Why, the Optimism Bias, and Politics

In one of the better presentations I’ve seen (below), Simon Sinek discusses how great leaders inspire action. I’ve both recommended this talk and had it suggested to me many times because of how universal its core concept is. It’s a great way to think about building ideas and conveying them. It looks like this:
The Golden Circle: Why is at the core.
The Golden Circle: Why is at the core.
Starting outside with What presents the the idea or product and How discusses details of the workings. It’s often a little stale and isn’t differentiating. Beginning in the middle with a mission statement and building out from there is completely different. It addresses meaningfulness while defining both value and relevancy. It appeals to an emotional core. Then the How and What become the delivery mechanism for the Why. Once you’ve bought into the Why, you’re more apt to latch onto how to get there with the What. You want to the What.


This is why luxury brands can charge a premium. It’s why the iPod’s experience crushed every other MP3 player which tried to compete on specs alone. It’s also why you may be apt to own other Apple products like phones, tablets, or computers – because the promise of the elegant experience beats pure features. Or maybe they don’t speak to you and Google’s ecosystem does.  When American luxury cars became cookie cutter, they lost their Why right as some Japanese and German brands got theirs right.

Why plays a big role in who you’re likely to want for President. A candidate needs their Why to be something you latch onto. It has to be something you identify with. Essentially, your Why needs to match theirs so they’re complimentary – or it needs to become your Why. Anything else is a vision mismatch at its core. Who wouldn’t want to “Make America Great Again” unless you think we’re as awesome as we’ve ever been? If you think the political gears are broken, wouldn’t you hope “A Political Revolution is Coming”? Do I want my candidate “Reigniting the Promise for America”? If I think we need to be made great again, I just may. However, since I’m Jewish, I don’t know that “From Hope to Higher Ground” leads to my higher ground. I really want someone “Telling it Like it Is.”


Whys must match
Your candidate’s Why needs to match yours. Or you need to make it actually become you own Why.

Obviously those are simply slogans but they’re starting points for hats, t-shirts, and banners. The candidates fill in the rest of the Why around them. I’m writing this on MLK Day and, as Simon Sinek said above, “I have a dream” is the start to what it’s about. What’s the dream and vision? Tell me more. The grabber talks to your feelings now, the vision has to be of the future and you have to be able to see yourself in it. That ties to another of my favorite TED Talks: Tali Sharot and the Optimism Bias.

We’re wired to think we’re better than average in many respects. If you got married, did you think you’d get divorced? 40-50% of marriages in the US end in divorce. That’s not “them”, that’s you or someone you know. Politicians need to paint that better future and tie it to their ability to work for you in overcoming your hurdles or achieving your dreams. Those could be feelings of insecurity in your job, about terrorism, a lack of faith in the world, encroachment on your freedoms, someone taking money our of your wallet and giving it to the rich/poor, injustices which hold you down, and more. Or they could be uplifting and tie into your desire for the country to be strong, rich, and offer opportunity to all.

Your bias for viewing yourself more favorably is linked here. Not everyone can be above average in all respects. It’s not possible. Are you able to overcome bumps in the road because you know you’re better or are you going to blame it all on “them”?

What mental image did you just see? Was it of you or someone else?

You or them?

As a voter, here’s your challenge: Don’t bite on the slogan, envision the future you’d love to be in if your candidate wins, isn’t mauled by “them”, and succeeds beyond their wildest dreams. Put some realistic expectations in there of your place in it.

What’s your place in a great America?

What kind of revolution do you want?
What’s a reignited America look like and what’s it offer to whom?

Exactly what’s the higher ground you’re sitting on?

Nirvana or distopia?

Is it homogenous country? Diverse?
Does it share your religious beliefs? Does that matter?
Is the government paralyzed by factions? Is it run by only one party?
What’s the country’s economic outlook?
What’s the poverty and healthcare situation?
Are there more craters around the world?
Do we have walls around the country?

How do we stack up compared to other Western nations?

Figure out YOUR Why and shop it against the candidates’. Even movies don’t depict the future as a completely harmonious place. The only one I can think of is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – and even Bill and Ted had no clue how to get there. It’s always going to be a struggle. However, the vision of the future can’t be the struggle.

Here’s my outlook: I want someone working to get us someplace positive. I’ve voted on both sides of the line but I’m over voting against a vision of constant strife. The GOP vision of the last eight years has been about stopping and tearing down, not building. Things I don’t include in my vision of the future:

  • State-backed discrimination based on color, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I know plenty of people fitting into all of those buckets and many those in the smaller buckets have more to give society than those in the larger buckets.
  • An isolated America in a global economy. If we wall ourselves off – physically, digitally, economically, or socially – then we become the Russians of the Cold War era. We fall so far behind the rest of the world that we irrevocably doom ourselves to followers. That does not make America great.
  • A world where I go meet some friends for lunch and most of the restaurant is carrying. I don’t want a world that imposes such a level of threat on me that I live each day in fear of something which hasn’t happened to me in over 40 years. I don’t live in it now and feel that more weapons in public over time equates to more weapon usage in public.

Those shots hit far to the right of my Why target because they make the world a worse place. We can do better.


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