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Published: 2009

Author: Simon Sinek

Read: 21st September 2021 -  30th October 2021 (39 days)


Recommended to me by my marketing mentor, Start With WHY is an interesting collection of business case studies exploring the underlying motivation to work for and purchase from brands. This is very much an examination-style book, with Sinek's unique voice (recognised from all those LinkedIn/ Instagram videos) infused into every sentence.

Unfortunately, the book suffers from repeating many ideas around WHY-driven leadership, processes, customer buying patterns and business decisions. This definitely could have been a lot shorter, and ultimately is more of a presentation rather than an introspective experience for the reader. It seems like my own homework to now find my WHY, although I am grateful that I better understand the differences between successful businesses and those that struggle.

Summary below!

Part 1: A World that doesn't start with WHY

  • 1. Assume You Know
    • American car manufacturers solving issues at the end of production vs Japanese manufacturers instilling learnings from the start of the process.
  • 2. Carrots and Sticks
    • Most business choices today, especially promotions, are short-term manipulations that have none to a negative impact in the long-run. Consumers make purchase decisions in a vacuum but aren't loyal to the brand or idea.

Part 2: An alternate perspective

  • 3. The Golden Circle
    • Go from inside the circle out - WHY->HOW->WHAT. Apple beats other computer competitors by 'challenging the status quo', a motivation that doesn't even apply to the industry.
  • 4. This Is Not Opinion, This Is Biology
    • Human decisions pretend to be based in science and reason, but relate more to a sense of identity and belonging. We are tribal and want to buy-in to something bigger.
  • 5. Clarity, Discipline and Consistency
    • Gut decisions usually feel right because they align with our unique WHY. Contrastingly, rationalisation can lead to us over-thinking and ignoring crucial emotional context.

Part 3: Leaders need a following

  • 6. The Emergence of Trust
    • Companies are caught up in "what" culture, which reduces differentiation and hampers consumer relationships. You don't need to be a first mover if you market the WHY (e.g. Apple iPod).
    • Don't provide role descriptions, employees who are inspired by the brand will work hard for themselves. Inspiration causes passion, and is not the same as motivation.
    • Continental Airlines was struggling until mid-1990s, when new CEO Bethune changed culture of trust and introduced the same incentives from bottom to top, leading to profit and great employee experiences.
    • Being driven by a higher cause was the difference between the resource-rich Langley and the unknown Wright brothers.
    • Celebrity advertisements need to share and show the company values too.
  • 7. How a Tipping Point Tips
    • Take a calculated risk using the Law of Diffusion by targeting Early Adopters/ Early Majority through their WHY. These sales will tip the influence for the masses in your product's favour.
    • People showed up for Martin Luther King's address not because of him, but because of themselves - they believed in his vision of an equal America. Purpose > plan.

Part 4: How To Rally Those Who Believe

  • 8. Start With Why, But Know How
    • Charisma > Energy (which comes in bursts). When a personal WHY is clear, the path may not be planned but you will reach there eventually.
    • Realist HOW-types are needed as megaphones to amplify the WHY leader's message (e.g. Roy Disney for Walt, Steve Wozniak for Steve Jobs).
    • Ron Bruder used first-principles thinking to change perceptions in multiple industries, including optimism for Middle-Eastern (now global) youth culture through the Education for Employment Foundation.
  • 9. Know Why. Know How. Then What?
    • CEOs personify company's WHY and serve as the source of inspiration for the on boarding processes.
  • 10. Communication Is Not About Speaking, It's About Listening
    • Effective logos communicate the WHY and compel action (e.g. American Flag, Harley-Davidson), usually forming a part of the culture/ reflecting one's values.
    • Celery Test - WHY acts as a filter for decision-making and long-term impacts, as consistency builds a reputation but opportunity-grabbing causes fuzziness.

Part 5: The Biggest Challenge is Success

  • 11. When Why Goes Fuzzy
    • Sam Walton founded Walmart with intention "to serve people", but the company has since become focused on the HOW of low-cost sales and tarnished its image.
    • At the Gathering of Titans, 80% of the best entrepreneurs in America no longer felt successful and longed for the founding days - success had disconnected from their initial spark of WHY.
  • 12. Split Happens
    • As companies grow, systems must ensure the WHY remains after the founder is "hit by a school bus". Harsh criticism of America Online (AOL).
    • Christina Harbridge founded Bridgeport Financial after seeing other harsh debt collector cultures, boosting responses and changing the industry with kindness by measuring the number of "thank you" cards the company received.
    • Leaders need to put their WHY into words and implement this into succession planning, or the company will lose it's way (e.g. Microsoft changing the world -> providing software, Dell efficiency -> short-term sales, Starbucks experience -> paper cups).
    • Leader embodies the WHY, celery test will reveal if new management is working.

Part 6: Discover Why

  • 13. The Origins of a Why
    • Jobs and Wozniak were shaped by the midst of 1960's counter-culture, in turn dictating Apple's WHY of "challenging the status quo". It is undoubtedly a cult, which implies irrational belief and it's ok if it's not for everyone - the WHY must resonate with each individual.
    • Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not innovation - look backwards first. Sinek used WHAT and HOW when identifying himself as an entreprenuer, but was distraught when failing and wanted to understand WHY. One conversation with an academic about the crossover between limbic brain biology and the Golden Circle made him realise his WHY is to inspire.
  • 14. The New Competition
    • Ben Comme has cerebral palsy and races against himself, inspiring others to help him pick himself up. Every business should compare themselves to their WHY and their own previous progress, using future internal-oriented goals rather than focusing on the external competition.
  • Afterword
    • Leadership requires a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it. Leaders inspire support in others to contribute and take action on ideas.

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