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Starting with “why” and navel gazing

I recently read in a newsletter that starting with “why” has done more harm than good: it has given a generation of professionals the permission to indulge in navel-gazing because nobody cares about your why – they only care about how you can help them. 

I totally get where the author is coming from, but I disagree.

You start a business because you want to sell something for a price, and that something needs to be of some help to the buyer, otherwise they will not pay money for it. Sure, you need a product or service that will create value for your customer, but you also need to know why you are doing it.

Without doubt, starting with why is dangerous. It can create an endless philosophical debate in which we try to justify ourselves as good people wanting to make money. We could end up putting ourselves forward as being and doing good, rather than, first and foremost, delivering a great product or service.

That’s definitely indulging in navel-gazing.

What is not navel-gazing is being brutally honest about why you do what you do. This might include accepting that you are not as altruistic as you thought you were, or as committed to the environment as you would like to be, and ultimately not so collaboration-driven as your sales pitch makes out.

There’s nothing indulgent in finding your purpose when you do it honestly; on the contrary, it’s a humbling exercise in which you connect with the real reasons behind what you do.

“That’s all good, Natalia” you might be thinking, “but why do I need to start with my purpose if all I want to do is sell outdoor clothing?” Well, I can mention a couple of reasons, but let’s stick to one: because your purpose is felt, seen and perceived by your customers, no matter what.

Our actions are driven by our purpose. It’s in our nature. You show your purpose in your interactions with customers, in your marketing, and in your sales pitch.

Every business has a purpose, whether it is known, unknown, articulated in big letters on the website, or totally ignored as irrelevant. Some businesses’ purpose is merely transactional, while for others it goes beyond making a profit. The first type of business attracts customers who want to make a transaction; the second type attracts customers looking for a change who want to connect to a brand.

Most of our complaints about the type of customers we get are generated by the quality of our interactions with our customers. Finding your purpose will not save a crap product, but if you care about creating better and more satisfactory relationships with your customers you might want to deliver a great product and service along with a purpose-driven story.

Don’t indulge yourself with navel-gazing, but instead find a couple of truths that resonate with you and with your audience, and be brave enough to dig deep into the change you want to make and why this matters.

When you find your purpose, your story will change, and so will the way you relate to your customers and your audience.



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