From Purpose to Plan: Understanding Philosophical Fundamentals

Today I watched an old TED talk by Simon Sinek-- where he has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership— starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?"  The "Golden Circle" in this case represents the depth of action and purpose when addressing any question or building any business, organization or model. At the heart of that golden circle is the question WHY. Surrounding the WHY is the HOW and at the crust lies the WHAT. 

Sinek argues that those leaders with the most drive and determination to undertake something begin at the deepest point-- looking first and foremost at the "Why." Their motivations are not profit or success, since, by definition, those are possible results, not processes or causes. Rather, he addresses the burning question: Why-- that is to say, why do this at all, why take on this challenge, define the problem you seek to solve, and understand your greater purpose in doing so. 

This argument is something I have written about in the past as well, as have many other mission-driven individuals. I agree that when one begins with the philosophical-- the mission, the core reasoning of the problem that you are trying to solve-- your drive to solve it and motivate others to join you will be augmented significantly.

After you have determined your Why, then you can begin to use the tools, talents and creativity at your disposal to figure out How you will approach solving your problem, and then, finally, you can come up with specific methods, plans and actions-- the What-- to facilitating and working towards your greater goal.

Similarly, Sinek also compares the golden circle to the segments of the human brain-- where the core of the brain is largely emotional and feeling-driven and as you move towards the surface you are find the area responsible for rationality, organization and communication. This is to say, biologically, the deepest elements of our brains are responsible for behaviour, feelings and deriving purpose while the outer areas are more geared towards making things relatable and rational to others through language, plans and skills.  

Looking at Sinek's golden circle reminds me of another golden circle I learnt from Nigel when studying film and storytelling-- the circle of conflict. At the heart of this circle lies SELF, the middle ring is OTHERS and the outer ring is ENVIRONMENT. The stories with the most depth reach the deepest inner conflict of man-- the conflict of understanding oneself (otherwise known as the man versus himself conflict). In order for stories to get there, we normally must move through the other two layers of conflict-- man versus his environment being the most basic and man versus man as the middle level of conflict. 

In many ways, I find that these golden circles are in essence getting at the same point-- within the Why also lies the Self and that Self is largely defined by feelings, emotions and behaviour. If you can start by first accepting, understanding and embracing these points and then move outwards towards the other layers of conflict and action you are able to empower yourself.

Your ability to accomplish something, be motivated and inspired, motivate and inspire others, and find a deep-seated sense of purpose is tied to understanding oneself and one's purpose in pursuing certain actions. 

The greatest conflict one faces is that of oneself-- understanding, reflecting on and accepting who you really are, what you value in life, how you see your place in this world. If you can face yourself, you can find true confidence, resiliency, and, bluntly, you know where to spend the remaining fucks you have left in life. You can break dependance on external validation and do things for you and for those you care about.

Purpose, no matter what it is really, makes all the difference between a boring, banal existence and a driven, fulfilling existence. 

At the same time, the Why also lies in the centre behind sustained action, especially when you want to derive genuine satisfaction from the work you are doing. Again, if you can identify and believe in a greater purpose for what you are doing, your ability to ride out the rough seas, pursue whatever it takes to reach your mission, multiply ones own efforts and motivate others to join the mission is transformed greatly. And it does not really matter what the Why is, as long as you truly believe it.

The Why is the driver behind missionaries distributing bibles in North Korea when they know very well they will be arrested. I don't share that Why, meaning I do not believe what they believe to be true. While I personally find that action highly dangerous and ill-advised, I'm convinced that those people have found their Why and know themselves-- this is the power of belief and finding purpose beyond conflicts with others and ones surroundings. The Hows and Whats will naturally follow once you've embraced a Why. 

People believe their Why to be true, or at least true to themselves, and that greater purpose enables people to accomplish great things, but not necessarily positive things. It all depends on perspective.

One person's Why can lead to the most incredible human and scientific innovations on the planet, while another person's Why can lead to suicide bombings. Yes, extreme, but my point remains. Belief, purpose and self are deeply powerful if they are the origin of action. The power of finding meaning beyond the ego while also understanding oneself is a massive differentiating factor between the status quo and the extraordinary (for better or worse). 

Human beings are able to accomplish incredible things, and as Sinek reminds us, the lion's share of that undertaking is derived from having a mission that addresses a burning Why-- a cause or purpose that one would dedicate themselves to its pursuit. Similarly, when we look at human conflict in terms of not just storytelling, but also the story of one's own life, we see incredibly similar patters of depth-- as a person's Why is so deeply connected to their sense of Self. 

So why write about all this in a rambling article? Because I am constantly reminded of the need to begin with Whys and not be tempted with the Hows or Whats in life. As someone who gets excited by mission over opportunity, I sometimes need to remind myself to focus on the deep elements of myself and my beliefs to drive my actions.

Peripheral temptations that may result in short-term happiness or mask a wound are dangerous for someone like me in the long term. This I know and accept. 

Sinek's talk served as a great reminder to the importance of understanding purpose before jumping into plans and actions. As Sinek himself states:  "Martin Luther King Jr's speech was called I have a dream, not I have a plan."

Matthew Reichel