Hey friends 👋,
“All models are wrong, but some are useful” – George Box
Everyone loves a good model, right?
Call it a model, framework, or whatever you like; they help us make sense of the world and provide guidance.
But what is the most useful one?
I’ve been thinking about what might be the ‘swiss army knife’ of models.
And, I reckon I’ve found it.
Albeit with a modification. Curious?
Read on to learn how Simon Sinek developed one of the most important and valuable (but not perfect) models you can apply across sales, marketing, innovation, strategy, leadership and life.
Today, we’ll look at innovation and strategy, and I’ll let you join the dots for other domains.
Let’s get going!
The Golden Circle
Thirteen years ago, Simon gave a TEDX talk about the pattern he discovered while researching successful, inspiring leaders and organisations.
He framed his thinking around the core concept (based on biology) that greater success doesn’t come from the ‘outside in’ (products, services etc.). Instead, it comes from the ‘inside out’ – your orientation and relationships.
Think of it this way; behaviour change comes from connecting with the limbic brain (feelings) so that people can rationalise using the neocortex (analysing and decision-making).
Here’s the example he gave about what Apple could have said – “we make great computers” (what), “they’re beautifully designed and user friendly” (how), “wanna buy one?.”
Here’s how he thinks Apple communicates “everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently” (why), “the way we challenge the status quo is making our products beautifully designed and simple to use” (how), “we just happen to make great computers” (what).
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
Applying the ‘why, what and how’ makes total sense to marketing and with a deeper connection, an eco-system of products developed.
Let’s explore how the golden circle applies to innovation and strategy and why Simon’s missed a critical component.
Innovation and the Golden Circle
Innovation’s core is the value proposition and finding product/market fit.
This is true for startups, not-for-profits or commercial enterprises and answers whether we deliver things people want and need.
We need to get enough traction for any new business, product or service. Enough people need to be interested in what you have and take action to buy or use it.
So, if you need a critical mass to ‘cross the chasm’ and make the idea viable, we need to consider how people think and act and connect on a deeper level (the why). Enter the law of innovation diffusion.
The ‘tipping point’ sits at about 17%.
The critical piece that’s missing is ‘who’.
If we need about 17%, we need to know who we target. We cannot wait for deeper drivers to take hold; we need to identify and understand people’s problems and how we might solve them early.
Connecting with our ‘why’ comes after the ‘who’ we serve.
I might be biased towards design thinking, but I see no point in innovation if we’re not keeping people front and centre in decision-making.
Strategy and the Golden Circle
One of my favourite strategists is Roger Martin. He developed ‘the choice cascade’ which is a process of designing a strategy by answering five essential questions:
- What’s our winning aspiration? (why)
- Where will we play? – geographically, channels, stages of production, offer and customers.
- How to win? – Low cost or value differentiated.
- What capabilities do we need? (what)
- What management systems do we need? (what)
While choices two and three include some ‘how’ and ‘what’, they also have the ‘who’.
Let’s look at take on strategy from another of my favourite strategists Alicia McKay.
Alicia suggests that every strategic plan should answer four key questions:
- Why do we exist?
- Where are we now?
- Where are we going?
- How will we get there?
I think Alicia’s model makes strategy simple, accessible, practical and effective.
Potentially, there could be some ‘who’ within the aspirational portion or the ‘why we exist’. And, it could be argued that in the public sector (or private), ‘we know’ who we serve.
But the reality is, if ‘who’ you are serving isn’t elevated and made explicit, they can be easily forgotten when the pressure of busy work comes on, and somebody has to make hard choices.
What's the Perfect Model?
Sorry, there isn’t one. 🙄
However, if we adopt a human-centric mindset at the strategic level, whether marketing, innovation or strategic planning, we open the opportunity to consider customers, staff, families, partners and other stakeholders with more intent and visibility during the design and execution of business. And, that can only be good.
I’ll leave you with this version to ponder: