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President: Start with why to achieve your potential

Muyiwa Oki

His mother’s advice directs Muyiwa Oki to the right starting point to build confidence in your values, and so succeed in your aims

Start with why, says Simon Sinek.
Start with why, says Simon Sinek. Credit: Istock | Chavapong Prateep Na Thalang

Over the last few months as the RIBA president, representing the profession at formal events, engaging with the media, and meeting politicians and decision makers, I’ve met three key questions: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? How will you deliver on your priorities? And why did you decide to do this thing, the RIBA presidency?

These questions, though seemingly casual, have prompted me to reflect on how I got here and how I will use this important platform to deliver the meaningful change we need in our profession. I look to those who have inspired me and ask myself: what are the essential ingredients that will ensure our collective progress and success?

Two heads

Among all the valued advice from kind-hearted and experienced people, my mother’s words still echo: ‘Do they have two heads?’, she asked.

For me this contains a powerful message. In moments of self-doubt, it reminds me that those forging meaningful change don’t possess some supernatural advantage. This isn’t about having two heads – it’s about having confidence in ones’ mission and values. If we are to achieve our potential, every architect must operate with this kind of self-assuredness and resilience.


Architecture shapes communities and influences lives, so it essential that it is driven by our deepest hopes and values

The first question is ‘why’

In his popular Ted Talk, author Simon Sinek shows his audience why they need to ‘Start with Why’ – a concept that goes beyond selling widgets to eager consumers. Although initially sceptical, I’ve found that asking why we are undertaking a project or activity is a crucial step that is often missed before the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. In a world where work often feels routine, taking the time to understand the why of each day, project or programme becomes crucial. This introspection, aligning our actions with a deeper purpose, can be key to unlocking our creativity and satisfaction and, ultimately, producing better work.

Understanding why we do what we do is key to our individual and collective success. If, as architects, we are motivated by a shared purpose, we will be more productive together – and more fulfilled in our personal professional journeys.

From consumers to citizens

A shift in perspective is needed, from a culture that defines individuals as consumers to one that embraces our roles as citizens. In his book ‘Citizens’, former advertising executive Jon Alexander highlights the need to move beyond a narrow focus on consumption and recognise our roles as contributors to a societal framework.

This shift in mindset towards collective action and shared responsibility aligns with my commitment for the RIBA to be a guide for the profession’s development and its social impact.

Finding the why behind our work as architects is not just a philosophical issue, but a practical necessity for success. As architects, what we do extends beyond the built environment; it shapes communities and influences lives, so it essential that it is driven by our deepest hopes and values.

By embracing wisdom, working with purpose and determination, and adopting a citizen-centric mindset, we can collectively propel architecture towards a future defined by impact, purpose, and economic success.