Simon Sinek, in his famous TED Talk from 2009 that has been watched over 50 million times, talks about how great leaders inspire the Why of successful organisations. He illustrates his point using a simple graphic with three concentric rings He calls it the Golden Circle. What can be found on the outside. It’s what the business offers, the service it provides. All companies know what that is. Next, we have How. This one is a little more tricky. It is how that company sets itself apart from its competitors – what makes them unique. And many simply are not any different. Just look at the detergent segment. Finally, we get to the centre of the circle – the Why. Why a business does what it does. It’s not about maximizing profits. It’s the reason for being. It’s why, as Simon puts it, you get up in the morning. And very few actually know why they do what they do.

Many companies see their mission in what they make – they start on the outside, often never making it to the Why. Simon argues that to be a company that inspires, you have to start from the inside out. You have to start with your Why.


Apple, of course, is a prime example in Simon’s talk. They offer computers. They separate themselves from their competitors by making good looking products that are intuitive to use. But Apple also continuously challenges the status quo. Steve Jobs was such an inspiring leader because he believed in the Why of Apple. To think different. It also explains why they were able to stretch their product range to include not only the Macintosh Computer but mobile phones, watches and more – and being believable in doing so. We’ve seen the endless queues in front of Apple Stores around the world every time something new is launched.

Nike. We know what they make. Are they any different to their competitors? Maybe. Maybe not. Why is the determining factor. “Just do it” encapsulates Nike’s Why – to enable every athlete, whether pro or amateur, to perform at their uncompromising best. It’s a state-of-mind. A belief. One of Nike’s earliest ads with the headline “There is no finish line” perfectly illustrates their Why. And it can be felt in their powerful ad-campaign that takes a stand (or knee) with NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality. The ad alienated some of Nike’s customers. Something they had no regret in doing. But more on that later.

Nike | There is no finish line (1991)
Nike | Dream Crazy (2018)

But what about a brand that wants to make the world a better place?

Let’s take a closer look at Patagonia’s Why. In mid-2020, leading up to the US presidential election, the internet went crazy for a message the company had sown into their shorts: Vote the assholes out.

Patagonia clothing tag: Vote the assholes out
Patagonia's clothing tag (2020)

While this made the rounds on social media and the news, it isn’t out of character for Patagonia. Looking back at the history of the company, they made their name producing climbing equipment – some of the best in the world. Soon after, environmentalism grew in importance to the founders, when they realised how much damage pitons made, the metal spikes climbers hammer into the rock to hook their rope onto. They decided to minimize their piton business and instead focused on promoting the sale of aluminium chocks, that could be wedged into cracks by hand, hence reducing the environmental impact. That was in 1970.

Today, Patagonia commits 1% of its annual earnings to nonprofits that are fighting for a better future. The company calls it a self-imposed Earth tax. Patagonia Action Works has been founded to help individuals and organisations on a grassroots level, supporting a wide range of environmental causes – from saving the forests to lobbying against nuclear energy.

On the product side, customer support is impeccable. They offer a repair service and encourage people to recycle unwanted gear – even going so far as to providing help finding the nearest recycling centre.

They close their stores so that employees can march and strike alongside climate activists. They introduced regenerative organic farming into its supply chain to grow sustainable fibres and food.

When Patagonia was one of the first companies to join the #StopHateForProfit boycott of Facebook, they were motivated by their core belief. After all, the Trump administration has rolled back on many rules and regulations that protect the environment. It all leads back to their old mission statement of minimizing their environmental impact.

In 2018 they doubled down and Yvon Chouinard and CEO Rose Marcario introduced a change to their mission:

“We’re in business to save our home planet.”

THIS is Patagonia’s Why.

“Vote the assholes out” is not just a vanity tag in some of their shorts, it’s the reason they exist. Everything they do reflects that and transcends their What (we make high-quality outdoor equipment) and their How (we focus on function, repairability and foremost durability, all while limiting the environmental impact).

Knowing, honing and cultivating your Why is essential. It is why consumers buy Apple, Tesla or Nike and have turned them into some of the most valuable businesses in the world. Patagonia, for example, has seen its profit quadruple since 2014, surging past $1 billion in revenue in 2018.

Now more than ever people want companies to take a stand. Just like Nike had Kaepernick’s back. And when you’re believable, and your words are matched by your actions – not just for the sake of making a profit – you will be rewarded. Consumers will not only stand by you but become ambassadors for your brand and your Why. Especially when you’re a brand that wants to make the world a better place.

Three Things to Take Away:
  • Condense your Why into a short and powerful statement
  • Use your Why as the foundation of your core values
  • Your Why needs to be followed by actions