Six months ago, goosemedia suggested I read Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. It’s a book that analyzes the success of companies like Southwest Airlines and Apple and the success of leaders like Martin Luther King. All of them started with their WHY — the cause or reason for their existence — before figuring out their HOW or WHAT.

Let me use one of Sinek’s examples to illustrate his point. In the early parts of the 20th century, a small handful of companies dominated the railroad industry. They seemed invincible. But they defined themselves by WHAT they did rather than WHY. If they had defined themselves as being in the mass transportation business, Sinek says, those big railroad companies might own all the airlines today. Instead, someone else stole the opportunity while they became irrelevant. I was just reading last week that both United Airlines and Continental Airlines had their roots in postal transportation. I suspect that those early aviation companies articulated their WHY in terms of fast and reliable delivery, so they were able to easily make the jump to flying people instead of packages. I would argue that those two companies have now defined themselves by their WHAT, but I’m watching their potential merger with interest.

In contrast, take this statement from Colleen Barrett, former CEO of Southwest Airlines: “We’re a customer service company that just happens to fly airplanes.” The way Sinek puts it is: “Southwest was not built to be an airline. It was built to champion a cause. They just happened to use an airline to do it.”

I recently heard Wycliffe USA’s president observe with amusement that our partners view SIL, Wycliffe and The Seed Company as leaders in orality. Remarkable considering where we were only a few years ago. Our WHAT has long been printed Bibles. That’s what people picture when they hear “Bible translation.” But Wycliffe has a clear WHY: to give this generation access to God’s Word, and to do it because we desire God to be glorified among the nations and because the last, the lost and the least deserve just as much as we do to know the God who created them speaks their language. We’re also about the transformation that happens as a result of God’s Word. As long as we’re about WHY, then we’ll embrace new media and new methods quickly and effectively in our hunger to accomplish that purpose.

Do you know your WHY? Do you know it on an organizational level? Do you know it on a personal level?

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