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.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free on Amazon to learn the juicy details.
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.
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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I think we should spare some minutes to each day to focus on our why!
We couldn’t agree more. Thanks for your comment!
Definitely. Thanks for your comment!
Very good materials
We’re glad to read that StoryShots is useful to you, Leonard. Thanks for your comment!