Why Not Start with Why Not?

In 2009, Simon Sinek published a book: Start With Why. Given its practical rationale for establishing your purpose, it became a bestseller. But purpose is only one aspect of innovation. Since true innovators question things more than they comment on them, they typically start with this question: Why not?

Think about it: Tough research problems have been solved and challenging customer engagements have been resolved by trying new things and asking probing questions: “Have we ever tried that?” What if we try this?” “What would happen if we tried this other thing?” Determining your purpose will tell you why you’re doing something. But it’s not likely to help you determine how to get it done.

Along the Same Lines

A few other notable folks have thought the same way. Here are just a few:

The common question that gets asked in business is,  “Why?” That’s a good question, but an equally valid question is, “Why not?” (Jeff Bezos)

You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Others have seen what is and asked, “Why?” I have seen what could be and asked, “Why not?” (Pablo Picasso)

Why not invest your assets in the companies you really like? As Mae West said, ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” (Warren Buffett)

Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark? (Steven Spielberg)

I remember my dad asking me one time, “Why not you, Russ?” You know, why not me? Why not me in the Super Bowl?” (Russell Wilson)

A Picture is Worth …

As a consumer, you buy products you believe provide the best value, don’t you? In contrast, you don’t wonder why the founders of the businesses that produce those products went into business in the first place, do you? Apple products sell because they perform the way their buyers expect them to and the value those buyers derive from them, not because of why Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs went into business. On the other side of the coin, however, business leaders with strong purposes (why) align their employees with those purposes and create products and services that create demand, resulting in market share, incremental revenue, and growth.

All of that creates a complement to Simon Sinek’s golden circle. In the golden circle, the purpose (why?) can be exploited. In the green circle, (why not), the purpose — its implications, its possibilities, and a mindset conducive to innovation — can be explored.

And really, when you come right down to it, why not start with why not?

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