WHY I LEARNED THIS YEAR IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT I LEARNED THIS YEAR
A GRIEF OBSERVED
When Steve Jobs died, I wept. Quite unexpectedly, it hit me like a freight train. I talked to my dad about it, he was equally torn up about it.
Why? Why would the death of some corporate CEO far away, whose demanding and often disrespectful style were well known, make such an impact on me and my 77-year old dad, and millions of others, for that matter?
IT WAS (NOT) OUR YEAR
A year ago at Impossible’s Christmas party, I looked ahead to coming year and optimistically proclaimed “This is our year!”
Was I ever wrong. 2011 was the year the recession finally caught up with Impossible. We suffered setbacks. Disappointments. Dangers. Loss. Pain. A string of losses forced us to step back, to reevaluate what we were doing.
Loss makes us appreciate what we have.
Pain makes us appreciate the simple things in life.
(Have you noticed how people who have suffered tragedy in life are much more interesting than those who haven’t been through much?)
The challenges of 2011 were so difficult; they pushed me and my business partner, Steve, to go beyond reevaluating merely what we were doing. We questioned many things. Even some sacred cows. We were challenged to go beyond WHAT and began to question WHY.
If you remain open, serendipity can work like magic. Later in the year, out of the blue, my iPod played a riveting TEDx session by Simon Sinek that started with WHY:
“People don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it... The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with everybody who believes what you believe.” - Simon Sinek
This rocked my world. I had suddenly stumbled upon the Grand Unifying Theory of Everything. After all I had been through this year, those words so grabbed me that I almost crashed my car. I had to pull off I-25 just to think.
A DANGEROUS LITTLE WORD
Try this: the next time you meet someone new, rather than asking them the usual, “So what do you do?” Try instead asking, "WHY do you do what you do?"
Your new acquaintance will likely be taken aback.
Note how that dangerous little word WHY shifts the question from a polite icebreaker into a provocative, even threatening, inquiry. WHY opens us up. It exposes us.
WHY do you do what you do?
WHY should anyone care?
If you stopped getting paid for what you do, would you still do it? WHY not?
What had I learned this year? That WHY transcends WHAT.
IT WAS OUR YEAR AFTER ALL
At Impossible, 2011 did turn out to be “our year,” after all. It just didn't look anything like what we thought it would.
Funny how being focused on WHAT can paint you into a corner. When the economy tanks, customers go elsewhere, staff leave, or whatever... WHAT can be a trap. But almost by definition, WHY adapts.
Our focus on WHAT (an animation / effects / editorial studio? a post house? a live action / motion design company?) had never sat well with us. After many years, we finally began to realize we were asking the wrong question.
This simple (almost simplistic) idea of WHY was so electrifying, it soon worked its way into our Impossible manifesto:
• We believe when your audience notices you, they should be rewarded with something special.
• We believe your consumers don’t buy “what” you do, but “why” you do it.
• We believe great brands offer simplicity in our increasingly complex world.
• We believe decisions are fueled by emotion.
And not only did Impossible realize WHY is the rocket fuel in our jet packs: it’s also the blood coursing through the hearts of our clients’ businesses as well. That simple discovery is propelling our foolish optimism for the future. We believe we can make an impact in the marketplace.
And in the process of discovering our (and our clients’) WHY, Impossible had become a creative agency. Whodathunk.
Whereas WHAT limits, WHY adapts.
BRINGING IT FULL CIRCLE
Amidst all the Steve Jobs hysteria, I came across this rarely quoted gem:
"When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your job is just to live your life inside the world, trying not to bash into the walls too much, trying to have a nice family, having fun, and saving a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things... Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again."
I cried at the death of Steve Jobs because I realized that deep down, he and I were driven by the same WHY. He believed what I believed. And when you find someone that believes like you do, it's a powerful connection. You will follow them wherever they go, buy whatever they sell, and even evangelize whatever they preach.
WHY is the secret sauce that turns water (or Kool-Aid) into wine.
So what's your WHY? To “live your life... have a nice family, have fun, save a little money?” If so, have you ever wondered, why would anyone – your friends, clients, staff, boss – sacrifice to get behind your personal, seemingly selfish, mission?
But if your WHY – behind your life, career, family, company, brand, mission – is “to change the world, to influence it, to build something...” Well then, that's an altogether different matter.
There will be a line of people waiting outside your door to help you push that boulder up the hill. And along the journey, your WHY will inspire the impossible.
Thanks for listening. Blessings to you in 2012.