I very shamelessly made Claire take these pictures of me at work for the sake of this work- and love-related post, so I hope you enjoy them.
Whenever I write a post for the Get in My Head section of katiegatti.com, it’s almost always inspired by some inescapably relevant current event, a podcast I listen to, or a book I’m reading. Typically, my wheels get turning when I’m exposed to a really fascinating idea, and it usually ends up somewhere on this site.
(Also, hi! Welcome to my new 40 HOURS section, dedicated to all things career growth and business.)
So when two different sources of my chosen media espouse similar compelling ideology, the reward centers of my brain turn into a verifiable shit storm of introspection and stimulation. This becomes especially exciting when the theme applies to the two topics I’m most interested in: business and relationships.
There are so many parallels.
I’ve been reading this book called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. While the subtitle reads like every third article posted on Fortune and Forbes by random contributing editors, this book’s premise is fundamentally simple and profound.
It essentially postulates (using Apple and—you guessed it—my bae, Southwest Airlines, as examples) that companies founded with a clear sense of mission and purpose, beyond capitalizing on new market share, are more successful in the long run.
Apple’s ‘why’ is challenging the status quo. That’s their shtick. The music industry was all, “You need to buy CDs with albums of 18-ish songs and play them on this device, in order.” And Apple was all, “Bet.”
Because their hallmark approach to literally everything they do stems from this mission (challenge the status quo) they don’t limit themselves. Hell, they even took the word ‘computer’ out of their name (Apple Computer, Inc. is now Apple, Inc.) because they aren’t JUST a computer company. Do people wait in lines for hours to get the new Dell laptop? No.
Southwest, if you’ll allow me, made its mission to connect people to what’s important in their lives. If we truly live that mission, then we’ll adapt in ways that other airlines won’t. If Elon gets his way and high-speed rail becomes the future, then we should—theoretically—become Southwest Railways.
Why? Because our mission is to connect people in a friendly, reliable, and low-cost way. The ‘how’ right now is with planes—but if the world changes, so will the industry, and the airlines that can adapt early and quickly will survive, even if it means swapping their old 'how' with a new one.
It's a little like that Henry Ford quote: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would've said faster horses." That's business 101: focus groups are great and all, but most of the time, customers don't actually know what they want. You have to tell them.
Simon Sinek, the author, makes the point that companies founded on a ‘why’ rather than a ‘what’ or a ‘how’ achieve longevity and profitability because humans innately make decisions with this thing called their limbic brain. The limbic brain, he explains, has no capacity for language. This is why sometimes you have a ‘gut feeling’ you should do something and you really can’t articulate why.
When you sell based on a 'why,' you appeal to that limbic brain.
He argues that people don’t make decisions with their rational prefrontal cortex, they mostly make them in that limbic brain and then justify them after the fact with the rational language in the prefrontal cortex that they have conscious access to.
This means you're explaining your decisions to others with reasoning that you probably didn't even use yourself when making that choice.
So let’s table that idea for a moment.
Fast-forward to yesterday. I’m listening to this podcast about the power of ‘slowing down.’ It’s one of those super soothing and enlightening NPR Ted Radio Hour podcasts hosted by the man whom I wish would read me bedtime stories, Guy Raz. His voice is the audible equivalent of Xanax.
Anyway, they’re talking about slowing down, and this dude he’s interviewing is explaining how he puts 60-80 hours (!!) of work into his blog posts because he really likes to let the ideas percolate on the backburner for weeks. He’s a professional procrastinator, basically. His blog is called “Wait Buy Why."
So of course I listen to this and think—shit, I really want to read a blog post that required 60-80 hours of work.
I look up this dude’s blog and, lo and behold, one of the most popular posts is hilariously entitled: “The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again.” Amazing. He even illustrates it with these ironically shitty stick figure drawings and the bane of my existence, Comic Sans. But I digress—we'll put a pin in my privileged typeface opinions for another day.
I read this post (which has over 23k shares, so it’s technically gone viral) and was flat-out amazed by the level of logic and his ability to build an argument. He has such a gift for delving into all facets of a topic, and then flipping it on its head and exploring the implications.
But the part that really stuck out to me was this:
He essentially claims in one tiny subset of this massive discussion that there are two types of people: “brain people” and “gut people.” He explains that “gut people” have an easier time deciding if they want to marry their partner because they trust their gut—their limbic brain.
Gut people don't necessarily dig for that rationale or reasoning (and, he argues, this is a favorable approach for dating, since signing up to live out your next 60+ years with another human when you’re in your mid-twenties is not logical, rational, or reasonable). But hey, societal norms.
The poor “brain people,” on the other hand, get SUPER analytical about the relationship and start digging for concrete evidence that things will work out. They try to use their prefontal cortex—the ‘brain’s brain’—to make an emotional decision. He so candidly writes that, when it’s time to make this decision, a “brain person” should “try to not be themselves.”
Because, as Sinek teaches us, the true decision-making happens in the limbic brain that has no access to or ability for language and reasoning. It just feeds you instinctual knowledge that urges you in one direction or the other.
So let’s hop back to the business side real quick.
Continuing this super fun Apple example (I swear this dude has a crush on Steve Jobs), he uses the classic MacBook parable. If you ask a MacBook owner why they chose their laptop over, say, a PC, they’ll offer you myriad reasons: the design, the user interface, its applications, ease of use, they love fruit, etc.—but, he argues, these are all product features that the customer hones in on after the fact and have very little to do with the purchase decision itself.
People pay twice as much for MacBooks and iPhones not because they’re inherently better, but because of what they symbolize. You’re a rabble rouser. You challenge the status quo. You’re creative. You’re innovative. You have the means to purchase one.
This is what owning a Mac says about you, and there’s a visceral appeal that drives you to throw logic, price comparison, and general features out the window. You don’t even know why you want it, but you do, and you're willing to go to extreme lengths to get it. That's the type of brand loyalty we all strive for.
What does owning a Dell say about you, beyond that you work a corporate job and probably own a lot of suits? (See, my own innate bias against PC is coming out inadvertently! That’s how brainwashed I am! BRANDING!)
And so now you’re probably wondering: Katie, what’s your point?
Whether you’re trying to run a successful company, start your own business, or get into a relationship, you should be aware that much of human behavior and human decision-making are driven by factors that the decision-maker himself cannot understand or explain.
Yes, having good products or being a good partner will help, but it is not, in itself, enough.
Human behavior is not rational, so it follows that humans fundamentally don’t respond as strongly to rational appeals. They may THINK they do, but that just goes to show how self-unaware we all really are.
You pay more for a (sometimes lesser) product because you’ve bought into WHY the company does what it does. I see this all the time when customers tell us via social that they bought a Southwest ticket even though it cost more, or they flew into a less convenient airport so they could fly Southwest. That flies in the face of rationality (pun intended).
You fall in love with someone because of the way they make you feel, not because they check all your boxes on your ego clipboard. (And believe me, I’ve been told more than once: “You check all my boxes, so I don’t know why I don’t feel it with you.” Brutal, but true. It’s not an analytical decision.)
And believe me, I’ve always been fascinated by people’s decisions to get married, especially young. I can’t imagine feeling that enthralled with someone that I’d want to spend forever with them. (I guess ‘brutal but true’ is the theme today, huh?)
But still—it always makes me laugh when I ask, “Why him?” or “Why her?” and the answer is some anticlimactic variation of, “He’s so smart and funny and cool!” or “She’s beautiful and kind and wonderful!” Like, yeah, them and several million other people on the planet. Why THAT one? Why did you pick THAT person?
You don’t fall in love with every pretty, smart girl or every funny, smart guy. There’s something that goes beyond reason when it comes to falling in love (and buying a laptop).
So how can we learn from this and apply it in our own businesses and love lives?
As with most things, it’s simple, but not always easy.
And frankly, I feel this is more readily applicable for most within the dating realm. Rather than focusing on the tangible THINGS you can offer someone and treating your dating qualifications like a résumé in a job search, remember—at the end of the day, you can still ‘check someone’s boxes’ and not be the one for them.
But hey, that’s a good thing, right? It totally takes the pressure off. You don’t have to be the prettiest or the smartest or the funniest or the whatever-est, because it’s not about being the best. It’s being the one that triggers that limbic brain response. And, unsurprisingly, that’s more or less out of your control.
Sinek makes the point that—likewise in business—companies that have a clear sense of their own ‘why’ don’t stress about it. They don’t feel like they have anything to prove. They know where they stand, they know their shit, and they know their customer base is loyal. They don't feel the need to test things with their customer base or run focus groups to learn what their customers want—they tell them who they are and what they want, and the customers listen.
Do you think Apple would ever send out a survey asking what you'd like to see in your next iPhone? It's laughable. No. Tim Cook says, "You want facial recognition," and we all nod in numb uniformity and go, "OK, yes, I guess I want facial recognition. And now I'm going to wait in line for 8 hours and pay $1,000 for it."
But if that ‘why’ sense of purpose and mission gets fuzzy, then you’re in trouble—then you settle for manipulative tactics, like touting features or price, to do the heavy-lifting, appealing solely to that prefrontal cortex that doesn’t really have that visceral decision-making power.
Same goes for love. Know who you are, remember it’s more about how you make the other person feel, and don't beat yourself up if you aren’t “it” for someone else. After all, it’s really not about you—it’s about their own limbic system response. Ah, romance.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is…
Sell from the same platform you’re buying from, and you’ll have success.
Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day! Go start a business and make someone fall in love with you!
If you liked this post, you may also like "28 Days of Solitude."
Although tempted to name this something cliché like #GIRLBOSS, this section features all my obsessive-compulsive productivity hacks & candid conversations about career development.