Despark logo png
12 May 2016
Simon Sinek Inc: The power of 'Why' for innovation
Peter Docker

Peter Docker

Peter inspires people to be extraordinary in what they do. Collaborating with Simon Sinek for over 5 years, he is an Igniter and Implementation Specialist on the Start With Why team.

A former Royal Air Force senior officer; an international negotiator for the UK Government; a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute; management consultant; post-graduate college teacher; head of a multi-billion pound procurement project; Peter Docker has a hugely diverse and accomplished history in business, education and leadership.

As part of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why team, he helps organisations and individuals across the world identify their inner motivations for doing what they do in order to help them tap into their full potential. We spoke with Peter to find out how some of the most successful people and companies in the world have harnessed the power of their Why, and what discovering yours could do for you.

Start With Why invites people to try and understand the motivation – or ‘Why’ – for what they do in their life and career. How can people apply this sort of thinking to product development?

Let's start with some fundamentals. First of all, when we talk about Why, we mean more than just the reason for something. We mean the higher purpose; the cause; the belief. What's the contribution you want to make in the world? What's the impact of that contribution? When we talk about Why, it's really starting with a very close reflection on who you are and what you believe in terms of the contribution and the impact you want to make in the world. What are you passionate about? What's your cause? What's your stand? What are you willing to put yourself forward for?

When we start to extend that – in terms of organisations or product development or whatever it is we choose to do in life – it really starts with us and getting clear on what we believe and what causes us to choose to do something rather than something else.

Can you give us any examples of how someone being clear on their Why has translated into business success?

If somebody is very clear on why they do what they do, then everything they do in life – be it at home or in business – just acts as proof of that belief. That is so important in terms of business or products because it generates authenticity. It generates trust and loyalty. If you're the sort of person who wants to create something that goes on and on, then being clear on your Why and starting from that perspective then builds that trust and loyalty.

A guy I just read about today, Vikas Gupta, tells a story of going for a walk, I think in the Alps, with his family and young children, and it was that point that it dawned on him that going to work actually pulled him away from the people he loved most: his family. So he thought – you know what, if I am going to spend time at work, I really need to make this make a difference. He formed a company called Wonder Workshop, and it was set up to build robots that through play teach kids how to code. He set it up in the West Coast of the States in 2012. Last year Good Housekeeping awarded them ‘Toy Of The Year’, they've had funds invested of over $70 million... but what motivates him is that his Why is 'make the world a better place for kids'. That's what gets him out of bed every day. And it's this passion that then ekes from every pore in his body that inspires others around him who also believe that who want to join his cause.

What's the first question any product developer should ask themselves when they have an idea they want to take to market?

Check first why you want to take that product to market. Why do you want to take that risk? Are you passionate about it? Do you believe in it? Is it in tune with what you believe as an individual? In other words – is it in tune with your Why? Because if it is, everyone will be able to sense that with every engagement they have with you over the phone or meeting you. They'll sense your passion, and that will inspire others to help you bring it to market. It's that emotional energy that will carry you forward. So be very clear on your Why and how your product links back to it.

"what would you do if you knew you could not fail?"

What do you find are some of the most common mistakes and misconceptions people make when designing products and services?

It's interesting when we talk about mistakes because the word seems to suggest failure. And failure, in my view, is an essential part of success. If you want to achieve great things then you're going to trip along the way. You're going to fall down, and [your success] depends how you choose to pick yourself up and move forward from that fall. First and foremost, I don't think we should be afraid of mistakes. Someone once said to me – "what would you do if you knew you could not fail?" When you have that attitude, you can get out of your own way and make the progress that you need.

I'm not a product designer, but every organisation and every business in every sector I've been into – and there aren't many that I haven't spent time with now – where they seem to be having trouble is where there is lack of clarity of Why. That is the starting point, and that is where everything starts to go downhill, if you lose clarity of it. When you have clarity of that Why – even if you don't know how you're going to bring your product or service to life – you're going to inspire others who do know how to come and join you in that cause. So that biggest mistake is going straight to the What and the How and forgetting about the Why, because that's the catalyst.

"The goal is not to sell to everybody who needs what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe, because then they will stay loyal."

What do you think it takes for a business to really get inside the "Whys" of their consumers? What often gets overlooked here?

I spent some time with a pharmaceutical company and we'd been exploring their Why. The large group broke into smaller teams and into breakout rooms to discuss this, and I was visiting each room. I went into one and the de facto leader in that room, I heard him saying to everybody else was – "OK, what we really need to do is to figure out all the Whys of all our customers. Then we can figure out what we need to do in terms of our product or what we offer." And that's completely the wrong way of going about things. A Why-based organisation or individual focuses on getting very clear what they or he or she believe themselves. When you're focused on that and everything you say and do is in service of bringing that Why to life, then you will attract the people who want to buy your services or your products or people who just believe what you believe who want to cheer for your and want to support you.

We often use Apple as an example, and in its early years it struggled. People thought they were mad. "Why do you want to have your own operating system? You want to build laptop computers out of a piece of aluminium? You must be mad!" But Apple were very clear on what they believed, and they sat in their corner and they just focused on what it was they believed and still believe – and now as we know, they are the largest market capitalised company in the world.

The goal is not to sell to everybody who needs what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe, because then they will stay loyal. And loyalty is much more than just repeat buying. That just means they're willing to buy more than once. Loyalty is where they're willing to sacrifice or suffer – like the people who stand in line outside the Apple Store or are willing to pay a premium price for a product, or stick with you when you have a hiccup or a difficulty.

Say you've got a strong product that looks great on paper. What else is needed for an organisation to make that product a real success aside from the product's own quality and utility?

Like a lot of things, it's about balance. Let's look at management first. I define leadership and management very clearly. Management is about handling complexity, and businesses need to be able to handle complexity because the world is complex. Leadership, however, is about creating simplicity. You need both. Simplicity starts with clarity of Why. Then you also need discipline of How you do what you do, and consistency of What.

I often give an example of Richard Branson. All of the Whats that he currently has – be it airlines, banking, mobile phones, rail travel, space travel, hotels – they are all brought together with his Why, which is to positively impact on millions of people's lives and to have fun. So if you look at his companies through that lens, you'll find that's the golden thread that binds them all together. Also he has to have discipline of how he brings that to life. I'm a former pilot and I wouldn't step onto a Virgin Atlantic jet, no matter how much I believed in his Why, if I didn't have belief in the discipline of how they deliver that service. Equally, it would fall down if they didn't have consistency of what they delivered and it was a different experience every time people got on an aeroplane.

What kind of a brain / personality do you find the successful inventors and product designers have? Or do you not think there are necessarily commonalities between them?

People come in all different shapes, sizes, cultures, religions. The one thing that binds us together is that we're all human beings. Although that's an obvious sounding statement, it's really a rather important statement from the perspective of Why. It's linked to how our brains work, how they are put together – the neocortex and the limbic brain – and the fact that we are all, at the end of the day, emotional animals. We make decisions based on emotion. That's not to say it's not informed by facts and figures, but the final decisions are made by whether we feel something is right or not.

The second thing is that people whose lives and organisations are successful in terms of making a difference over a long period of time, the one thing that's clear about all of those people is that tˆhey're passionate about what it is they believe. Steve Jobs of Apple, he was very clear and very passionate about what he believed and he stuck to it. He was allegedly a terrible guy to work for or with – because of his single-mindedness – but he was very clear. He was relentless in his pursuit of what he believed. If we look at any great organisation or any great leader, they are all relentless in pursuit of what it is they believe and sticking to their truth, their belief, their higher course, their purpose.

What can marketers or product managers who work in large legacy organisations who don't have access to the top level management of the company do to make an impact on a new product?

Quite often when we work with organisations, the conversations begins with – how can we get them to behave differently or do different things or believe what we believe? Well, actually it all starts with you. If you are passionate about what it is that your organisation does and the contribution impact it makes on the world, start being the leader you wish you had. Start being that leader right now. Share with the people who report into you what you feel about the contribution and impact that your organisation makes, and start leading yourself and your team from that perspective – because that will inspire others around you.

What we have often seen in those situations is that then produces a pocket of inspiration within that organisation, and sooner or later people at the top of the food chain turn around and say – hang on a minute, what's going on over there? Why is performance going through the roof over there? What's different? What's happened?

"A brand in its best form is just the external expression of what it is you believe."

You and your colleague Simon Sinek both talk about the importance of trust in leadership and throughout organisations. How do you think these principles can be relayed in product design and a brand's communication with its consumers?

A brand in its best form is just the external expression of what it is you believe. Over the years, a brand message may change a bit – but the Why stays consistent in great organisations. So if you want to build trust and loyalty throughout your organisation and with your consumers or clients, start with that Why and add it as part of the process you go through whenever you're thinking about a new process of product, or when you're communicating your message with the outside world. If you do have that discipline, then it will build that trust and loyalty.

You've previously referenced Virgin and Apple as examples of admirable business success and diversification. Who on the startup scene or in their early stages do you admire on this front?

Vikas Gupta and Wonder Workshop who I mentioned earlier would be one. Tesla would be another. It's a big startup, in effect. I recommend to anybody to go and watch the video of Elon Musk launching the Model 3, because what you will notice is that he starts with Why. He comes onto an empty stage, and he starts with why it is they're launching this product. He is very much focused on a higher purpose which is the future of the human race. This is why he wants to have a planet based on sustainable energy. This is why he wants to populate other planets. It's for the future of the human race. This is big.

When he stood up to talk about the Model 3, he spent the first two or three minutes talking about Why. He talked about CO2 levels on the planet. He talked about the unhealthy nature of some of the omissions that come from petrol engines and so on. But he was very, very clear on starting with Why. You were left with no doubt as to why he was doing this. Then he talked about How he was bringing that to life, about what he calls his 'masterplan' or top secret plan of how he's developing all the electric cars. Then finally at the end, he talked about the product – the What.

That was a pretty good example of how to think, act and communicate starting with Why. They haven't made a profit yet; they keep making a loss, but that's OK because they are committed to what he believes, and he attracts those from around the world who believe what he believes, whether they are customers who can afford the cars or whether they are just people in the wings cheering him on and supporting him and helping him through all the failures they have on the way to success.

Want to learn more? Join our free events to hear from industry experts.Register your place

Sign up to our newsletter to receive upcoming insights and interviews.Register your email 


About the author

Lauren Goodenough
Lauren Goodenough

Lauren is on a mission to interview entrepreneurs and industry experts with interesting opinions to share with the Despark audience. Lauren co-founded Ignyte Event Series on behalf of Despark. You can find out how to join the upcoming free London events here.

Get in touch with Lauren
×