Life with purpose
Simon Sinek and The Golden Circle

Simon Sinek and The Golden Circle

Organisational behaviour expert, Simon Sinek codifies successful leadership into a “Golden Circle”. He uses three concentric circles to define business […]

Organisational behaviour expert, Simon Sinek codifies successful leadership into a “Golden Circle”. He uses three concentric circles to define business purpose: What, How and Why. The last of these — Why — is perhaps the most important because it articulates a cause or a belief. The most inspired organisations start with interrogating their very reason for existence. They define what they stand for on a human level so that they can unlock great leadership. This is a much bigger ask than just telling the world what to buy and when. It goes to market with a raison d’etre.

Buying into the Why

Sinek’s key point is that first and foremost, people buy your philosophy, or why you do something. What you have to sell is a secondary consideration. He uses Apple as a classic example of how the Golden Circle works. Apple’s “Why” is they challenge the norm, therefore they “think differently”. How do Apple express this? They design their electronics more beautifully than anyone else in the world —  a physical embodiment of their purpose. Result: Apple is the most valued publicly-traded company in history. According to the New York Times, at the close of 2017, the stock price pushed Apple’s market value over $900 bn.


However, a lot has changed in the last decade since Sinek drew his first Golden Circle. The most significant of these changes is the rise of The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data.

In a world of high speed, mostly unregulated information, how a company behaves influences how people consider whether or not they will enter into a relationship with that business. In addition, transparency is now required for publicly listed companies. This plays out when equal pay for equal work, behaviour befitting a CEO or paying corporation tax can be discovered and shared at a swipe of a finger. When ordinary people can interrogate a business at the highest level, the brilliance of the Golden Circle starts to look a little bit rudimentary.

Ikigai and defining purpose

Why not break ‘Why’, ‘How’ and ‘What’ out of their concentric circles and imagine Sinek’s “ask why” journey in the form of the Ikigai, a Japanese concept that helps to discover one’s reason for being.

Define purpose ikigai

This way of visualising purpose is not so common the West. But in a similar fashion to The Golden Circle, it takes an introspective look at oneself. Where they differ is in the nuances of introspection. The Ikigai takes accounts for the overlap between what we love, what we need, what we’re good at, and what people will pay for. This could be a new way of organising how a business thinks about itself and what they stand for.

New approaches

It might take some time before the business world catches on to the Ikigai. At the moment it is still synonymous with personal and professional development. Although examples of the Ikigai at work in business are slim, here are a couple of businesses leaders who use this system. It works for the YMCA in Sydney and in a bee-keeping micro-business in London. Does this seem a bit left-field? Perhaps. But there was a time when a yoga class was seen as a bit odd. Today, yoga is a billion pound industry and many companies offer yoga classes as part of their health and wellness program. Curiosity about new approaches and how they might affect positive change is the trademark of a forward-thinking brands and businesses. Lunchtime yoga and nap-time pods are easing their way into the mainstream. Surely a few overlapping circles aren’t far behind.

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