Start with Why

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek (London: Portfolio Penguin, 2009)

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Start with Why Synopsis

In Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek helps readers understand how certain companies thrive while others remain stagnant. Highly successful companies, like Apple and Disney, are able to command a strong customer following and cultivate loyalty. Sinek uses these companies as examples to explain his framework, The Golden Circle. Additionally, he relates The Golden Circle to how our brains process information to make decisions.

Key ideas from Start with Why:

Key idea #1 – The Golden Circle

The main framework that Sinek uses is The Golden Circle. It breaks down companies through a lens of what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. At the center of the circle is the why, which Sinek believes is what truly resonates with customers.

The Golden Circle

Key idea #2 – Inspiration versus manipulation

The two ways that leaders can influence human behaviour is either by manipulation or inspiration. Organizations that understand why they exist and are able to communicate it clearly to their employees and customers will inspire.

Organizations that do not understand or communicate their why resort to manipulation in order to attract customers and motivate employees. Examples of manipulation include reducing prices, running a promotion, and or using fear or peer pressure to drive employee behaviour. Manipulation works, but only in the short run. In the long run, manipulation does not build loyalty. Inspiration does.

Key idea #3 – Pitfall with gut decisions

Leaders often make decisions that “feel right.” These decisions are commonly known as gut decisions and most people often say they have a difficult time explaining why they did what they did. Being able to explain why one made a decision happens in the brain. With decisions that individuals think are right, they use their neocortex. This part of the brain will refer to rational and concrete measurements to justify their decision.

Gut decisions are different. Individuals making gut decisions usually cite a high level of confidence even when rational data and information says otherwise. This is because the limbic brain is used in this decision making. This part of the brain controls our emotions rather than language.

Many successful entrepreneurs and leaders often use instincts, or their gut feeling, to make decisions. The pitfall with this is as a company scales, more and more leaders and managers are making decisions. How can we ensure that their “gut” feeling is aligned with that of the organization? We do this by leveraging the company’s Why.

Key idea #4 – Why

The why in The Golden Circle refers to the belief that one holds their purpose for getting up in the morning. Another way to frame this lens is to ask the question, “Why should someone care?” or “Why does your company exist?”

Without understanding their why organizations have to manipulate prices and or product features in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In the long run, this will not drive success. Customers are loyal to organizations that they align with. This is because understanding why an organization exists allows them to decide whether to trust the organization or not. Customers are also more likely to pay a premium for goods and services from companies that resonate with their beliefs. This premium drives profitability for these organizations in the long-run.

Key idea #5 – How

Most organizations understand how they do what they do. For organizations that do not understand their why, their how is what they use to differentiate themselves from their competitors. An example that the book uses is detergent companies that used to advertise how they would get whites whiter. Truth is, however, most customers will not make buying decisions because one organization’s how is different from another. In this case, customers are not buying one detergent over another simply because how they get whites whiter.

How refers to the values and the principles that guide the systems, processes, and culture within an organization. The how within The Golden Circle are the actions that a company takes to realize their beliefs.

Key idea #6 – What

Most organizations understand exactly what they do. For example, consulting firms understand that they provide advice and services to their clients. What an organization does is a result of how they do it and why they do it. This means that what a company does is proof for customers of what they believe in. Without a strong why, the company’s product will lack the beliefs and purpose needed to attract loyal customers.

Key idea #7 – Successful companies and discipline of why

As companies grow, the why may become fuzzy. This is a result of many layers of management making decisions based on their own gut feeling. The why thus becomes diluted and it not clear. As a result, employees are no longer aligned with the organization or worse, they become unmotivated.

In order for companies to continue to prosper, they must have proper succession This means bringing in leaders who take on the original vision, embody it, and carry it forward. Moreover, the new leadership needs to be clear with supporting the continuation of the organization’s why so that employees and customers can see this.

Key Takeaways from Start with Why 

  • Organizations that want to effectively influence human behaviour must do so through inspiration rather than manipulation.
  • Organizations that want to be successful need to start by having top leadership understand why they do what they do – what is the organization’s purpose and belief.
  • By understanding why, organizations can cultivate trust and loyalty with their customers and their employees.

Simon Sinek

After a career in advertising at Euro RSCG and Ogilvy & Mather, Simon Sinek ventured out on his own to open Sinek Partners. His book, Start With Why, is the basis for his famous TED talk, which he gave at TEDxPudget Sound. Sinek now serves as a motivational speaker and continues to author books, such as his latest, The Infinite Game.

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