Why: A Primer on Mission and Purpose

Why: A Primer on Mission and Purpose

Over the summer months, I embarked on a sort of learning quest; to think about and understand Highland’s mission or purpose for existing.   One of the books that was integral to the discovery process was Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. 

The basic premise of the book is that companies greatly limit their success because they never really harness the power of why they exist.  Why is that so?  Because, for example, it’s easy to understand inspiration, trust, or passion at a gut level, but it can be very hard to articulate “why you feel that way” or “believe it to be true.” 

The book talks about what Simon calls the Golden Circle which has three parts, or questions, that must be answered in becoming a truly authentic company, ultimately getting to why.  They are:

1.  What do you do?

2.  How do you do it?

3.  Why do you exist? 

The order of these questions is very important.  For most of us, we tend to start with question #1, then proceed to question #2, and very infrequently companies answer question #3.  Why is that?  Well, we find it really easy to answer what we do, and even how we do it because these are very practical questions.  The problem is that neither of these first two questions connect with people at an emotional level that causes them to be aligned with us and what we believe. 

If we really want to capture the mind and heart of your clients and employees, the author argues that we need to start with question #3—why do we exist?—and move backwards. 

To help with understanding this approach, let me summarize Sinek’s definition of these concepts:

Why?—this is the reason the company was founded, exists, or why anyone should care.  It is a discovery process looking at the past not the future.  Sinek uses the example of an arrow being pulled back on a bow.  The archer pulls the arrow backwards 180 degrees before it can be flung forward to generate maximum impact and action.

It can’t be as simple as “making money” because that is a result.  Basically, the process asks you to keep asking “why you do what you do” until you land on a senior purpose that makes the world a better place.

How?—the values or principles that guide and bring to life the company cause.  These are more difficult to elicit, but tend to be the proprietary processes, unique selling proposition, differentiators that we all like to talk about. Unfortunately, this can also lead us to focusing our attention on the competition and what they are doing, thus stagnating our unique purpose and potential. 

What?—the “what” are the evidence of the “why we exist,” and the ultimate arbiter of authenticity. For instance, it’s the stuff that we all can articulate about our company and what we do; the services and products we provide.  In Highland’s case this would be that we are a wealth management firm serving high net worth individuals.

Put in the right order—why, how, what—generates real connection, influence, and aligned action that starts from the inside and moves outward. 

In my next post, I will continue to share with you what I learned and what we discovered about why.  If you haven’t gone through this process, I’d highly recommend that you take the time to ask yourself “why” you are doing what you are doing. 


John Christianson
  • Earl Bell
    Posted at 19:22h, 12 October

    Hi John,

    I am glad to see you are investing the time and bringing thoughtful clarity as to “why” Highland exists. This clarity will undoubtedly enable you and your colleagues to provide even greater value to your clients and further enhance their lives.

    Most professional services firms do not undertake this important work. VERY WELL DONE!

    I recently wrote a blog post – asking the question “Does Your Business Matter?” We share passion and interest in asking the right questions!

    Best regards,


    • John Christianson
      Posted at 19:14h, 14 October

      Thanks, Earl. I am amazed at the energy it’s bringing to my daily work. I sure appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      Live fully.

  • Wealth Clarity Blog
    Posted at 19:17h, 21 October

    […] mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been working on Highland’s mission statement for the past several months.  I can honestly say that we haven’t had a clear mission statement […]