animals and we need each other. None of us can get anything done that’s difficult or worthwhile by ourselves. I wanted to share this simple and powerful idea in a different way. So I looked to children’s books for inspiration.

When we teach children things, we teach them through examples and through metaphors. We tell stories. The best children’s books have a moral to the story. So I thought, instead of writing this big sort of thinky-thinky book with biology and neuroscience and anthropology (which is usually how I make my argument), what if I made a children’s book for adults?

I tell a delightful little story with pictures and quotes to remind us that together really is better. It reminds us that we can only achieve great things or get where we want to get if we ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

What I love most is that the book is experiential — it is filled with beautiful illustrations by the talented Ethan Aldridge, a custom scent, “the smell of optimism,” that was created by the amazing Dawn and Samantha Goldworm at 12.29, and an amazing song, called Together is Better Than One, written and produced by Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc. I am so grateful for the amazing people I got to work with to make this book.

My vision for this book is that it given as a gift.  A gift you give to yourself or to someone that has helped you, inspired you, or maybe just to give to someone that needs a little more inspiration.

There are a lot of business and leadership consultants out there – how do you differentiate yourself and make space for your ideas within such a competitive industry?

I am not a business or leadership consultant. I consider myself a student of leadership, always studying and learning about people and what inspires them everyday.   I am not looking to differentiate myself from anyone, I merely have a vision and I want to play my part in that vision, which, if we are successful, will change the world for the better.

I use business as a vehicle not because I care deeply about business. What I do care about deeply is impacting people.   Even during recessionary times, most people still have a job.  We spend more time at work than we do at home. We spend more time with our teams that we do with our families.  If I am going to make an impact, if I am going to make a difference, I’m more likely to reach people where they spend most of their time – at work. And who is responsible for the people at work? Leaders of organizations.

And the best part is, when we impact people at work, they bring it home.  We can change people’s lives by giving them a place they feel inspired to go to work every single day, feel safe when they’re there and return home feeling fulfilled at the end of the day.

What has been the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn over the course of your career?

That I can’t do it alone.  10 years ago, I was in a dark and lonely place in my life. I had a failing consulting business and I spent a lot of time lying, hiding and faking that all was fine.  It was far from fine.  I hit rock bottom and I only realized it, when a friend reached out and asked if I was ok.

It was only then that I was able to find the courage to face my problem head on. It was only when I knew someone had my back would I look to find meaning and higher purpose in my work beyond any money I could make.

There was a confluence of events and I discovered this pattern in how human beings make decisions and I called it The Golden Circle – the core of which is the concept of Why. And that’s when things started to get surreal. My passion was restored to levels I’d never experienced before. It was amazing. I was happy and creative and optimistic about the future. And what do we do when we discover something wonderful? We share it with our friends. And that’s what I did. My friends made positive changes in their lives too. So I kept talking about. I just kept telling more people about this thing called the Why. People invited me to share it with their friends and I kept saying yes.

It was lonely back then. But now I am surrounded by an amazing team, supportive friends and fans who have joined my journey to creating a better world for all of us to go to work, raise our kids and feel inspired.

Together is Better.

What is your personal productivity hack?

I’m always discovering new ways to work – to keep me productive. My latest one is to have a babysitter – not for my kids (I don’t have any)…for me! I hired someone to come to my apartment and simply be there and make sure I’m doing my work. To be there for me as a sounding board. To help make me lunch or run an errand. It’s kind of amazing – I’m my most productive when I have someone there to help me be productive.