Start with Why by Simon Sinek — Book Summary

The book rated @ 4./5.00 on Goodreads

Start with Why — book summary: Inspirational Leadership

Start with why content works regardless of size or industry, great leaders know the reasons that they do whatever they do — their WHY. They follow their passion and have a vision they can articulate.

In the early 1900s, several Americans wanted to be the first person to fly an aeroplane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was an educated, well-connected Harvard math professor with wealthy friends and a $50,000 government grant. Wilbur and Orville Wright had no education, no high-end connections and limited finances.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made their dream come true. They started with their reason Why – their purpose – and inspired those around them.

There are leaders and those who lead. Those who lead are more common, but real leaders motivate and inspire you.


The TED Talk: How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek

A quick 18 minutes TED Talk might be able to explain the book better than I could.

Start with Why — Manipulation Versus Inspiration

Most sellers tend to manipulate rather than inspire.

Businesses influence customers by leveraging price, promotions, fear, peer pressure, aspirations and novelty. Such manipulation harvests short-term transactions, but it doesn’t earn long-term customer loyalty. Businesses say their customers choose them because they offer the best products or services at the right price.

In reality, companies often don’t know why their customers act as they do. Instead, managers make assumptions that they use as the foundation for decisions. Firms may conduct research, collect information and seek advice, but, even after analyzing all that data, sellers still make mistakes.

“Inspiring leaders and companies…think, act and communicate exactly alike. And it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.”

excerpt from Start with Why

Price droppings

Sellers routinely drop their prices to entice potential customers — or shocking sale. Once customers get accustomed to paying reduced prices, they don’t want to pay the full price, which cuts profits. Some offer promotions instead of cutting prices, such as “two for the price of one” or “buy X, get Y free.”

Fear marketing

Many ads and public-service announcements use fear-based messages, such as the popular 1980s commercial featuring an egg being cracked into a hot skillet: “This is your brain” (the egg); “This is your brain on drugs.”(the egg sizzling). “Any questions?” Fear is the most powerful manipulator. Peer-pressure marketing preys on fear and emotion. For example when a seller tries to convince you its product is best because celebrities or experts use it.

“Imagine if every organization started with Why. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency.”

excerpt from Start with Why

A more subtle option — Aspirational messages

Aspirational messages and innovation are more subtle forms of manipulation. While fear focuses on the negative, aspirations focus on the positive or on something you might desire.

Aspirational statements include such messages as, “In six weeks, you can be rich” or “Drop 10 pounds fast.

Companies tout innovations, but in a fast-paced market, innovations don’t stay unique for long. Manipulation instils repeat business – but not loyalty. Customers who feel loyal “are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.” — take Apple products for example.


We must earn loyalty

Firms must earn such loyalty, but instead, many use manipulation to gain repeat customers and must keep manipulating to maintain their business.

Start with Why — The Golden Circle

Great leaders follow a pattern called the Golden Circle.

the golden circle
The Golden Circle

As a target, the Golden Circle starts with a small bull’s-eye with “Why” in the centre, surrounded by a larger circle marked “How” and then surrounded by the biggest circle labelled “What.” Most individuals and companies can define what they do. They can usually articulate how they do it and the elements that differentiate them from their competitors. However, only a select few can identify their Why.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.”

excerpt from Start with Why

When it comes to marketing, most companies pursue the standard What-How-Why approach. They should reverse the order, explaining first their Why and their How, and then their What.

The Apple ads Example

What the ads if Apple was a typical company

“We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?”

What Apple did

“[In] everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

The second message doesn’t rely on any of the usual manipulations. Apple has loyal customers who believe in the company’s philosophy. Other technology firms might make beautiful, simple products, but Apple resonates with customers because they appreciate their vision.

Those with a clear why would ignore their competition

“Companies with a clear sense of Why…ignore their competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of Why are obsessed with what others are doing.”

excerpt from Start with Why

Leaders who define their companies according to what they make or how they make it paint themselves into a corner. Without realizing it, they become just like everyone else and compete on price, quality, service, and the like. Each new competitor in the marketplace makes it harder for those organizations to differentiate their offerings, and the manipulation must begin anew.


The Basis of Our Gut Decisions

We want to do business with those we trust. So we often seek companies that seem to share our personal values and beliefs. Those companies make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

Hence, the basis of our gut decision or instinctive decisions based on our emotion.

Our emotionally driven limbic brain makes gut decisions before the higher-level, more rational, deductive neocortex comes into play. Hence, as mentioned before in my book summary on Thinking Fast and Slow, when we need to make complex decisions, we tend to dismiss objective facts and figures and rely more on instinct. A faster way of thinking.

“The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe.”

excerpt from Start with Why

Neuroscientist Richard Restak, the author of The Naked Brain, says that when people are forced to make decisions based on data alone, they take more time and usually overanalyze the situation. He believes gut decisions “tend to be faster, high-quality decisions.”

Choices that aren’t rooted in emotion can lead people to doubt whether they made the right decisions, but those with reliable gut feelings seldom second-guess their choices.

“If there were no trust…no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of the society.”

excerpt from Start with Why

Start with Why — Building Trust

Building trust with customers has two components:

First, build trust with your employees and then back your words with actions.

For example

Continental Airlines suffered trust issues in the 1980s and 1990s until the arrival of CEO Gordon Bethune. Continental ranked last in on-time arrivals and customer satisfaction and suffered from high employee turnover. Bethune did away with the locked doors on the executive suites at corporate headquarters and made himself accessible to employees.

He often worked alongside them, even handling bags when necessary, and he instilled a team-oriented culture. Bethune set out to fix Continental’s abysmal on-time performance record, which was costing it $5 million a month in extra expenses.

He offered every single employee $65 each month that the airline ranked in the top five for on-time performance. He sent these checks separately from regular paychecks to underscore his message.

And Bethune works wonders for Continental Airlines.

People perform their best

People perform at their best when they’re part of a culture that match their values and beliefs. Great leaders find good matches and hire people who believe in the company’s cause or purpose.


Tipping Points and Bell Curves

In his 2002 book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses “connectors” and “influencers.” He identifies a “tipping point” that occurs when ideas or behaviours spread rapidly, like a virus.

Advertising and marketing executives try to build momentum for their products by reaching out to “influencers.

Gladwell had several predecessors – notably Everett M. Rogers and Geoffrey Moore. Rogers described how society embraces new ideas in his groundbreaking 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations.

Moore followed up 30 years later with Crossing the Chasm, explaining how and why people adopt new technology. The “Law of Diffusion of Innovations” follows a bell curve, in which 2.5% of people are “innovators” on one end of the curve. Then, 13.5% are “early adopters,” and the “majority” falls in the middle with 34% adopting new technology early and 34% adopting it late. Far on the other leg, 16% are “laggards.”

“We do better in cultures in which we are good fits.”

excerpt from Start with Why

According to Moore, innovators and early adopters push us. They are the first to try new approaches, ideas and technologies. They trust their intuition and take risks. As consumers, they’re willing to pay more or be inconvenienced to be first. Most people fall in the majority; they try something new after they know it works. Laggards are the last ones to adopt something new.


Find out your own why

A true sense of why you do what you do comes from looking inside yourself and reflecting on your life. Ponder where you’ve been and how your purpose can lead you where you want to go.

Simon Sinek experienced an internal shift away from his Why. Three years after starting his consulting business, he was depressed and certain he was going out of business. Someone explained to him how the brain works and taught him that buying behaviour is rooted in biology. Sinek thus discovered his Why and set out to “inspire people to do the things that inspire them.”

Again, it is a lovely book. You need to read it yourself.

Buy the Book



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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