Where is Your Why?

The sweetest time for any business is its childhood. A clear North Star blazes and anything is possible. People who start businesses are inspired by their “North.” They speak from their hearts. Their passion and spark is palpable.

We take our scrapes and bruises through life, and so do companies. Just like us, how a company reacts to setbacks determines its fate.

Hard knocks don’t throw you out of whack. Your reaction to them does. Multiply that for companies.

I submit your business is not a faceless, tactless, heartless thing. All a company ever really is, is a group of people who cooperate for a common purpose. Your company is, or was at one time, a group of human beings forged together by an idea or inspiration.

The hard knocks? They’re tests of kindness, courage, fortitude, generosity and ethos. To look at it any other way is to lose sight of your true North.

Despite bumps along the way, some companies cleave to their “why;” for them, it is a clear and precious thing. For other companies, the star fades, is lost for a time, and is rediscovered. And for others, it slips elusively away, sadly, and is never recovered.

Inspiration cannot be framed in a mission statement, pinned down by policies, or groomed into a creature with polite manners. It is what it is, and it comes with the hunger of curiosity, the desire to make something better, or to create entirely new paths.

Inspiration and Patterns

If “inspiration” is seated on the right side of the brain, then “patterns” surely are on the left.

We seek patterns. For hundreds of thousands of years, the ability to quickly flush out an anomaly has translated into food, safety and reproduction.

We have an urge to organize when we see something off-kilter. With art or design, mentally, we straighten. Immediately, our eye is drawn to the splash of red in a field of white. We are compelled to study it and make sense of it. Perhaps even master it.

The studies of patterns, anomalies, and physiology of the brain can solve the mystery of the fizzled North Star. It reveals why, over time, rules crop up; why words become overdone or boring, why marketing materials all start to look the same, and how it is that redundant yet meaningless phrases in our language have just about beaten us senseless.

Why on earth would anyone find these interesting? They wouldn’t. There’s no passion, inspiration or curiosity. And it’s everywhere.

To resist the elimination of that which is untidy is difficult. These two ideas – creativity and order – are constantly trying to overpower each other – in my mind and yours.

It’s why companies that start out with a fixed gaze on their North Star on the edge of the map, out in perilous seas, tend to drift to calmer waters. But that’s the “turn” as illusionists say. The next thing they know, they’ve been so distracted looking at the ocean, their star has vanished over the horizon, like magic.

Getting Your Why Back

If this sounds hauntingly familiar, the call of creativity is still there. You are, in fact, the same wild beastie you were when you first felt the fire of something great, and in that moment, had committed to your true North. Finding a path back to your “why” requires a simple shift in thinking. It may seem to require more courage if you’ve wandered into a comfortable place. By comparison, the choppy waters look more dangerous, feel more uncomfortable, or seem less manageable. That’s “order” gibbering away in your mind, selling fear to save itself. In truth, the real danger is in complacency and safety.

Calm waters eventually lead to locking down brains and hearts and inspiration… and you traded in your inspiration, your WHY, for… dwindling brand loyalty? Alienated customers? Unproductive employees? A bland and unoriginal thing which bears no resemblance to your great idea? The seductive siren of safety will tempt you down this path.

The easiest truth is that the water was just as messy and untamed the first time you set sail. You just didn’t notice because your eye was fixed above, not on the waters below.

Remember that your “why” is contagious. Ignited from within, it naturally attracts people and opportunities. There are a lot of other wild beasties out there, too. Inspiration will always make itself available. It’s up to companies to reach for it. Any person can make a difference and should be given breathing room to do so. Give them that gift, and while you’re at it, give yourself the same.

So what are you waiting for – calm seas or your North Star? Unmoor your ship, and go get your why!

About The Author

Jeanie Walker
Jeanie Walker is a marketing advisor who has worked with Fortune 10, startups, and small businesses for 25+ years. Her mission is to take small businesses to the next stage of growth thereby strengthening communities, competition, and freedom of choice. From lead generation to operational structure, Jeanie drives revenue opportunities for growing businesses.


  • Lindley Torbenson on March 20, 2013

    Love the article, Jeanie. It makes me think that optimization, efficiency, and many other business buzzwords are sucking the life out of businesses when companies forget about the “why.” It’s like the tin man without his heart.

    • JeanieWalker on March 20, 2013

      Thanks, Lindley – great way to look at it – buzzwords are vampiric indeed!