Why Not What: Secrets to Casting Vision, Part 2

This is the second in a five part series on secrets effective communicators use to cast vision,
communicate big ideas, and affect change. Here’s part one.

I live with a wife and four grubby roommates. Sometimes, it’s hard to have ideas.

My commute home is a time for thinking on big ideas. I used to come in the front door eager to talk about what I’d just been pondering, only to watch in frustration as my words fell on the floor amidst a cacophony of dinner, homework and life.

For a while I developed an annoying technique where I would repeat the first part of my lead sentence three of four times to get everyone’s attention. My wife rightfully hated this. She’d say, “I’m listening, just tell me already. I have to do this other thing too!”

I was eager to talk about my ideas, but I wasn’t paying attention to the environment of the people with whom I hoped to share my ideas. I was making the myopic mistake of assuming that my family had nothing better to do than live with me in my head.

This is a problem for any communicator and any message.


People don’t care about your idea. They care about how it impacts their lives.

This sounds easy but is extremely hard to apply.

The reason this is so hard to truly learn is that we’re way down deep in our own passions. To us, the basic premise has already been established. We’re on board, deeply, and we’re asking advanced questions about our topic. But other people aren’t there with us. If they’re concerned with our idea, they mostly just care about how it impacts them.

When I started at Peachtree I quickly encountered the funnel problem, in which leaders live at the bottom of the funnel and forget what it’s like for outsiders at the top, up on the rim. Regardless of the focus of your message, it’s safe to assume that you’re at the bottom, and most of the people to whom you’re communicating are at the top.

Connecting with people is not a question of sincerity of cause or belief or piety, but a question of engagement.


Connecting with people requires understanding the difference between the why and the what.

Simon Sinek is the master of the why. He’s developed a simple yet profound idea called The Golden Circle. I’ll let him explain it in his TED talk, here. Start at 2:22 and go to 3:51 to get the full effect.

Most of us start on the outside – the WHAT – and move in. The best people and companies keep the core first – the WHY – and from it direct all major decisions. They move from inside out.

The greatest communicators eschew the details not because they can’t handle them but because they know their audience doesn’t understand them, or understand why they should take the time to understand them. They are great communicators because they are able to think like the audience thinks and incessantly distill their ideas into morsels that are relevant to the audience.

No matter what your thing is – teaching music or raising capital campaign money or preaching or selling shoes – most other people are at the top of the funnel. The moral value of your cause has nothing to do with it.

Reaching people doesn’t just happen.


You have to make people understand why your idea matters.

Finding the WHY is the hardest thing.

The WHAT invites complexity and diffusion of purpose. This is our natural state. All the entrails we chase make sense to us – we don’t question their value, we just follow our interests. But most other people don’t get what we get.

The WHY forces simplicity. It is the core, the cause that matters to others. When we know our why, we have the litmus to test the value of everything we do.

It is no coincidence that TED forces their speakers to reduce a lifetime of passion and research into an 18 minute presentation.

When you say everything, you say nothing. you’ve got to edit. Choose what is most important. People have full lives.


Make it about your why.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).