Start With Who

Simon Sinek is by far one of the greatest thought leaders of our time. Almost religiously and on numerous occasions, I’ve implemented his “start with why” model and received positive results in doing so. When introduced, it challenged new and existing businesses to think differently, and pull on the emotions of consumers rather than their purse strings. It offered us the challenge of inventing a new way of thinking; outside of the box and with creative tact. Since the release of his now viral TED talk, we continue to see praise for the Sinek model, and it has been a for certain positive addition to education curriculums far and wide. While I believe myself to be a dedicated ambassador to the start with why model, I’d like to propose the addition of an extra layer: The Who.

(As drawn on my phone notepad while on the airplane)

The “Who”, is not lost on the Sinek model when we seek to capture our intended audiences attention, but let’s talk about the who behind the whole operation and dig a level deeper to better understand the motives & values of any leader/creator.

Finding the Wizard of Oz

Let’s talk politics. The political sphere today has been exposed as ripe for disruption (in near every single way). We’re witnessing a change in voter narratives, where expectations have become centered around charisma and likability scores and away from party platform commitments and promises. The successful political leaders today pose the greatest knack for resonating with the people.

Trump, “spoke to the people”, making people feel “like it’s my best friend talking to me”, and with this won the votes by virtually saying nothing at all. Trudeau has excellent hair, can pull off one hell of a “plank” and as of recently has gotten some serious points for his impeccable derrière. We have seemingly strayed away from reading the fine lines of policy, and cuddled up closely to the candidate that serves us with the simplest reflection of ourselves. We are given an unlimited range of choice in our everyday lives, and Trump’s win speaks volumes of how this unlimited choice might actually be the opposite of what people want. We want a person that speaks to our values and follows a story narrative that we can envision ourselves starring as the hero. We want human.

When thinking of the products that we buy, or the people and places that we invest our time and money, how often are we able to recall the characteristics or story of the human that sits behind the curtains, at the very foundation? More and more today, we do see younger generations paying attention to this, and that is important for the world. However, we still have plenty of room to grow. In the same way that we emotionally invest in our politicians, we need not to sit complacent when it comes to understanding the human values of brands, organizations or networks we choose to buy into. We must better educate ourselves on the “Who”.

There is the ability for massive impact on the world when we choose to rationally frame our decisions around the values of the creators and all too often we turn a blind eye on this opportunity. By focusing on the people behind the curtains, we understand how their personal stories align into the “Why”.

Why the “start with who” model is of the utmost importance today:
 We’re living through a time that movie directors never dreamed would actually become reality. Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning are leading the forefront of innovation today. The potential is pretty well limitless, and it will be up to human interference to dictate the results and how this will impact the world. Currently, the AI environment poses many questions that have yet to be answered, and we are actively investing R & D to find these answers for further exploration. Presumably, if we continue to keep the AI environment controlled as it is today, the positives should continue to outweigh the potential negatives. This is precisely why we need to think of how this changing landscape impacts every area of our lives and the lives of future generations.

We’ve been through this before, and we’ve witnessed a generation blanketed in fear when the first computer was introduced, and John F. Kennedy only perpetuated the fear by citing the biggest domestic barrier of the 1960’s would be to “maintain full employment at a time when machine automation is…replacing men”-the Economist Guess what? We survived. And we survived because as Darwin once suggested, we learn to adapt to our rapidly changing landscapes: as it becomes a matter of survival.

Back in 2013, economists at Oxford University’s Martin School estimated that in the next 20 years, more than half of all jobs would be substituted by intelligent technology.

…And that’s okay. If executed correctly, we stand to receive massive benefits from this technological revolution in that it may afford us with much more flexibility to be both progressive and creative in our daily jobs.

We live in a world where it has become almost ubiquitous that children own a smart device of some type. It’s rare, at least largely in the Western world, to see a child out in public without their device. It’s fascinating the pace in which children today adopt technology, and develop dependency at an early age. While this is productive and progressive in preparing our children to being skilled in the jobs that the current tech-centric market demands, it’s equally as important to find the balance of educating them with basic human skills. This brings about the often-overlooked importance of integrating philosophy and ethics into the classroom more regularly, and early on.

We must invest in educating a population of people that can think differently, think for themselves and allow these skills to be the differentiating factors between AI capabilities & human capabilities.

“The teaching of philosophy,” he said in November, “is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected, and uncertain world.” Philosophy in the classroom, he emphasized, offers a “path to a humanistic and vibrant democratic culture”

We need to begin shifting our focus to the soft skills, alongside the hard skills because the soft skills are the ones not so easily replaced. And we need not only to depend on these skills, we need to invest in educating people on how they’re to be applied in the everyday world (Plug: A great example of an organization leading this type of education:

“Real because even if you’ve got the vocational skills, you’re no help to us without these human skills, the things that we can’t write down, or program a computer to do. Real skills can’t replace vocational skills, of course not. What they can do is amplify the things you’ve already been measuring.”-Seth Godin

While it may seem so, the purpose of this piece is not to paint a picture of impending doom for the world of AI, but rather to encourage a generation made up of responsibility for the future, and not anxiety. In order to do this, we need to ensure the soft skills category includes the emotional teachings of such things as human compassion, empathy and a genuine regard for human existence and ability. When we invest in organizations and networks, often time we don’t place any consideration into acquiring a deeper understanding of the humans who built the foundations and what values upon. How many times have you been introduced in a room, as your name, and your title at the organization you work with? We forget to forge strong relationships with people, because somewhere along the way that importance was lost in a world of content overload and instant gratification. 
 Upon a recent visit to Morocco, it became very clear to me that when you remove the constant bombards of technology, you witness a rosier picture of humans. A picture painted with humans respecting other humans, regardless of their upbringings, religion, sexuality, political stance etc. My new friend, Abdullah, put it simply. Upon passing 4 young school children walking down the long stretching highway to school; “In our world, this is regarded as completely normal, because at the end of the day, their children are our children and we inherently know to look out for them”, he further stated his confusion when learning of children in the western world and the current bubble wrap generation we bring them into. Focus first on people, not things.

Arguably, all that many of us have afforded ourselves are “things”. Where many people in the world have much less financially speaking, ultimately they possess much more wealth in the things that matter: people and relationships. Starting with “Who” allows you to expand your network of people and become the richest person on earth in the correct sense of the word. It’s up for debate on what nations will thrive in coming years, but surely there will be something to be said about the “tech laggard” countries and how they might just emerge on top by way of their consistent focus on human relationships and the soft skills to support that.

“It is theorized that intelligence of humans can be described and intelligent machines or software can simulate it. These machines or software can reason, plan, learn, perceive and process information like human mind and thus facilitate human life.”

Now, pair this with the activities outside of work that make us unique in the world, and you begin to see why humans aren’t all that easily replaceable. For example, an experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and the emotions that are evoked from that type of experience are extremely personable, and not soon to be duplicated. Because our jobs aren’t actually what define us; our passions, our values and our everyday pursuits do.

“Yet humanists argue that mindless automation will continue to get more powerful, and more pervasive, but fundamentally the world remains ours to create.” The Atlantic

And create, we will. We may actually be afforded the greater challenge of thinking more ingeniously than ever before, and as AI advances, it may allow us to excel in these pursuits.

“The jobs that are least vulnerable to automation tend to be held by women” –The Atlantic

And, the reason behind this primarily being that the jobs women dominate are the ones that require high EQ’s, something that is unique to the individual and challenged to respond to unstructured, chaotic environments (ones that cannot be easily programmed). So while a robot is highly intelligent, you stand to do yourself a favor by expanding your skill set, both soft and hard, giving yourself indispensable status.

“What they hold in common is a firm belief that “artificial intelligence” is a misnomer — real intelligence comes from human minds — and a conviction that a fascination with computer intelligence tends to diminish and even imperil human intelligence.”- The Atlantic

With technology production moving at speeds in which none of us could have predicted, we also see a shift in how once highly sought after jobs like developers, become a commodity, and placed amongst the blue collar ranks. “Automation is now “blind to the colour of your collar”, declares Jerry Kaplan.

This is one opinion, that falls under the coined “lump of labour” fallacy, whereby the assumption is made that if automation and AI dominates the working class, then the need for these people may be deemed inadequate.
 “The assumption that the quantity of labor required in an overall economy is fixed. This assumption in often regarded as fallacious, as the consensus view amongst economists today is that the quantity of labor demanded varies with respect to many factors. Foremost, these economists argue, employment of labor can expand the overall size of the economy, leading to further job creation. Reducing the amount of labor employed would decrease overall economic activity and thus further decrease the demand for labor.”

It is to our greatest benefit to find common ground between those believing in human existence and their impending doom and those who believe this to be fallacious. A marriage between the perspectives held by humanists, and the creators of AI, means the creation of newly defined roles that support the technological advancements while continuing to nurture human ability and the skills that are inherently engrained. We may then begin to envision the realm of possibility for working alongside Siri and the like.
 “rather than destroying jobs, automation redefines them, and in ways that reduce costs and boost demand” — automation sped up one aspect of a job, enabling workers to do the other parts better. ”-The Economist
Through focusing more of our efforts on finding the healthy balance in how we educate ourselves, and generation to come, we adapt- we’ve continually adapted to disruptive technology, and we’ll continue to do so, as long as we remember the importance of human intelligence.

So while I value the great ingenuity that comes with AI & Machine Learning, I value human empathy and the beautiful complexity of emotions that cannot be replaced. I value a world that focuses on human relationships, with and without technology to facilitate. And, I welcome this new wave of innovation with an open-mind, and a readiness to educate myself on how it can be leveraged to build a better world.


Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television.” 
 ― Aldo Leopold

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