Start with What (not the Why)

Senior Consultant & Co-founder

Senior Consultant

| 5 minutes

The 3 Key Questions

In his famous TEDx talk, Simon Sinek maps out “The Golden Circle” suggesting we should ask three levels of questions, Why? What? How?

I agree.

My experience with leadership teams, senior executives, and project management professionals has taught me that pretty much any initiative needs to address these three questions.

Sinek suggested that we Start With Why. Since the fundamental motivation that drives our path can be very powerful, for organizations as well as for individuals, it would seem to make sense.

But hold on.

Although the building blocks are solid, in our case, the order or logical sequence for addressing these questions needs to be different.


4 Key Building Blocks

Let’s expand the scope of our discussion.

Looking back on the countless projects I have managed myself or been invited to assist with, I find that they all had 4 fundamental building blocks:

  1. Desired value
  2. Obstacles
  3. Solutions
  4. Resources

The Desired Value represents a specific, time-bound outcome or reality represents an acceptable return on investment (ROI) for all of the risk and effort taken to achieve it. My use of the words ROI “Return On Investment” should not lead you to believe that this definition is limited to the business world. All endeavors that consume resources must strive for acceptable RIO. Must justify their use of resources with an acceptable profit. If you are running an NGO, the profit you are committed to (and accountable for) is the scope of positive social change your effort achieves. If you are a teacher, the profit is your educational impact on the overall well-being of your students. If you are a politician, your profit is the scope of the mandate you gain from your defined constituency.

The Obstacles represent anything that might stand in your way on the path to your Desired Value. This may include personal weaknesses and shortcomings; harmful internal dynamics within the team you are part of and external forces such as market trends, a competitive landscape, legal regulations, international relations, and so on.

The Solutions represent any course of action that leads to the Desired Value.

The Resources comprise any assets that need to be utilized or expended in order to successfully implement the solution that leads to the Desired Value.

Notice how the Desired Value paragraph was the longest? Yep. It’s that critical.


Implementing Simon’s Golden Circle

Now, let’s try to apply Simon’s approach. Let’s say that I define the desired value as the answer to my Why as: “I would like to reach destination X by time frame Y.”

Now that I have defined my motivation, according to Simon, I need to consider the How?

Well, I have multiple possible courses of action: I could walk, hitchhike, take a bus, take a train, drive, ride a bicycle, or not go at all. How then should I determine the best course of action? And if I select one, what will be the question you ask me if you wish to understand my decision-making process? The most logical question when trying to understand why one course of action was selected over the other seems to be: Why? Why did you decide to fly rather than drive?

According to Simon’s approach, the answer would be “because I would like to reach destination X by time frame Y”.

However, this answer doesn’t really help us understand the decision-making process, because it will be the same answer no matter which course of action I have decided upon.

So what now?

Now let’s try an alternative approach. Let’s adopt the What question as the one that leads to the definition of the fundamental motivation that drives our path and save the Why question for uncovering why we chose one path over the other. Now, the answer will not be limited to “because I would like to reach destination X by time frame Y”. The answer will be a combination of the fundamental motivation cross-referenced with the current reality I am subject to, most specifically the Obstacles that stand between what I am trying to achieve and where I am now. The answer will bebecause I want to reach destination X by timeframe Y and walking will take too long” or “because I want to reach destination X by timeframe Y and there are no flights available right now.”

Just to be clear, I think the core idea at the base of Simon’s talk is sound. Having a purpose, especially a Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP), as Salim Ismail describes in his powerful book “Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it),” is strongly recommended for several reasons. It is a “Step 1” of any process that aims to be value-driven and have its people consistently operate in a value-oriented way.

The question to make you get out of bed is What. It’s the What. Start with the What. A little reshuffle with a big impact.

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Ariel Halevi

A teacher, first and foremost, I am most passionate about the fields of Interpersonal Communication, Persuasion and Influence Without Authority. I decided to dedicate my life to the study of these fields, so that I may first live a happy and productive life, and then turn to help others do the same. I am a strong believer in doing what you love while doing good in the world, and I endeavor to incorporate these ideals into every interaction I have.

I am the proud co-founder of Vayomar – The Power of Being Heard, along with my friend and partner, Gur Braslavi. Together, we strive to bring our insights, methodologies, and tools to people around the world, from young students to adults. 

But we don’t forget to enjoy ourselves… I am a big believer in the “theory of fun” and love to find ways for developing myself through games. My goal is to promote a better humanity through better interpersonal communications. I invite you to join us and become part of this massive transformative effort.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

My recommendations:

    • The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, by Norman Doidge  
    • Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, by Patty McCord  
  • Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, by Laszlo Bock



Shiraz Cohen-Grad

What do you get when you combine a business graduate, psychology and film critic? In short, me. I am a consultant and trainer who has been working closely with global enterprises, start-ups and various organizations on refining and amplifying managerial presence and skills, and improving management and interpersonal communication.

I would gladly work with my clients in my field of expertise on any given day, as I love seeing results and the road it takes to get them.

I am an MBA graduate with managerial psychology specialty and a trained personal coach. 

Gandhi said it best: 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

 Otherwise it won’t work..

My recommendations:

Favorite films: Some Like It Hot, Shortcuts, and American Honey

I listen to Freakonomics podcasts when I’m not soaking up great music.