At our MeetUp in September, global thought-leader and best-selling author, Simon Sinek, shared his affecting insights on how we should all value the power of human connection in business. 

Simon Sinek and Richard Branson at Virgin StartUp's virtual MeetUp

Simon Sinek is the global thought-leader and best-selling author that profoundly changed the mindsets of entrepreneurs world-over when he told us all to 'start with the why' in his landmark TED Talk in 2009. 

Purpose matters. It is purpose over profit. Profit and success come second to service and delivering true value. 

And now, amidst the pandemic, he's making us all realise that crisis is the great revealer. But what has the coronavirus pandemic revealed about business? 

At our MeetUp in September, Simon's unfiltered, emotional responses taught us that the key to success in business lies in the power of human connection. 

Introduced to the virtual stage by Virgin StartUp Mentor and Rebel Book Club co-founder, Ben Keene, Simon said, "Crisis is the great revealer. There's a lot of good that comes from crisis - everything is laid bare." 

The businesses that are succeeding mid-pandemic are the businesses that are putting the customer front and centre of what they do. "The ones who've found it hard to pivot have put themselves at the centre of the equation - the ones who are successful have put the customer at the front." 

"In an instant, we can see who had strong cultures and who didn't. The businesses that are having a good time pivoting are thinking: 'what if we started our business today?' - instead of doing what they were doing, but online." 

It's that power of human connection. What the pandemic has revealed is customers aren't just faceless profit-creators, they're humans with lives, fears and needs that your business can serve. 

This extends to your business structures and company culture, Simon told us. He offered a stark reminder for founders crippling under the strain of the constant adaptability needed during the pandemic. We are all just human. 

Simon said, "One of the things we have to do is ask for help. One of the greatest mistakes entrepreneurs make early in their careers is if you're the lead of the company, you don't have to know all the answers or pretend you do." 

"I definitely made that mistake and learn that lesson the hard way - no one is smart enough to know all the answers. To include the team [and ask for their help] makes them feel like they're in control of their own future." 

The power of human connection extends from founders themselves, to their own employees. 

At the start of the pandemic, Simon tasked his team with bringing 15 ideas to the table in just 48 hours to determine how they could pivot the business in light of coronavirus. Sounds like a tall ask, but one that was rooted in human empathy and connection. 

"I said: 'this is about contribution, not competition.' By the time we got to the end, no one could take ownership of the ideas."

How Simon used language here was key: this wasn't a tough, independent task. This was collaboration based on understanding and empathy. The power of human connection. 

Profit comes second to serving your employees and customers. "You're doing it for the people with lives and fears. You're doing it for them. It is an act of service," Simon said. 

"If not you, then who? If not now, then when?" 

And for founders struggling under the strain of the pandemic, Simon had a powerful message to offer one of our funded founders, Tahlia Gray, who runs the inclusive hosiery startup, Sheer Chemistry. "I think that this idea of 'change the world' is overused in the startup space. Your ambition should be to profoundly and positively change the lives of the people who need what you have. 

"The world is inhuman - it's a big ball of rock. Bring it down a few thousand feet. Remind yourself of your customers' stories; you're doing it for them.'

At the end of the powerful interview, we had a surprise in store for Simon. As Richard Branson himself popped onto our screens, you could just see how human Simon was - a genuine moment of delight as he came face to face with his friend and fellow founder. 

Richard asked Simon what problem he would set out to solve if he was starting a new business today? His answer was timely and particularly touching for everyone watching. 

Simon Sinek would like to resolve how we all relate to each other. "We're living in a time when we're more judgemental, we're bad at listening, we think things are black and white, when, in reality, they're mostly grey. I think there are a lot of human skills that are missing. I would love to teach us all to be a little more human." 

Crisis is the great revealer. It's time for us to work on human connection, now, more than ever: throughout our businesses and our lives.

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