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Purpose Key Person Interview - Simon Sinek

In our annual publication TOKYO2019, we interviewed Simon Sinek, the author of the global bestseller Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

(Interviewer: SMO Justin Lee)


SMO: You mention in your talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, in the context of the Golden Circle, people have the tendency to go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing and, thus, think, act, and communicate from the outside in. However, why is it that leaders like Martin Luther King and companies like Apple are able to start from WHY; what is different about these leaders and organizations that enables them to think, act, and communicate from the inside out?

Simon: When I began to study those leaders and organizations with an extraordinary ability to inspire, they all had that one thing in common: they were clear on their WHY. They knew what they stood for, their reason for being, or Ikigai, and they had an ability to consistently think, act and communicate starting with their WHY.

There’s not much difference between them and anyone else. We each have the capability to inspire – to think, act and communicate from the inside out. Of course, we first must find our WHY. We must discover our compelling reason for being. We need to know what we stand for in order to stand out.

SMO: In the beginning of this year BlackRock’sCEO wrote a letter titled “A Sense of Purpose” stating the importance of companies serving a higher purpose. Also this year, WGSN, a leading trend forecasting company for the creative industry, announced purpose as one of the influential trends in 2019. The importance of purpose is seen in a wide range of sectors and industries. With that said, from your perspective, why is purpose so important today?


The time is ready to rethink and seek "authenticity"


Simon: Authenticity is when you say and do the things you actually believe. Purpose is where authenticity lives. When you stand for something positive, just and good, and consistently take action to prove that belief, then people know who you are, what you stand for and trust emerges. Everyone wants to work for an authentic organization or leader. People prefer to buy from the authentic brand. Authenticity is where trust lives and authenticity breeds loyalty.

Another trend is that millennials are beginning to dominate the workforce, with Gen Z entering as well. By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be comprised of millennials. Millennials have come of age in a time of climate change and accessibility to global news as local news. They are aware, informed and have an innate desire to do good by the world and people around them. This is a reason the current day employee and consumer wishes to find, experience and conduct themselves with organizations that have and live their purpose.

These generations have also come of age in a time where technology is at their fingertips. Instant gratification is a symptom of having constant access to technology – services fulfilled immediately at the push of a button. That’s all fine and well for ordering a taxi, food or finding a date. You cannot swipe right, however, for generating feelings of fulfillment, love or loyalty in one’s life or career. There ain’t no app for that. Love and fulfillment are human emotions that take time, investment, risk and patience.

It is the opportunity of leaders and organizations to create places to work that give employees a sense of belonging, identity and purpose. When we give people a reason to come to work, not simply a place to go to work, we gain from their loyalty and discretionary effort. We get better results for employees and customers alike. Knowing our purpose helps us find a place to belong and a place where we thrive. When individuals thrive, so does the organization.

SMO: Can you tell us about your upcoming book Infinite Game and how it ties with your previous book Start with Why?

Simon: How do you win a game that has no end? This is the question I explore in my next book, The Infinite Game, available wherever you buy your books in June 2019. I look at Game Theory from an organizational and geo-political perspective. I now believe that the ability to adopt an infinite mindset is a prerequisite for any leader who aspires to leave their organization in better shape than they found it.I have been accused of being too internally or employee-focused in my work to date. In The Infinite Game Î explore how to bring to life the concepts from my first two books, Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, in a world full of uncertainty, pressures and competition.

SMO: Lastly, in light of your responses above, what advice can you give leaders in Japan who are aiming to create real change?

Simon: In order to “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” as Gandhi said, we must first identify the change we want to make. That has everything to do with discovering your WHY – finding the human problem you intend to solve.

This is the true purpose of business. Business is not about making widgets or turning profit. Those are results. The products you sell and services you offer are your vehicle and your profits are simply fuel.

Fuel is vital. There’s nothing wrong with money, we simply have to understand its purpose. Let’s say your organization is a car and money is the fuel. If you have no fuel, the car is going nowhere. However, the purpose of a car is not to buy gas. We know that’s laughable. Likewise, the purpose of our organization or career, is not to make money. The purpose of a car is to go somewhere – to go on a worthwhile adventure and bring people along for the worthwhile ride. The purpose of an organization or our careers is to accomplish something worthwhile, to advance a greater cause and contribute to society. And money is essential to helping you get there.

For leaders to create real and sustainable change, treat profit as the fuel and not the purpose. Lead your people to go somewhere worthwhile. If your people believe in where you’re going and believe your intent is earnest, they will give you their blood, sweat and tears. And, better yet, they will be doing it, not for you, but for themselves – for the feelings of belonging, pride and fulfillment they’ll receive.

Simon Sinek

He believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.Described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,” Simon teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single day feeling inspired, feel safe at work, and feel fulfilled at the end of the day, he is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.Simon may be best known for popularizing the concept of WHY in his first TED Talk in 2009. It rose to become the third most watched talk of all time on, with over 40 million views and subtitled in 47 languages. His interview on millennials in the workplace broke the internet in 2016 and garnered over 200 million views in the first month. This led to Simon being YouTube’s fifth most searched term in 2017.


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