How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Life gets busy. Has Start with Why been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
Start with Why is a book based on Simon Sinek’s first TEDx talk, which he gave in 2009. This is now the third most-watched TED talk of all time, with over 25 million views. Start with WHY explains how we can create a long-term business by continually focusing on WHY we created our business. Starting with WHY will help us overcome unstable markets and build loyal customers. We can then use our expertise to support our company’s WHY and build a highly successful business that fits our values.
Simon Sinek’s Perspective
Simon Sinek is a leadership expert who has identified clear patterns in the way companies and politicians excel over the long term. Sinek is an author and motivational speaker. He is now the author of five bestselling books, including Start with Why and The Infinite Game. He lectures on strategic communications at Columbia University.
Many people see him as a modern-day philosopher. His work looks at why some people or organizations can inspire others by successfully articulating their purpose or WHY behind their work.
Simon Sinek has been an advisor to Apple, GE and Nike, to name a few. He has founded two companies. He is also a contributor to publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and NPR.
Born in London to Polish-Jewish parents, he grew up in New York City. He now lives with his wife and four children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
StoryShot #1 – Begin with the End Result in Mind
The assumptions we make have a significant impact on our actions. If you look at the bigger picture and consider your end result when planning, you will get better results in the long-term. Sinek provides an example that compares American and Japanese car manufacturers. In American car factories, workers provide final alterations on doors using a rubber mallet. They have to do this as the doors are not engineered to fit each model perfectly. Japanese car manufacturers’ doors are engineered to fit perfectly from the start.
Sinek also uses this metaphor when talking about leadership. He describes two types of leaders:
- Those who manipulate circumstances to reach their end result.
- Those who have their end result and potential issues in mind from the beginning.
StoryShot #2 – Manipulating the Sticks Doesn’t Work
Sinek describes two ways to attract customers: inspiring the carrots or manipulating the sticks. Most business managers choose to manipulate the sticks. Here are some examples of the sticks:
- Peer pressure
When we look at the number of incentives offered to us as consumers (such as price drops, special short-term promotions, using fear as a trigger, peer pressure and aspirational messages), they all typically point to some form of manipulation. We are put under the stress of making a quick decision for the benefit of the vendor. This happens everywhere, be it a purchase, a vote or support.
Irrespective of which of these manipulations are being used, we must notice these solutions are short-term. So, despite short-term improvements, these approaches will only lead to repeated manipulations. If your business becomes heavily dependent on these manipulations, your long-term profitability will be affected.
StoryShot #3 – Work within The Golden Circle
Sinek introduces a new leadership model called The Golden Circle. He uses this model to explain how legendary leaders like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright brothers were able to inspire, rather than manipulate, to motivate people. It is the framework for the WHY. He uses three concentric circles to define business purpose. The innermost circle is the WHY. The middle circle is the HOW and the outermost circle is the WHAT. Let’s dive into them one by one:
A company must articulate why they do what they do. The WHY in The Golden Circle relates to the organization’s purpose and core belief. According to Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
You need to ask yourself these questions frequently:
- Why does your company exist?
- Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
- Why should anyone care?
The HOW of an organization is how they fulfill their WHY or their core belief. It’s the values, behaviors and principles that guide a company’s execution. The HOW convinces the customer how you are different or better than others. Other terms used for the HOW of a company are Differentiating Value Propositions or Unique Selling Points and benefits of your product or service.
The WHAT of an organization relates to the product or service that the organization provides. It’s the features and the bells and whistles that solve the customer’s problems.
Sinek provides Apple as an example of a company that effectively attracts loyal customers, employees and investors through a clear Golden Circle. WHY is at the core of Apple’s marketing and the driving force behind their business operations. Let’s consider what would happen if Apple had also started marketing backwards by starting with WHAT. This is what their marketing message would sound like:
“We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”
Compare that to what a real marketing message from Apple might actually sound like:
“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
Did you notice the difference?
StoryShot #4 – The Golden Circle has a Biological Basis
How the Golden Circle works maps perfectly with how our brain works.
The WHAT and the Neocortex
The WHAT corresponds to the outer section of the brain — the neocortex. The neocortex is responsible for rational and analytical thought and language. It helps us understand facts and figures, features and benefits. The neocortex is the newest part of the brain. It was roughly the same size two hundred thousand years ago as today. We are walking around with the same hardware as our Homo sapien ancestors.
The HOW, The WHY and the Limbic System
The HOW and WHY of The Golden Circle are both associated with the middle section of the brain: the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for all our behavior and decision-making. It’s also responsible for all our feelings, like trust and loyalty. But unlike the neocortex, the limbic system has no capacity for language. This is where “gut feelings” come from. It’s a feeling we get about a decision we have to make that’s hard to explain.
How Human Biology Relates to Business
To tap into the WHY of The Golden Circle, organizations must tap into humans’ innate drive to use their products or services as a symbol of their values and beliefs. Purchasing a product makes us feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We develop a tribe affiliation with similar buyers. As humans, we have a natural desire to belong. We aim to find other people and products that share the same WHY and core beliefs. This is where organizations want to start.
While it is beneficial to start by defining the WHY, most organizations focus on the WHAT and HOW. They start with these parts of the Golden Circle, as customers will ask for them. Customers want products of high quality, at a low price, and available 24/7.
Adopting this focus is not tapping into the part of the brain most important for developing long-term loyal customers. Although customers want products with specific features, the WHY urge is more potent than the WHAT urge.
StoryShot #5 – Work with People Who Believe in Your WHY
Sinek points out that rational measurements only give us a level of confidence that we can describe as, “I think this is the right decision.” Similarly, if we make gut decisions, we can only say the decision seems right and cannot claim it holds up to facts or figures. But, if you can put the WHY into words, you can provide an emotional context for decisions. With the WHY’s approach, your highest degree of confidence is, “I know it is right.” Knowing a decision is correct will also help you better rationalize the decision.
So, Sinek believes organizations should focus on working with people who believe in what they believe. But businesses mainly do business with anyone who wants what they offer these days.
StoryShot #6 – You Can Use The Golden Circle to Build Trust
Sinek highlights that the best way to build trust is to align your organization’s WHY, HOW and WHAT. If an organization solely focuses on their WHAT, they will struggle to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Instead, the WHY inspires consumers. Once a company has perfected its WHY, it can display greater flexibility on the market. For example, there is a reason Apple is more successful than Dell. Apple is defined by its WHY. So, they can create computers, earphones, iPads and iPhones. They can create a variety of products as long as they align with their WHY model. Dell decided to define themselves by their WHAT. As a result, Dell only creates computers as consumers only have confidence in Dell’s ability to create computers. When Dell attempted to expand into different electrical markets, it failed.
Another benefit of adopting a WHY approach to your organization is that it helps you create a genuine first-mover advantage. Although the company called Creative created an MP3 player before Apple, their marketing strategy focused on their WHAT. Later, Apple released its MP3 player and marketed it as a WHY: “1000 songs in your pocket.” As a result, Apple could take better advantage of the first-mover advantage in the MP3 player market.
Finally, the WHY part of the Golden Circle is also integral to effective recruitment. Employees will perform better individually and collectively if they hold similar core values. Sinek also claims that hiring people who align with your organization’s WHY means they will seek innovations. Great companies do not hire skilled people and motivate them; they hire already motivated people and inspire them. Companies with a strong sense of WHY can inspire their employees. Such employees are more productive and innovative, and the feeling they bring to work attracts other people eager to work there.
StoryShot #7 – An Effective WHY Will Help You Achieve Mass-Market Success
Sinek discusses The Law of Diffusion of Innovations, which relates to product adoption among consumers.
Professor Everett M. Rogers first introduced The Law of Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. It is a bell curve that illustrates the five main adopter categories for new products or ideas.
The curve outlines the percentage of the market who adopts your product, beginning with the Innovators (2.5%) on the far left, followed by Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%), and Laggards (16%) on the far right of the curve.
Early Adopters are opinion leaders, people who are well-educated and have ample free time to try out new ideas. They are often found in the upper-middle-class bracket with high disposable income. Sinek describes Early Adopters as the people who queue for hours outside the Apple stores to buy the latest Apple product.
The Early Majority comprises many people who are also relatively well-educated with success in their careers or business. They usually adopt innovations after the Early Adopters, but before the Late Majority, mainly because they want to avoid being left out due to their insufficient knowledge about the innovation, and fear that others will see them as outdated.
The Late Majority is composed mainly of traditionalists i.e. people who tend to be passive followers.
Sinek also explains that although the far right of the curve (Laggards) consists of 16%, it is not worth wasting your time convincing them. These individuals are generally never content and are not loyal consumers. They do not invest in your company’s WHY.
The most prominent consumers are the early or late majority, with 68% of consumers.
According to Sinek, an effective WHY will help you gain many more Innovators and Early Adopters. Once these people are on board, the rest of the bell curve will usually follow. If you achieve a tipping point between 15 and 18 percent market penetration, the system tips and you will gain mass-market adoption.
StoryShot #8 – Start With WHY Like Bill Gates But Know HOW Like Steve Ballmer
Any worker or individual can have the energy to motivate people, as it is a tool easy to copy. But, the most important thing to becoming a great leader is to be charismatic. Charisma is a skill that inspires people around you. This charisma is tied to a leader’s WHY. These leaders believe in a greater purpose than themselves when considering their organization.
Sinek provides an example of two leaders to describe the difference between energy and charisma. Steve Ballmer was an energetic leader. He would energize people when he spoke, but this energy would only be short-term. In contrast, Bill Gates is slightly shy and awkward, but he has charisma. Although Bill Gates does not speak with energy and confidence, an audience will always be excited by the next word to come out of his mouth. Charisma is what demands loyalty.
Although it is crucial to have a WHY leader in your organization, people like Steve Ballmer are still hugely important. The HOW leaders are the people who bring the WHY leaders’ ideas to life. WHY types have wild imaginations that allow them to think about the future and innovative ideas. HOW types are practically oriented and realistic. So, HOW types are better at dealing with things in the present and near future, and better at developing the WHY leaders’ ideas.
Sinek explains that HOW leaders can be successful. But they are rarely the ones who will become billionaires by creating products that change the world. Although the WHY has a higher potential, the WHY still needs a HOW behind them to become successful. This is not the case for HOW leaders. A HOW leader can be successful without a WHY leader.
StoryShot #9 – Maintain the Organization’s Message
When a company is small, the founder heavily influences its image. The founder will have substantial direct contact with their consumers. But as the company grows, the leader’s role changes. They will no longer be the most vocal part of the organization. Instead, they will become the source of the organization’s message.
At any point in an organization’s growth, maintaining its message is crucial. This is how an organization can genuinely differentiate itself from competitors. It is also how an organization can communicate its true value to consumers and investors. Sometimes it can be challenging to articulate the organization’s message in words. So, as leaders, we must learn how to create tangible things through metaphors, imagery and analogies. This is what a company’s marketing strategy should focus on: utilizing symbols to show the world the company’s message.
StoryShot #10 – Develop a Culture Around Your Brand Through Symbolic Communication
Sinek goes on to explain the value of symbolic communication. Symbols only have meaning to consumers if we provide them with the meaning. Otherwise, they are nothing more than a logo. For example, many people buy designer products for the symbol associated with the logo, rather than the product’s quality.
Another example is Harley Davidson, the motorcycle company. Over the years, Harley Davidson has developed a brand surrounding its logo. As a result, they have developed a strong group mentality among the people who wear their logo with pride. These people generally share similar values and lifestyles to others who also wear the Harley Davidson logo. This community is called The Harley Owners Group (H.O.G. or HOG). The HOG is “the grandaddy of all community-building efforts,” serving to promote not just a consumer product, but a lifestyle. Through the HOGs, the riders’ WHYs truly align with the company. Their values align so much that many get tattoos to show their allegiance. Once a company reaches this stage, its logo is no longer about the company. Instead, the logo is tied to a much broader set of values that aligns with its overarching values. Such a company can now attract customers through the logo’s culture, rather than merely for their products.
StoryShot #11 – Don’t Lose Sight of Your Original WHY
Some companies start with WHY as their focus but then lose sight of this original WHY. Sinek provides Volkswagen and Walmart as examples of companies that have done this. Volkswagen translates from German as “Car of the People” and has always been associated with reliability and affordability for everyone.But, Volkswagen has recently attempted to release new lines that aren’t in alignment with this WHY. For example, the VW Phaeton was priced at $70,000. Volkswagen had let their WHY go fuzzy, and this car was a failure.
Similarly, Walmart was initially founded to help people from lower-income families by providing inexpensive products. This was the WHY adopted by their founder, Sam Walton. But, after Sam passed away, the company started to forget about these previously engaged communities. Instead, they became a business well-known for focusing purely on profit. This focus came at the expense of their suppliers, employees, and communities. Walmart struggled financially during this time, and they lost sight of the initial WHY introduced by Sam Walton.
Based on these examples, Sinek suggests we must focus on maintaining our WHY. The hardest part of maintaining a business long-term is ensuring your company’s WHY is maintained despite outside pressures and advice.
StoryShot #12 – Fuel Your HOW So Your WHY Can Prosper
Passion fuels ideas in the early days. But to thrive and survive, passion also needs structures and HOWs. Most organizations fail because both HOWs and WHYs need each other. Without structure and efficiency, the WHY of your organization will not carry your organization to success. So, embrace the passion and ideas associated with a WHY approach but ensure these WHYs are underpinned by HOWs.
StoryShot #13 – Don’t Base Your WHY on Market Research
Generic business advice suggests that market research is critical. For example, many people will encourage you to know your customer and then build your niche. Sinek disagrees with this approach. Instead, he believes your organization’s WHY should not come from looking ahead to what you want to achieve, and then working out how to get there. Instead, the WHY of your company is already in you. WHY is about discovery and invention, and should not be based on what you think will sell best.
StoryShot #14 – Only Compete with Yourself
Instead of competing against your competitors, you should be aiming to compete against yourself. No one wants to help you when you are up against the world. Business is often based on creating better quality, more features and a better service than similar companies. That being said, if we always compare ourselves to other people, we will lose opportunities for collaboration. We are making our company about somebody else.
Instead, we should try to improve ourselves daily so that we can improve the organization. This approach will start tempting other companies and individuals into collaborations.
Final Summary and Review of Start With Why
Start With WHY highlights why certain companies can be successful irrespective of which business area they move into. Apple can succeed within almost any industry because they are more than a company. Building the company on a WHY rather than a WHAT has allowed Apple to build a culture around them, which means many loyal customers will buy whatever they release. Consumers trust that they will create a product they’ll enjoy because their WHY aligns with Apple’s. So, if you want to have success in your business pursuits, you should start with why.
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
Start With WHY Quotes:
“The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” – Simon Sinek
“Instead of asking, “WHAT should we do to compete?” the questions must be asked, “WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life considering all the technologies and market opportunities available today?” – Simon Sinek
“Put bluntly, the struggle that so many companies have to differentiate or communicate their true value to the outside world is not a business problem, it’s a biology problem. And just like a person struggling to put her emotions into words, we rely on metaphors, imagery and analogies in an attempt to communicate how we feel. Absent the proper language to share our deep emotions, our purpose, cause or belief, we tell stories. We use symbols. We create tangible things for those who believe what we believe to point to and say, “That’s why I’m inspired.” If done properly, that’s what marketing, branding and products and services become; a way for organizations to communicate to the outside world. Communicate clearly and you shall be understood.” – Simon Sinek
“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.” – Simon Sinek
“There’s barely a product or service on the market today that customers can’t buy from someone else for about the same price, about the same quality, about the same level of service and about the same features. If you truly have a first-mover’s advantage, it’s probably lost in a matter of months. If you offer something truly novel, someone else will soon come up with something similar and maybe even better. But if you ask most businesses why their customers are their customers, most will tell you it’s due to superior quality, features, price or service. In other words, most companies have no clue why their customers are their customers. This is a fascinating realization.” – Simon Sinek
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