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 talk is now the 3rd 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 company that fits our values.
About Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek is a leadership expert who has identified clear patterns in the way companies and politicians excel over the long term. Sinek is a British-born American author and motivational speaker. He is now the author of five books and lectures at Columbia University.
Chapter 1 – Start with the End Result in Mind
The assumptions we make have a significant impact on our actions. Looking at the bigger picture and considering your end result when planning will lead to better long-term results. 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 leader:
- Those who manipulate circumstances to reach their end result.
- Those who have their end result and potential issues in mind from the beginning.
“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
Chapter 2 – Carrots and Sticks
Sinek describes two ways that you can 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 different incentives offered to us as consumers (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 a cycle of repeated manipulations. If your business becomes heavily reliant on these manipulations, your business’ long-term profitability will be impacted.
Chapter 3 – The Golden Circle
“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
In Start with Why, Sinek introduces a new concept called The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is formed of three parts: ‘Why,’ ‘How’ and ‘What.’
A company must articulate why they do what they do. Despite this, they often struggle to do so. The Why in The Golden Circle relates to your purpose. So, it has nothing to do with running a profitable company (the What). 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 a company relates to the approaches a company adopts. Other terms used for the How of a company are the differentiating value proposition or a unique selling point. The How of The Golden Circle outlines how you are different or better than other companies.
The What of a company relates to the product that a company provides. This can be a specific item or a service. The What of a company is the outer layer of the circle. Sinek explains that this concept goes from the inside out. So, you should first consider the Why. The Why will help give customers a reason to buy. Then, the How will help convince the customers that your version of this product is the best. Finally, the What provides proof of the belief that this customer wants to purchase from you.
Sinek provides Apple as an example of a company that effectively gains and keeps customers through a clear Golden Circle. Firstly, Apple provides a strong and clear ‘Why’: challenge the status quo and empower the individual. This ‘Why’ is repeated in all they say and do, plus in their products. This clear message helps Apple to beat its competitors.
Chapter 4 – The Biological Basis of the Golden Circle
“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
Humans have a natural desire to belong. So, humans aim to find other people and products that share the same Why.
The What and the Neocortex
Sinek outlines that the What level is directly related to our neocortex. The neocortex is a brain area specialized for rational and analytical thought and language. That said, the neocortex does not drive behavior. Instead, it merely allows us to consider vast amounts of data.
The How, Why and the Limbic Brain
The How and Why of The Golden Circle are both associated with the limbic brain. The limbic brain is specialized for feelings like trust and loyalty. Subsequently, this area of the brain is responsible for all human behavior and decision-making.
How Human Biology Relates to Business
To tap into the ‘Why’ of The Golden Circle, organizations must tap into humans’ innate drive to utilize their products 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. This is where organizations want to start.
Despite the benefits of starting by developing a Why, most organizations start with the Whats and Hows. They start with these parts of the Golden Circle as customers will be asking for these parts. Customers want products that are 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 customers. Although customers state they want products with specific features, the Why urge (neocortex) is more powerful than the What urge (limbic brain).
Chapter 5 – The Three Degrees of Certainty
Sinek points out that rational measurements only give us a level of confidence that can be described as, “I think this is the right decision.” Similarly, if we make gut decisions, we can only say the decision seems right and cannot make any claims about facts or figures. But, if you can put the Why into words, you can provide an emotional context for decisions. With the Why’# approach, your highest degree of confidence is, “I know it is right.” Knowing a decision is correct will also help you better rationalize this decision.
So, Sinek states that businesses should focus on working with and doing business with people who believe in similar things. Currently, businesses mainly do business with anyone who wants what they offer.
Chapter 6 – Building Trust Through The Golden Circle
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, consumers are inspired by the Why. Once a company has perfected its Why, it can display a greater degree of 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. Subsequently, 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 Creative created an MP3 player before Apple, their marketing strategy was focused on their What. Apple released its MP3 player later and marketed it as a Why: “1000 songs in your pocket.” Subsequently, Apple was able to 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.
“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
Chapter 7 – How a Tipping Point Tips
“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
Sinek discusses a theory previously proposed by Everett M. Rogers. The Law of Diffusion of Innovations is an example of a bell curve, as you can see from the photo above. It relates to product adoption among consumers. As shown, only 2.5% of consumers who adopt your product are innovators. The most prominent consumers are those who are either the early or late majority, consisting of a total of 68% of consumers.
Sinek describes the early adopters as the people who queued for hours outside the Apple store to buy the latest Apple product. Sinek also explains that although the far right of the curve 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 purpose of Sinek placing this theory in this book is that 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 follow.
Chapter 8 – Start With Why But Know How
Any worker or individual can have the energy to motivate people, as it is a tool that is 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 have a belief in a greater purpose than themselves when they are 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 comparison, 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 will have fantastic 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’ leader’s ideas.
Sinek explains that How leaders can be successful. That said, they are rarely the individuals who will become billionaires that create products that change the world. Although the Why has a higher ceiling of potential, a 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.
Chapter 9 – Know Why. Know How. Then What?
When a company is small, the founder heavily influences its image. The founder will have a substantial amount of direct contact with their consumers. That said, as the company grows, the leader’s role changes. They will no longer be the most vocal part of the organization. They will instead become the source of the organization’s message.
Maintaining the organization’s message is as essential deep into business growth as it was at the start. 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.
Chapter 10 – Develop Symbolic Communication
Sinek further establishes the importance of symbolic communication. That said, symbols only have meaning to consumers if we provide them with meaning. So, a logo will only become a symbol when people can identify with this symbol and the other people who also proudly wear it. For example, many people buy designer products for the symbol associated with the logo rather than the product’s quality.
Sinek provides the example of Harley Davidson, the motorcycle company. Over the years, Harley Davidson has developed a brand surrounding its logo. Subsequently, 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. Through the HOGS (the owner groups), the riders’ Whys truly align with the company. Their values align so much that many choose permanent body art to show their allegiance. Once a company reaches this stage, its logo is no longer about Harley Davidson. Instead, the logo is tied to a much broader value set that aligns with its overarching values. Once a company reaches this stage, they can gain customers through the logo’s culture rather than merely for their products.
Chapter 11 – When Why Goes Fuzzy
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 keeping with this Why. For example, the VW Phaeton was priced at $70,000. Volkswagen had let their Why go fuzzy, and subsequently, 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 that your company’s Why is maintained despite outside pressures and advice.
Chapter 12 – Fuel Your How So Your Why Can Prosper
A point that Sinek makes throughout the book is that the company’s How is a vital foundation for the company’s Why. Without structure and efficiency, the Why of your company will not carry your company to success. So, utilize the passion and ideas associated with a Why approach and ensure these Whys are underpinned by Hows.
Chapter 13 – The Origin of a Why
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. Simon disagrees with this approach. Instead, Simon believes your company’s Why should not come from looking ahead to what you want to achieve and then working out how you 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.
Chapter 14 – The New Competition
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 said, if we are always comparing ourselves to other people, we lose opportunities for collaboration. We are making our company about somebody else.
We should instead attempt to better ourselves every day so we can improve the organization. This is the approach that will start tempting other companies and individuals into collaborations and to help you.
Final Summary and Review
Start With Why highlight 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 that 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 the companies. 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.
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