NJHEPS | New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability
New Jersey Higher Education
Partnership for Sustainability
 

Letter from Nicholas Smith-Sebasto, President; and Program Coordinator

08 Mar 2014 3:19 PM | Anonymous

In his critically acclaimed book and TED talk of the same title, Simon Sinek argued, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  He offered his observation in the context of what he describes as The Golden Circle, three concentric circles labeled WHY, HOW, and WHAT.  He emphasized, “when most organizations or people think, act or communicate they do so from the outside in, from WHAT to WHY.  And for good reason -- they go from clearest thing to the fuzziest thing.  We say WHAT we do, we sometimes say HOW we do it, but we rarely say WHY we do WHAT we do.”  He defined WHY as the “purpose, cause or belief” of an organization.  He clarified, “WHY does not come from looking ahead at what you want to achieve and figuring out an appropriate strategy to get there….It comes from looking in the completely opposite direction from where you are now.  Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention.”  He proposed, “inspired” organizations “communicate from the inside out.”  The idea is that by articulating WHY an organization does what it does, HOW it does it is easier to identify.  WHAT is the result that quantifies if it is successful in achieving its WHY.

More illuminating is his observation, “when an organization defines itself by WHAT it does, that’s all it will ever be able to do.”  Organizations “with a clear sense of WHY,” he argued, “don’t have to “convince” anyone of their value.”  To be authentic, according to Sinek, an organization, viz its members, must abide by a simple rule: “everything you say and everything you do you actually believe.”

So, what does this have to do with the NJHEPS you might be wondering?  I believe it strikes at the core of the partnership. Let’s examine two different models of communicating about the NJHEPS based on Sinek’s observations that illustrate my belief. 

Model 1:

We seek to transform the New Jersey higher education community to practice sustainability consistently and to contribute to the state’s, region’s, and world’s emerging understanding of sustainability through teaching, research, outreach, operations, and community life. (WHAT) (Current mission statement.)

We are an organization comprised of 16 junior colleges, 16 independent four-year colleges/universities, 2 public research universities, 9 state college/universities, and 4 Rabbinical/Theological Seminaries. (HOW – but weak)

Want to become a member?  Want to join us in our mission?

Model 2:

We believe, “Higher education institutions bear a profound moral responsibility to increase the awareness, knowledge, skills and values needed to create a just and sustainable future.” (WHY)

To achieve this moral responsibility, we’ve formed a partnership organization currently comprised of 16 junior colleges, 16 independent four-year colleges/universities, 2 public research universities, 9 state college/universities, and 4 Rabbinical/Theological Seminaries. (HOW)

Our mission is to transform the New Jersey higher education community to practice sustainability consistently and to contribute to the state’s, region’s, and world’s emerging understanding of sustainability through teaching, research, outreach, operations, and community life so that we may be a model for how to achieve our moral responsibility. (WHAT) (Current mission statement.)

Want to become a member?  Want to join us in our mission?

I think you’ll agree that Model 2 a more convincing endorsement for the NJHEPS.  Alas, it’s not that easy.  Sinek went on to identify a phenomenon he described as “split happens.”  His point was, “as the measurement of WHAT grows, the clarity of the WHY [must stay] closely aligned….The moment at which the clarity of WHY starts to go fuzzy is the split.”  This is critical because, “when people know WHY you do WHAT you do, they are willing to give you credit for everything that could serve as proof of WHY.  When they are unclear about your WHY, WHAT you do has no context.”

It is my opinion that the NJHEPS needs to recover its WHY.  It has gone “fuzzy.”  WHAT it has been doing is of unclear context.  I am absolutely convinced that it will do precisely that.  In fact, it has already started!  As a result of an invigorated WHY, in the very near future, you’ll receive information about several events that are being planned to help us achieve our moral responsibility.  Member institutions are invited to play prominent roles either in hosting or identifying additional events.

The late Frank Sinatra, referring to New York City, famously sang, “If I can make there, I’ll make it anywhere.” With all due respect to Mr. Sinatra, when it comes to sustainability, if the moral responsibility of higher education can be achieved in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, the state with more Superfund sites than any other state in the nation, the state with several top-rated institutions including the number one ranked institution, it can be achieved anywhere.  And the NJHEPS is precisely the organization to lead the way!

The New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability
     c/o Ramapo College of New Jersey - SSHS
505 Ramapo Valley Rd, Mahwah, NJ 07430
Phone:(201)684-7830 | Fax:(201)684-7932
Email - njheps@gmail.com

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Website last updated: August 14


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