“Why do you do what you do?”

This is a question we ask throughout our ‘Stakeholder Engagement and Effective Communication’ workshops as we believe it is pivotal to connecting with others.

It’s easy to communicate what you do, and how you do it, but the fuzziest bit is often the ‘why’, which is our sense of purpose and underlying emotion. The concept of ‘Start With Why’ comes from Simon Sinek, who provides a useful framework he calls ‘The Golden Circle’ – shown below. The centre circle is ‘why’, the next concentric circle is ‘how’, and the outermost circle is ‘what’.


According to Simon, most people and organisations will often start with ‘what’ they do and ‘how’ they do it, as these are easy to articulate. The ‘why’, however, is rarely talked about. According to the Golden Circle, they go outside in, and Simon advocates that we should invert the order. Go from the inside-out in the Golden Circle. Start with ‘why’, discuss the ‘how’, and end with ‘what’.

On the first day of our October ‘Stakeholder Engagement and Effective Communication’ workshop, all the participants paired into groups to start talking about ‘why’ they do what they do. We encouraged people to bring photos showing what they care about to link us to what motivates them to do what they do. Instantly, stories surfaced that took guards away, brought personalities forward and allowed for a deeper level of connection with others.

October workshop attendees.


My Why

To practice what we preach, I’ll take a minute to explain my why.

I value people and relationships, it’s something that brings me a deeper sense of joy and meaning than most things. My studies in marketing have always leaned toward consumer behaviour and understanding how humans connect. As I moved into the field of Digital Marketing by working in several agencies to build websites and run marketing campaigns, I noticed a disparity between the way we connected with humans face-to-face and online. The reality that there was a human creating what was being ‘seen on the screen’ was often forgotten.

The first slide of my presentation, which depicts how most companies often use technology. Source: Marketoonist


My ‘why’ is now all about ensuring ‘people’ and our ‘humanity’ are not forgotten in the digital marketing landscape. Building relationships with people as individuals is still the key, even with screens in between. Ultimately, any organisation must have a shared ‘why’ with every individual among their audience in order to build a long-term connection.

Take for example ‘Thank You’ and ‘Who Gives A Crap’ who sell their products with a greater purpose in mind that all their customers (myself included) can share.


Getting To Know Your Why

It can take some time to better clarify your ‘why’, and we’ve found that one of the questions that can help start the process is:

“What makes you come alive?”

When you work towards things that inspire you, it literally makes you feel more alive. Think about what feels bigger than you – something you’re connected with, passionate about, and know that when you focus your attention toward it, it puts a fire in your belly.

Another technique is called the ‘5 Whys’, and it is also useful in determining the core of why you do what you do. It works as follows:

On a sheet of paper, answer ‘Why do you what you do?’
Then answer ‘Why do you do that?’
Then answer ‘Why do you do that?’
Then answer ‘Why do you do that?’
And finally, answer ‘Why do you do that?’

This will get you thinking about what really inspires you, as it often takes a few tries to really clarify your ‘why’.


Put Your ‘Why’ Into Practice

Once you’re able to hone into your ‘why’, the next step is to include it in your communication with stakeholders. Start meetings and presentations sharing your ‘why’ and encouraging others to think about and share their ‘why’. You’ll find that this will clarify and shape a shared goal that everyone can then relate to and be more involved in achieving.

Participants presenting an event plan on Day 2 of the October workshop, including their combined ‘why’.


Closing with why is also a good way to have people leave a conversation or meeting feeling reinvigorated. The more you begin to introduce ‘why’ in conversations, the easier it becomes.

At the ARRC, we recently reflected on our ‘why’ while building our new website, and our belief that people and rivers need one another equally came through. This led to the ‘why’ statement that now sits on our homepage and is the foundation behind what we do and how we do it:

We believe rivers and people need each other to thrive.

The ARRC will be running workshops in 2019, where we delve a lot more into ‘starting with why’ and share tools and techniques we’ve found to be quite useful in engaging stakeholders and communicating with external audiences on the web and social media. If you’re interested in hearing more, please share your expression of interest here.