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.
But then they came back from war and most of them had grown up during the Depression and they wanted now to experience life a bit, they wanted to buy some stuff and sort of care about themselves a little more. They had been giving so much their entire lives. And so the 1950’s came.
And the 1950’s were defined by responsibility. Going out there and giving the same kind of loyalty to your company as you gave to your country or to the cause. And we know what the fifties were like. Everybody gave and you devoted your life to the company. The problem is, as we started to become more affluent and the wealth of the country started to grow, that sense of purpose and that sense of cause and that sense of fulfillment and that sense of trust and that sense of happiness didn’t grow with it. And this is bad. This is confusing.
And so, the 1960’s we responded to it. And we thought, “Well, this responsibility thing didn’t work, so let’s try irresponsibility.”
Then the hippie movement was born, right? And the reason that the whole hippie movement could exist in the first place is because the country was wealthier, so we could afford for people to drop off the grid and our parents were wealthier, they were more affluent. So they could pay for us to do it.
But we didn’t get that sense of fulfillment. So the pendulum swung again.
And then we had the 1970’s, the ME-generation, defined about looking after your own happiness. And everybody had to have a guru, and started to become very, very selfish. That didn’t really work either.
And again the whole time we were becoming more affluent and more affluent and yet that sense of fulfillment and happiness and trust is not growing with it.
And then the 1980’s. Still that sense of me, but now business was cool again. And in the 1980’s we started to see something that had never been seen before.
In the 1980’s we started to see companies using people to balance the books. This has never happened before, where they would use lay-offs to make the numbers work. People to make numbers work.
And then the 1990’s came about and dotcom, about the most selfish behavior you could find. Everyone wanted to get rich regardless of anything else. And again, the split continues.
The only thing that happens, the only thing that really grows in organizations or societies where they go through a split is that the distrust increases. We become distrustful of each other inside our own organizations, we become distrustful of management, we become distrustful of our politicians. And now we find ourselves here today wondering what’s going to do next. How are we going to find the sense of fulfillment, technology is no help.
Andy Grove, the founder of Intel said that the only thing that the microprocessor ever did was make things go faster. And he is right. And it’s making this go faster as well.
Don’t forget, technology is absolutely fantastic for the exchange of information and the exchange of ideas. Technology is absolutely wonderful for speeding transactions. It’s wonderful for resourcing and finding people, but it is terrible for creating human connections. You cannot form trust through the internet.
There’s something called a mirror-neuron which they’ve recently discovered, that’s one of the things that contributes to how people relate to each other and how we empathize. It’s the feeling you get, it’s the same part of the brain that lights up — they did these pictures — they did MRIs. They gave people a picture of someone smiling. And then in our own brain, when we see someone smiling, the same part of the brain lights up when we smile. It’s what creates empathy and it’s necessary to create trust. Again this very human bond. This is the reason why the video conference will never replace the business trip. You can’t get a good gut feeling over a video conference.
I’m a big fan of the blogosphere. The bloggers think that the internet is the end all be all of the world. Then explain to me why once a year 20,000 bloggers descend on Las Vegas for a huge big convention? Why didn’t they just do it online? It’s because nothing replaces human contact. It’s the difference between leadership and authority.
Leadership tells us why we’re here in the first place. They remind us why we came here. Authority tell us what to do, or tells us what goal to achieve.
In the 1960’s Stanley Milgram did an experiment that we consider now quite unethical, but the results were remarkable. He invited two people to come to his laboratory. Someone who played the role of a teacher, a volunteer, and someone who played the role of a student who was actually a scientist pretending to be a volunteer. They told the ‘teacher’ to sit in front of a counter that had a button and a dial. And they said that they were going to ask some questions of the student and if the student answers the wrong question, or refuse to answer, the teacher was to press the button and administer an electric shock. And after each shock they were to turn up the dial one notch. And the notch said: mild, medium, slightly painful, slightly more painful, very painful, and eventually it went red and said XXX.
And what happened was there was really only one electric shock administered throughout the whole experiment. And it was a small shock administered to the teacher so they could see what it felt like. And so the experiment would progress and the questions would be asked and the teacher would press the button and the scientist, pretending to be the student, would pretend to get an electric shock.
What ended up happening was that when the student could see and hear — when the teacher could see and hear the student, they would scream, he couldn’t go very far before he quit, he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m hurting the guy” and he would quit the experiment.
When he could see him but not hear him, he could go further but still not very far before he quit. And the authority figure would stand over him every time he would say, “But I’m hurting the guy”, the authority figure would say, “It’s imperative that the experiment goes on.”
And they would say over and over and over in their head, “The experiment must go on.” They said it out loud “The experiment must go on.”
And it was like Nazi Germany when people said, “I’m just following orders. I’m just following orders.” They had this mantra to justify their behavior of hurting somebody.
And then when they could hear them but not see them, they could go further still, but they still couldn’t go all the way. But when they could neither see nor hear the impact of their decisions, 65% of the teachers were able to kill the guy.
The reason the experiment is unethical is because 65% of these people that came to help, thinking that they were good people, went home at the end of the day with the knowledge that they could kill someone.
Now what’s our mantra of this day and age, I wonder? Is it “shareholder value, shareholder value, shareholder value”? What is our mantra that we’re using to justify the decisions we’re making of people that we cannot see and that we cannot hear. And we don’t know the impact of the decisions we are making.
And you know what the people who had ‘killed the guy’ what their biggest concern was? ‘Is anything going to happen to me? Am I going to get into trouble?’ There was no concern for the person they just potentially killed.
Now think how we do business today. We largely do business on screens. There was a time that if you wanted to know what your employees thought about you, you walked out on the factory floor and you asked them.
Customer service meant actually talking to the people who came into your shop. Now customer service means getting a reply to your email within 24 hours. I actually saw a bank advertising that you could talk to a person. I fly on an airline and I have miles up the wazoo on this one airline and you know what they offered me, when I reached the highest status possible? They offered me a phone number that I could talk to a person.
Since when is a person a luxury? Our very survival depends on our ability to interact with human beings and as growth and scale and size come into play, all of a sudden the humanity of things starts to go away.
There is a time when a desktop meant something horizontal. Now it is something vertical. And a folder used to be a picture, is a picture of something that we used to use. These are fun ideas, funny examples of how technology has co-opted some of our vocabulary. The problem is that it has co-opted some other ideas too.
A friend is not somebody you check their status. Your network is not on LinkedIn, your conversation doesn’t happen on a blog and you can’t have a discussion on Twitter. These are human experiences and we need them. We need to learn about each other’s values and beliefs. And we can’t simply do it through the Internet.
These mirror neurons don’t light up when we’re sending texts or receiving IM messages. What I imagine is the day in which we start to have more human interaction, something that requires this thing, a handshake. A handshake. Imagine that you want to do business with somebody and they’re standing there with you and they agree to all the terms that you offer. 100% they agree. And you say, “Great! Let’s shake on it.”
And they say, “No, no. I agree to all the terms you laid out. We can just do business.”
And you go, ‘Good, if we agreed let’s shake on it.’
And they say, “No, no. I agreed to all the terms. Let’s just do business.” If they refuse to shake your hand, even if rationally speaking they’ve agreed to everything you want, if they refuse to shake your hand, the odds are you won’t do business with them. And if you do you feel very nervous about it.
This is what trust is, trust is human. It’s about human interaction, it’s about real conversations. What we need is more handshake conversations. What we need is more handshake discussion, more handshake debate, more handshake friends, more handshake leadership. If we don’t, then we continue to go through this and we will not find our own sense of fulfillment and happiness and inspiration. It requires being among people who believe what we believe.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
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