Why is Apple so innovative? Why was it Martin Luther King Jr. who led the civil rights movement? Why were the Wright brothers the ones who figured out powered human flight? Simon Sinek in his Ted Talk Start With Why says it’s because they thought in completely opposite ways than most of us. 

We all tend to think about what we want to do, then figure out how to do it, and rarely get around to why we do it. Apple, King, and the Wright brothers started with why. Starting with what or why can inform us about how we’re motivated. 

  • Starting with what tends to be extrinsic. We start from the outside and work inward. We look to the outside world, think about reasons to climb, and let those reasons drive us.
  • Starting with why tends to be intrinsic. We start from the inside and work outward. We look to our inner world, get a feeling about climbing, and let that feeling drive us. 

Starting with why is aligned with our biology. The neocortex is the outer part of the brain, which is responsible for analytical thinking. We use thinking to determine what to do and then use our behavior and emotions, our limbic brain, to drive us toward what we’ve rationally decided to do. 

The limbic brain is our inner brain, which is our emotional center. We feel for what resonates with us and then use the outer neocortex to create rational reasons to support that feeling. 

Both thinking and feeling, neocortex and limbic brains, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, what and why are helpful. The main point is where you start. Sinek suggests to start with why.

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