My new friend Ashleigh, a branding/experience/design guru, recently shared a concept with me. She told me about the golden circle theory from Simon Sinek. He says: "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." Sinek cites Apple as a prime example of the golden circle way of thinking. I'm pretty fond of the little California design company as well. If you've run out of Ambian and read this blog as a substitute before, then you'll know I frequently draw on Apple as a source for inspiration in healthcare innovation.

This isn't a tech blog so I'm not really interested in how many thunderwire ports the new iWidget has and why google's robophone is superior because it has 1.21 gigawatts of magic dust inside. Sinek takes the same approach, focusing on the culture of Apple (and others like the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr). Sinek says most of us, and most companies, think from the outside in. We think about what we do, then how we do it and finally, maybe we get to why we do it. In the video, Sinek argues innovators like Apple reverse the process, they think about why they do what they do and move outward towards what it is that they do.

Sinek says Apple first says 'we exist to think different, to make things better, we are a design company who happens to make easy to use computers.' As consumers we identify first with their core beliefs and secondly with their products. We think 'I like to think outside of the box too!' Apple could innovate, design and produce running shoes and they would probably be equally regarded as innovators in that space. It is not what they do, but how they do it. (I'm practicing, Sinek repeats that line over and over, its and effective technique.) He counters with Dell's attempt at making an MP3 player to compete with the iPod. Consumers reacted by asking ' why would I buy an MP3 player from a computer company?'

An un-named Wall Street analyst quipped General Motors is a "hospital that makes cars on the side." While that quote is clearly drawing attention to the employee benefit structure GM has cited as a source of financial hardship, it is nonetheless poignant. Could anyone say the same thing about a hospital or other provider - that they are something else first and care givers on the side?

I optimistically think most hospitals and providers really are in the business of caring for patients. Find me a provider who doesn't list patient services as the largest source of revenue. A senior hospital executive once told me he liked working in healthcare because you can run a cafeteria one day, be an architect the next and work with doctors on the third day. While I think that kind of diversity excites a lot of people (myself included), those are all things we do, not reasons to do them. I believe most hospitals and providers really have the core beliefe they exist to care for people, to make them well and bring them comfort. So why are we so bad at expressing that as an industry?

I've written about "healthcare highway" before. A stretch of road which had billboards for every major provider in the area. Dan Dunlop regularly posts examples of hospital ads on his great blog. All of these, the print ads, healthcare highway, all talk about what the providers do. Some have the best cyberknife for brain tumor treatment. Others boast their rankings and awards. Others are the fastest. Almost none talk about why they do what they do. There is biology at work too; we can understand the sign that says "top 50 hospital", but we don't have an emotional reaction.

The message to consumers, Sinek says, is filtered through our biology. We are programed to understand the complex ideas and statistics these "what we do" ads throw at us. However, none of them go past our brain's basic stage of reading the words and understanding them. When companies and individuals talk about why they do something we register it differently. It is what we call a "gut reaction." We resonate with beliefs because, for many of us, we believe the same thing.

As always, I'm not sure what the solution is. There are plenty of ads for providers which talk about how much they care. I'm not sure that is the same thing in Sinek's world as talking about what they believe, what drives them to care. Sinek does give credence to the importance of the message in who you hire and how they ultimately help drive those beliefs. That resonates with me.

What do you think? Do you have any examples of healthcare providers who speak and work from the outside in? Are there hospitals who first say "we exist to change the patient experience, and we happen to heal people in the process?" Is the opposite happening? Are consumer's looking at ads featuring healthcare technology and asking 'why would I get care from a technology company?'