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The Golden Circle with David Mead

You won’t want to miss this episode of The People Catalysts Podcast as David Mead shares his story and more.  Ten years ago, David’s employer brought in a little-known speaker, at the time, Simon Sinek, to train their team. David “Got” what Simon was teaching after only one session.  In response to David’s enthusiasm, Simon asked David what he was doing at 5AM ‘before his REAL job’…and the rest is history.  David worked with Simon and Kim Harrison for a couple of years on the first iteration of the online WHY discovery course.  They are still together at https://startwithwhy.com/.  Listen in to hear all about David, the man who is known as the “HOW” to Simon Sinek’s “WHY”, and “The Golden Circle.”

Listen to the podcast here:

The Golden Circle with David Mead

Karla Nelson:  And welcome to the People Catalyst Podcast, David Mead.

David Mead:  Hello, Karla, nice to be here.

Karla Nelson:  Nice to have you on the show, David, so glad we could finally put this together. I’m very, very excited. I always like podcast time, but this is going to be a special podcast based off of the work that you do, and not only how it integrates with what we do at the People Catalyst Podcast, but I’ve just been a huge fan of you guys, and your work for so long.

David Mead:  Thanks.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. I’m going to give our listeners a chance to hear your background story, of your … Pretty much your WHY journey. Did you always see yourself here, and how did you start out, and get on this path in regards to focusing on the why, and sharing that, and helping other people make their mark on the universe?

David Mead:  Sure, so I’m one of those guys that I graduated from college after dabbling in, I think, five different majors that were so … You know, opposite ends of the spectrum, just because I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Everything from Middle East Studies to Outdoor Recreation, I mean, literally that big of a spread. I finally settled on communications just so I could graduate and get out of there. I just jumped into sales, because that was an easier place to get a job with very little experience right out of college, and so that’s what I started doing. Can’t say I was that great at it. I actually hated it, but I just found myself jumping from sales job, to sales job, to sales job.

Then, at one point in 2004, I got an opportunity to become the director of training for this Yellow Page company, back when Yellow Pages were a thing. Remember those days?

Karla Nelson:  Oh, I remember that. You don’t hear Yellow Pages very frequently anymore.

David Mead:  I know. I know. Anyway, I really, really enjoyed it. My dad, as I was growing up, my dad was a consultant and he traveled around all over the place, and was always standing in front of groups of people, and it seemed like he really enjoyed what he did. I thought, well maybe this is something that I might enjoy doing too. So, I got this job and it was kind of the “real” job that I had had. I really enjoyed it. The thing that I didn’t love about it, it was sales training, because that was my background obviously. And so, this is a two week training program, and I would spend all this time training these people to sell Yellow Pages, and then turnover is so high in sales anyway, and so six months later they were gone and I was like, oh all that time and effort-

Karla Nelson:  And the timing on that. That’s right when everything was moving digital too, so I can imagine [crosstalk 00:03:10].

David Mead:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was starting to happen as well. I don’t know. After a couple years I just thought I’m putting a ton of time and energy, and I like the work, but to not be able to see a lot of it on the back end, to see the follow through of what people are able to go on and do because of the training that I gave them, was pretty unfulfilling in a way. So, I quit that and for a couple years I went through an entrepreneur phase in the housing marking, which was obviously not a great time to do that, of course I didn’t know that in 2006 when I started.

Karla Nelson:  Yes.

David Mead:  So 2008 hit, basically, and I lost everything that I had and I ended up working a retail job at Apple. Through a friend that I had that worked there, he turned me on to this other little sales company. I was like, oh great, here I go back in sales. But, I was like I got to do something. I had a small child, I had just started MBA school, so I thought man, I’ve got to figure something out because part-time retail is not going to do it. I really wanted to stay at Apple, and go full time, and kind of go the corporate route, but nobody quits. So it’s impossible to … Literally, nobody quits. I was at the Apple store yesterday and I saw a guy that I worked with there in 2008, and he’s still there.

Karla Nelson:  Wow.

David Mead:  Anyway, so I thought that’s never going to happen, or not quickly enough for me, so I went to interview at this sales company; it was kind of a summer sales, door-to-door type marketing company. They looked at my background, and looked at kind of what I was going into educationally, and they thought, you know you might actually be a better fit as our director of training. I thought, sold, I will take that any day of the week over having to go knock door-to-door to sell stuff. So, that was a nice little nicer. About a week after I started, they were going to have this little evening off site, they were going to invite a guest speaker, and I’m a total nerd, like I have never missed a day of school in my life and this evening off site happened to be on a night that I had school for my MBA program. I thought, what do I do here? Because I don’t want to miss school, but I had a very different mindset back then, I was like I really want to make a good impression and let them know that I’m committed to this, and all this stuff.

So, I decided to skip class and go to this little event. The guest speaker happened to be a guy by the name of Simon Sinek, who-

Karla Nelson:  Wait, who’s that guy?

David Mead:  Yeah, who’s that guy?

Karla Nelson:  I mean, I’m talking to the David Mead, who’s this Simon Sinek guy you’re bringing up?

David Mead:  And so, obviously the best decision I ever made. Just had the opportunity to sit in a room with 25 people at this little start up, and here Simon share the concept of the golden circle, and this idea of purpose, and all these things that resonated with me so much. It wasn’t like anything brand new, it wasn’t this huge revelation of something that I had never thought of before, it was just … The way that I describe it is that there was a room in my house that was dark, the light was off, always been there, but the light was off. And basically, what Simon did is he came along and he flipped on the light switch, and I went oh, there it is. It’s been there the whole time, I knew it was there, just couldn’t really see it.

It kind of, I don’t know, it gave me a whole different perspective on the work that I was doing. I essentially stole his idea, and I wrote it down into the training manual that I was putting together as part of my job. And he came back, he worked with this little company over the course of a few months, and the next time he came back I gave him a copy of the little training handbook that I had written; not that good, I still have a copy of it, and I look back at it, and it’s quite embarrassing. Anyway, I didn’t expect him to read it, I just wanted him to see what he had inspired. And so, a couple months later he called me back and he was just really surprised that I could hear him speak one time and turn it into something. He said, hey, what do you do in the morning at 5:00 before you go to work? I said, what did you have in mind?

Karla Nelson:  Nothing, by the way.

David Mead:  Sleeping, normally. And so he invited me to come and help put together the first iteration of the online why discovery course, which has gone through several iterations now, is in such a better state now than it was back then. But, we were a tiny team of three people, and so I would work with Simon and Kim, who’s now our Chief Operating Officer, in the morning from like 5 AM to 7 AM before I would go to work, and then this is how it went for a couple years. I eventually ended up getting laid off from this little start up, they just didn’t get it, they didn’t really want to pay me for what I was trying to do with their culture, and leadership, and that kind of stuff, and so they laid me off. As I was sitting outside with my box of stuff on the curb waiting for my wife to come pick me up, I called Simon and I was like, hey, guess what? I got some spare time. He was kind enough to bring me on full time at a time when he really couldn’t do it financially, and that’s the beginning of the story.

Karla Nelson:  What a great story. I love the hey you know, you’re inspired, you get up before you go to your “real” job, you’re passionate about it, and then all of a sudden it just lays this amazing path, right?

David Mead:  Yep.

Karla Nelson:  That unfolded, but you … It doesn’t come without its heavy lifting, right?

David Mead:  Yeah. Absolutely.

Karla Nelson:  And so, you mentioned something, David, that I just think is revolutionary and absolutely simple. I think the best things that really, as you put, turn that light on in that room, Were the things that are simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy, but simple to understand, right? It’s simple to climb to Mount Everest, put one foot in front of the other one, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy, right?

David Mead:  Exactly.

Karla Nelson:  Around the training that you guys do is the golden circle. Can you share with the listeners a bit about the golden circle, and why it’s important?

David Mead:  Sure. So, the golden circle is just a simple model that Simon discovered about 12 years ago, that just helps to explain what it is that sets certain leaders, certain individuals, certain organizations apart from everybody else; and it’s really around the concept of purpose, or what we call the WHY. Simon didn’t invent purpose, obviously, it’s been around for thousands of years, but this Golden Circle is something that he discovered to help to explain it, again in a simple way that just kind of makes you go oh, duh.

Karla Nelson:  That’s how I felt, by the way.

David Mead:  Like, I know that already. Right.

Karla Nelson:  The first time I watched the TED talk, it was a TEDx talk, it had 200000 views, and I was like, that’s really good. I’m like, why didn’t I think of that?

David Mead:  I know. That’s the thing that boggles my is, and that’s literally how I describe every idea that Simon comes up with, it’s like one of those “oh duh” ideas. Why do we have to be reminded of this stuff? Anyway-

Karla Nelson:  Simplicity is so many times

David Mead:  I know, it really is.

Karla Nelson:  Because it’s hard to make it simple, it’s actually easier.

David Mead:  Yeah. Yeah. You’re absolutely right. The Golden Circle, again, if you imagine a bullseye, with the bullseye, the very center of the circle having the word why, and then the middle ring is how, and the other ring is what. The basic premise is that every organization, even our own careers, operate on these three levels, which is what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Everybody knows what they do, this is the product you sell, or the service you offer, maybe the title that you hold, or the role that you play. Some know how they do what they do, which means how do you set yourself apart from somebody else who’s doing about the same thing that you’re doing, how do you run your business, what are your guiding principles, your values, kind of the actions that you take that would make you different from somebody else.

But very few individuals and organizations, as Simon discovered, really understand and more important can clearly articulate or talk about, why they do what they do. Usually when you ask somebody, or an organization, why do you do what you do? It’s usually, well, growth, money, lifestyle, all these things are the first things that come out of our mouths, usually, but those are all results. By WHY, we don’t mean any of those things. What we’re talking about is purpose, just cause, belief, why does your organization actually exist? Individually, why do you get out of bed every day? What is the thing that drives, and inspires, and motivates you to do everything that you do, not just at work, but at home as well? And so, what we tend to do naturally or I guess out of habit, is that we start from the outside in. We tell people what we do, we tell them how we think we’re different, or special, or better, or cheaper, or more efficient, or whatever it is that we want to throw in there, and that’s usually where we stop.

But, what Simon found is that the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations do it backwards; they think, act, and communicate from the inside out. They start by talking about their purpose, about their cause, the world that they imagine, and what they believe in.

Karla Nelson:  Love it. I love it. You’re giving my goosebumps over here, David. It’s so simple, but so profound. I’m going to jump here to you touched on the companies, and the companies’ why. Can you share a little bit about … Because I want to go back to the law of diffusion of innovations, but you led right into, why should a company start with why? What is the thing that … Because you talked about an individual, right? What is the benefit, not just the result that you talk about, but the benefit of a company starting with why?

David Mead:  Well, I think there’s a couple … And you can kind of go micro, and you can go macro. On the macro level, if you look at a company, an organization, small or large, doesn’t matter, the opportunity that a company has, or that an organization has, is to scale something incredible. If your company exists for some higher cause or purpose, rather than just to sell more stuff, imagine the difference you can make in the lives of the people that you touch with your product or your service, if you go about it … And again, with that real human interest in mind. We know some of these companies, and we usually equate these to nonprofits, right? These are organizations that are the do-gooders, that are doing good in the world, and we sometimes think well that’s great for the nonprofits, but how can I justify that as a business who is actually for profit trying to make money?

It’s really about the relationship that we have to money, to the profit that we make. If we look at profit as the goal, that’s where things become problematic, because then we’re just chasing the number, and so we have to sell more stuff, and so that’s how we run our business. If we see profit as the fuel, then there’s nothing wrong with making a ton of money, individually or as an organization, but we can use that as fuel to help further our vision, to help further our cause, to do more good in the world, to grow for the right reasons rather than just to make more money. That’s kind of the macro level; you can, as an organization, effect a whole lot of people through the scale that you build as a company.

Then, on the micro level, and again this thing called WHY, this purpose idea, is not just the purpose that we have externally to those that use our product or service; it’s just as important, even if not more important, to live this on the inside of our organizations first and to take care of our own people, to create a culture and environment of purpose, and meaning, and fulfillment. How that translates to the micro is that when we have that sort of environment at work every single individual who shows up to that organization feels like they are contributing to something that matters, feels like they belong, feels like there’s some purpose or meaning in the work that they do, rather than just showing up to punch a clock, or showing up to make a company more money, or to sell more stuff.

Karla Nelson:  Yes, which is … Gallup just came out with a poll last year, 70% of people hate their job. Not dislike it, not aren’t happy. Hate it. And 90% aren’t 100% fulfilled with it and that’s just staggering.

David Mead:  Yeah. That’s just the US number. If you look at the worldwide number it’s 87%, which is even worse.

Karla Nelson:  Yes. Oh my goodness. That really correlates with the study they just came out with. We always use these buzz words: employee engagement, culture … At the end of the day, you bucket all those up, there’s one word. Leadership. It’s just that WHY is just at the crux of that. We talk about the who and the when on the implementation side with The People Catalyst, and our work is just like yours, based off of the law of diffusion of innovation. Actually, a ton of training and different aspects, 6 Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, all of these are agile, they’re all based off the law of diffusion of innovations, which is 110 years of marketing research that identifies how people adopt new things. And, I think a lot of times in businesses we only focus it on, and this will be directly related to what you just said David, the goal is profit, profit, profit. So all they think about in law of diffusion of innovation is client, sell, sell, sell. Can you share a little bit about how the law of diffusion of innovations in the work that you do is based off of that, and why that’s important and critical for people to understand?

David Mead:  Sure, so the diffusion of innovations helps us to understand a couple things. One is obviously the adoption rate of certain products, or ideas across a certain population; but it also helps us to … Well, it’s not just product adoption. I should say its idea adoption as well, or ideology adoption as well.

Karla Nelson:  Yes.

David Mead:  If you look at the standard deviation of bell curve, any population falls along that same bell curve. So, if you’re looking at people who buy Honda’s, or you’re looking at a country, or you’re looking at a company, or a group of women between the ages of 35 and 50, whatever it is, whatever population you’re looking at, there will be this standard deviation of, from left to right: 2.5% of that population will be the what we call the innovators; then 13.5%, the next 13.5% will be the early adopters; then the next 34%, which starts to get towards that middle, that meaty part of the bell curve, is the early majority; and then sort of the latter half of that majority is the late majority; and then on that right hand tale, the last 16% is the laggards, and these are the people that still write checks at the super market, and you’re like oh my gosh.

Karla Nelson:  One of my partners says … He makes me laugh, he’s like, this is the person that will never buy a Tesla until there is not a gas station open in the country.

David Mead:  Yes. Exactly. Even then, they might just go buy a Nissan Leaf, because Tesla might just be too cool for them. Anyway, as it relates to this concept of WHY, this idea in and of itself, for a lot of people that are listening to this they might think, man all the jobs that I’ve had or all the companies that I’ve worked with have really been more about profit than people, it’s all been about sales and selling stuff, and revenues, and all this kind of thing. So, this idea of WHY, even though it’s been around for, again, thousands of years, is still kind of on the left side of that curve. It’s been really interesting, because I’ve been with Simon now since 2009, is we’re seeing some of that movement. It used to be just those innovators, the people who are really comfortable with new ideas, comfortable trusting their guts, comfortable with if they feel like something is right, or if they feel like they resonate with something, they will act on it, they will follow it, and they don’t need necessarily all the facts and the data to back it all up.

What we’ve seen is as the years have gone by, we’re getting more and more into … We’ve captured the innovators and the early adopters, and it’s interesting now, even just from the leads that we have coming in for the work that we do, for speaking, and workshops, and things like that, we’re starting to see more of that early majority. The majority of them-

Karla Nelson:  Oh, so you’re penetrating that 15% of the population, have you?

David Mead:  Yeah. I think yeah. There’s still some ways to go, right? This is all a little bit-

Karla Nelson:  Or 50% of the marketplace is actually a better way to say it, right?

David Mead:  Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, there’s still work to be done, but what we’re seeing more, and more of these leads coming in are people from that meaty party of the bell curve who … They’re into it, but they need to be sort of convinced, right? It’s like, can you give me examples, or can I have referrals of other companies that you’ve worked with. That’s just the thing about that majority, is that they won’t try something unless someone else has tried it first. They are less comfortable trusting their guts, they need sort of that validation, they need the data points, they need sort of the proof points. It’s not that they’re skeptical necessarily, but they have a hard time leading with the hearts, if you will.

As we move toward this, the tendency that a lot of companies have when we share this idea with them, and this idea of the diffusion of innovation, is they think, oh well, we want to roll this out to our entire company, we want to make sure that the majority, that meaty part of the bell curve, of our company gets this, and resonates with it, and comes on board. And so, that’s where they tend to put a lot of their focus. They do this huge initiative, they roll it out, and what they find is that it kind of falls of deaf ears, right?

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. They put them all in a room, and say hey look this is what we’re doing. Good luck.

David Mead:  Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.

Karla Nelson:  How that turns out … That turns into the three hour meeting that nothing happens at.

David Mead:  Right. You never get that time back. Where we’ve seen it happen most effectively is in companies where there have been the handful of champions that raise their hands, and they’re like, I love this and I will do whatever I can to help share this idea, and inspire other with it. That’s really where we need to put our focus, is on those early adopters and the innovators, because they’re the ones who are passionate, they’re the ones that will … They will just go. They don’t need the convincing, they don’t need the extra compensation for it, they don’t need all of these other things; it’s because they believe in it, they want to do it, and they will naturally, through the energy that they bring, will begin to inspire others around them. You really have to work on the diffusion of innovation, you’ve got to work from the left side to the right. You can’t just plop right in the middle, even though that’s where the biggest gains will come, obviously, is in that majority. But, you can’t start there or else you’ll never get them. Does that make sense?

Karla Nelson:  Yes. Absolutely. I love it. I love it, David. You don’t even know exactly, so far, how we work with companies, but you’re giving me goosebumps over here, because so many times in the tech industry, and in so many different trainings, they focus on the law of diffusion of innovations but they forget the team aspect, and you’re hitting the nail on the head. Before you can go and focus on the client aspect, you have to get this correct in your team. You have to figure out who’s adopting new ideas in your team, and that’s where you start. Then you move to your clients, and then you can potentially move to your promoters, vendors, and things like that.

Okay, so based off of what we were talking about, and the absolutely dreadful numbers, 87% of people are not engaged and hate their jobs, which just makes my gut kind of hurt. I feel so … You know, you just want to help them, right? Those of us that have found we’re so passionate about what we love to do, and we know how we want to put our mark on the universe. What is some of the things that you could share with our listeners that might not be aligned there, or are not enjoying the things that they do every day, and how they could find the right job for them.

David Mead:  Yeah, so there’s not one right answer for everybody, obviously, because this is all messy human stuff. But, one of the things that I’ve learned for myself over the last couple years is that there’s obviously … We talked a lot about a WHY, or a purpose, for an organization, there’s also, like I said, the micro level of it … That individual component as well, that each one of us has our own why. We have that thing that drives us, and inspires us to do everything that we do no matter where we are. And it is essentially, if you were to describe what a WHY is, it is who we are and what we contribute when we are at our natural best, right? Often, when we go to work if we have a job that we don’t like, or I would say there are a lot of people who go to work because you have to have a job, and I’ve got to pay my bills, and it’s like I don’t necessarily hate it, but it’s like if I had the choice to go to work or go sit on the beach all day, guess which one I choose?

Even if we have that kind of relationship to our job. We might like the people that we work with, and it’s decent. I don’t come home hating my life every day, but we just don’t find that meaning, or that purpose, or that fulfillment. One of the best things that we can do is to discover our own WHY. Several different ways of doing that, we obviously have a method that we’ve used for the last several years. We can talk a little bit more about that coming up, but really understanding the unique contribution and impact that we make on the lives of people. What I’ve learned myself over the last couple years is it’s not necessarily about the job that you’re doing, it’s about how you show up to the job that you’re doing. It’s changing your perception of that job, of that thing that keeps you busy all day long.

I mean look, people still have to sweep the floors, and clean toilets, and take out the garbage. Those jobs will always exist. But when you clearly understand the difference that you make, and the impact that you’re having on the lives of the people around through doing that job, all of a sudden that job becomes more inspiring.

Karla Nelson:  Sure. It places meaning … Most people don’t value, or understand, the unique value that they bring day in and day out.

David Mead:  Sure. And it’s not about the task of the job, it’s about the people that you work with and how you can positively affect their lives in that position that you’re in. You know, what we used to hear a lot is when we would go in to conduct an individual “Why Discovery” workshop for a company, for example, and help a bunch of employees within a company find their why, one of the first questions that … Some people would be brave enough to ask it at the end, and a lot of others would be thinking it, which is … Or even at the beginning before they would start the process, they would think, what if I discover my why, and I realize that this job is not a good fit for me? What we tell people is, once you discover your why don’t make any sudden, rash decisions. Give it a couple weeks to settle in-

Karla Nelson:  Well look, it was two years for you at 5:00 in the morning.

David Mead:  That’s right.

Karla Nelson:  W hile you still did the director of training job.

David Mead:  Totally, totally. Again, it’s less about does the job function fit with your why, but how do you show up to that job function? What difference can you make?

Karla Nelson:  What’s the lens that you’re putting over it every day?

David Mead:  Yeah, exactly.

Karla Nelson:  That’s incredible. I love that, David. I wish we had all the time in the day here to keep on going, because I love this stuff. I wanted to thank you so much for being on the show, and then I have one quick, final question that I’d like to share with you, and you kind of hit on it in regards to this process, and this why process. I know you and Simon have co-authored a book, “Find Your Why.” So, can you share with our listeners a little bit about that, and where they can get the book?

David Mead:  Sure. So Simon, and I, and one other team member of ours, Peter, wrote that book, it came out in September of 2017. Basically, where that came from is Simon wrote the book “Start With Why” back in 2009, right around the time the TED talk came out. It goes into a lot of detail, and examples, and stories of companies and people who are starting with why. The biggest complaint that we got from that book for years, and years, and years was like, great I understand the concept but I don’t know how to do it. So, for the last few years we have been running workshops of how to find your why as an individual, and how to find and articulate your why as a team, or an organization. So, essentially, this new book “Find Your Why” is our step-by-step process of those workshops, and we’ve just written it down so that anybody can have it.

Karla Nelson:  Awesome. So, that’s exactly why you got the how guide to Simon’s why.

David Mead:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  That’s a great title. I love it. Well, David, thank you again so much for joining us today on the People Catalyst Podcast.

David Mead:  You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for having me.

Links mentioned

About David Mead

David is committed to a world in which the vast majority of people wake up inspired to go to work, feel safe while they’re there and go home at the end of the day fulfilled by the work they do. Today, he’s here to share a few simple ideas that are helping to make that world a reality.

In 2004, he started a career in corporate training. A few years later, while earning an MBA with a focus in Organizational Development, he realized something. What he, and so many other people, were being taught in business school was contributing to the poor leadership he had been enduring for much of his career. In 2009, shortly after beginning his MBA studies, he met, and was inspired by Simon Sinek and his concept of the Golden Circle and was invited to join Simon’s team. He started by developing content to help Simon share his powerful ideas and in 2012 he began speaking and facilitating workshops to help shift people’s perceptions about leadership and culture.

David has taken his years of practical experience and co-authored with Simon Sinek and Peter Docker, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, a step-by-step guide on how to discover your WHY, published September 2017. David is globally recognized as the “How” guy to Simon’s “Why.” David has presented these simple, inspiring ideas on 5 continents to over 150 organizations in a wide range of industries such as athletics, technology, retail, healthcare, finance, government and hospitality.

Regardless of the organization’s size, industry or country, David finds that these ideas resonate with those who want to find meaning in what they do and are committed to creating a culture where people come before profit.