Full text of First Why and Then Trust by Simon Sinek at TEDxMaastricht conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: TEDxMaastricht – Simon Sinek on First why and then trust
Thank you. Thank you very much.
What I love about events like these is that it’s not just people coming together to hear ideas. It’s that we all came here for the same reason. Every single one of us came here because we share something, we have similar values and similar beliefs and that’s the reason we showed up. We don’t know each other and yet we know something about each other.
Now this is important, you see, because the very survival of the human race depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. When we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe something remarkable happens: Trust emerges. Make no mistake of it, trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience.
Simply doing everything that you promise you’re going to do does not mean people will trust you. It just means you’re reliable. And we all have friends who are total screw ups and yet we still trust them. Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs.
And the reason trust is important, is because when we are surrounded with people who believe what we believe, we’re more confident to take risks. We’re more confident to experiment, which requires failure, by the way. We are more confident to go off and explore knowing that there is someone from within our community, someone who believes what we believe, someone we trust and who trusts us, will watch our back, help us when we fall over and watch our stuff and look after our children while we’re gone. Our very survival depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe.
I’ll show you an example with you that freaks me out every time I talk about it. What’s our most valuable possession on the planet? Our children, right? Our most valuable possession on the planet are our children.
So let’s game out a scenario. Let’s imagine we want to go on a date. So we require a babysitter. We have two options. Option number one: there’s a 16-year old from just down the street from within the community with barely, if any, babysitting experience. There’s a 32-year old who just moved into the neighborhood — we don’t know from where — but she’s got 10 years of babysitting experience. Who do we choose? The 16-year old.
Think about that for a second. We’d rather trust our children, our most valuable possession on the planet, with somebody from within our community with no experience over somebody with vast amounts of experience, but we have no idea where they’re from or what they believe.
Then why do we do it differently at work? Why are we so preoccupied with someone’s resumé and where they worked and what they’ve done for our competition and yet we never think to consider what they believe, where they’re from, how can we trust them? How can they trust us?
The problem with most organizations, believe it or not, whether it’s a community or a culture. What’s a community? What’s a culture? It’s a group of people with a common set of values and beliefs, right? What’s a nation? It’s a group of people with a common set of values and beliefs. And the single biggest challenge that any culture or any organization will ever face is its own success.
When an organization is founded, all organizations are founded on the same basic principles. There’s some sort of measurement, it’s often money but it can be anything. And then there is time.
And when an organization is founded, what they do and why they do it are inextricably linked. They’re usually some founder or some small group of founders, that are able to put their vision into words. And their passion inspires others to come and join them in pursuit of something greater than all of themselves. And they trust their guts and off they go and it’s an amazing experience.
The problem is, as they grow, as what they do becomes more successful, they can no longer rely on themselves. They have to now hire somebody who hires somebody who hires somebody who hires somebody, who has to make a decision.
Based on what? And what they do starts to grow. That metric. The problem is why they do it starts to go fuzzy. And this is the biggest single challenge any organization will face. It’s this thing right here, the thing that I call the split. Symptoms of the split inside an organization are when stress goes up and passion goes down.
Symptoms of split are things like when the old-timers, the people who were there from the founding, from the beginning start saying things like, “It’s not like it used to be. It doesn’t feel the same anymore.” They can’t quite put it into words, but they know it’s not the same. Even though the organization might be more successful than it ever was in the past, it’s just not the same.
Other symptoms are when the organization starts focusing more on what the competition is doing and worrying less about what they are doing. When they start asking outsiders, “Who should we be, how should we talk to you?” At the beginning they never asked anybody, they ran on their own passion, on their own energy. This is what happened in such organizations like Apple.
In 1985, Steve Jobs left Apple and the company went like this, and Steve Jobs came back.
And Howard Schultz left Starbucks, and Howard Schultz had to come back.
And Michael Dell left Dell and Dell had to come back.
Now whether they’re clear on their own whys now or not is yet to be seen. But the point is that these founders, these visionary guys physically embodied the reason, the cause around which people showed up in the first place and it reminds them why they come to work.
Now, my fear is that one of my favorite organizations, an organization that I love may be going through a split. United States of America. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
It’s important to study America, because like a lot of things that happen in America, everything there is exaggerated. So we can learn a lot for them and hopefully learn things that we can apply to ourselves.
Something started to happen in 1947 that embodies this idea here. My grandparents’ generation was called the greatest generation, that’s what we called them, the greatest generation. Because here was a generation that went off to war to fight this great evil and everybody was united and unified in some sense of common cause and purpose and belief and trust was at an all time high.
Even those who didn’t go off to war they were back and they were buying war bonds and everybody was one. And there were stories of young men who would commit suicide, they’d shoot themselves when they didn’t get called to action. We call them the greatest generation.
What do I get? I’m GenX, the unknown variable. They get the greatest generation, I get X. My parents are called the ‘boomers’. Why? Because their parents were ‘doing it’ when they came back from war. They get the greatest generation. This sense of purpose, this sense of cause, this sense of why.