Key Takeaways From Start with Why

Why do you do what you do? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care...?

Simon Sinek asked himself these questions many years ago, and he has spent those years seeking the answers. In his bestselling book Start With Why, Simon shares powerful examples of individuals who built wildly successful companies based on passion, vision, and clear mission – their Why.

Through his research, Simon discovered that the most successful and fulfilled leaders were those who identified a mission and then followed it, no matter what. He named this process the “Golden Circle,” explaining that it starts with a vision (the Why), progresses to the implementation stage (the How), and ends with the product or service (the What). Unfortunately, most people and businesses do things the wrong way around, starting with the What and How and ending with the Why, hence the reason they struggle.

In order to live an inspired life, to wake up each morning with a clear sense of why the day matters, and to continuously feel fulfilled by the work we do, we are called to look inside. We are called to start with our why.

My key Takeaways from Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Takeaway #1: Find Your Why and Find Fulfilment

If you laugh at the idea of loving your work, it's because you haven't found work that excites you, motivates you, or that you believe in; you haven't found your why. Money is not enough. Maybe you're an employer and you're not seeing the passion that you feel reflected in your workers or you've been in business for a number of years and have lost that spark – Everything leads back to knowing the Why.

Takeaway #2: Understand Your Golden Circle

Based upon the Golden Ratio, the Golden Circle is made up of 3 concentric circles with Why in the center, How in the next circle, and What in the outermost circle. In business, the 'What' is self-explanatory, detailing what products or services are offered. How describes how the What is achieved and the Why describes the mission or goal of the business or organization. Most businesses don't have a clear understanding of the why or have lost sight of the reason over the years. Making a profit is not the Why but is a result of What and How. Know the reason Why and you can inspire and lead others more effectively.

Takeaway #3: Motivate, Don't Manipulate

If employers start every decision-making process by understanding and sharing the Why, they will see success. Most employers try to motivate their employees to take action either by offering incentives or dishing out threats. But good employers use a different tactic, they inspire their workers to take action. An inspired worker goes the extra mile without the need to be prompted because they know what they're working towards, they know the company's why and therefore they understand their own why; they feel excited to do their best work as part of a team. The same is true of customers, you can't manipulate them into buying with the promise of discounts (not if you want long term loyal followers anyway) instead, you must motivate them by getting them onboard with your why.

Key Points From Start with Why

  • People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  • Successful leaders identify their purpose, vision, or cause first. They follow the “Golden Circle” formula which starts with working out their “Why” followed by the “How” and “What”—not the other way around.
    - The “Why” comes from your core purpose and mission; it’s the reason you get out of bed in the morning.
    - The “How” is what makes you, your products or services different and desirable.
    - The “What” defines the day-to-day aspects of your life and business
  • Great leaders...
    - follow their intuition and inner voice and identify gaps in the market before customers realize they’re missing out on something.
    - create strong cultures in which everyone works toward the same mission.
    - create space for innovation and an environment where inspired work can happen.
    - persist through failure and hard work.
    - are less concerned with the competition. They compete against themselves.
    - build trust all around them.
  • Humans want to belong. When you engage with your ideal audience, those who share your cause and core beliefs, they will share your goal with others, allowing your mission to manifest itself.
  • “Tipping points” happen when a mass of early adopters, innovators, and enough influencers unite to support a WHY. This can be consciously designed.

In-Depth Lessons from Start With Why

Lesson #1: Inspiration over manipulation

There are 2 ways to influence human behavior: inspire it or manipulate it.

Many businesses use manipulation as a way to influence customers to shop with them, either by dropping prices or adding a novelty factor, but they also use fear (the most powerful manipulator) and peer pressure (celebrity endorsements) to get people buying.

There are also more subtle manipulation practices that consumers may not pick up on so readily, such as aspirational marketing messages (“Drop 10 Pounds Fast!”) or messages that sell their latest and greatest innovation.

All of these tactics create sales in the short term, but do nothing to create long standing customer loyalty. This leaves business owners going round in circles with more and more manipulative messages every time they need to push sales. Let’s take promotions as an example: prices are routinely slashed or products are put on promotion (“Buy 2 get 1 free!”) to entice customers to buy, which they do. Customers then get accustomed to paying the reduced price or getting a freebie and don’t want to pay full price again, only buying when the product is on offer, and they are happy to switch brands to get the best price or deal available.

If businesses started with answering the question of why, there would be trust between the business and the consumer, loyalty, and far easier decision-making for the executives. They could work on inspiring people to part with their cash rather than manipulating them.

Inspirational leaders know why they do what they do. They have a clear vision and follow that vision until they succeed, inspiring others around them at the same time.

Take flight as an example: In the early 1900s, there were several Americans from all walks of life with the same dream—to be the first person to fly a plane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was a well-educated Harvard math professor who was well connected with wealthy friends and a $50,000 government grant behind him. Then there were the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, who had no education, no high-end connections, and limited finances, yet on December 17th 1903, they made history with their shared vision coming true. Why did they succeed when Samuel Pierpont Langley did not?

The Wright Brothers started with their “why,” while Langley started with the “what.” They did not have the same financial support as Langley did, but they did have the intrinsic passion, insatiable curiosity, and a never-say-die attitude. They had the will to fly like a bird and the vision of what it could do for the future of civilization.

In this context, it’s important to remember to follow your intuition, not just analysis. Neuroscientist Richard Restak says that when people make complex decisions based on data alone, they take more time and tend to overanalyze the situation, often doubting and second-guessing the decision they have made. But when you take into consideration your gut instinct as well, therefore putting less value on just facts and figures and more value on intuition, you access a source of intelligence that goes beyond the slow, logical human mind.

Inspiration and intuition have led many leaders and visionaries to identify a void in the market before customers detected it, resulting in hugely successful businesses.

Lesson #2: Who & Why first, What and How later

Successful leaders who inspire aim at a target known as the Golden Circle. The reason “Why” is the smallest circle in the middle of the target, surrounded by a slightly larger circle with “How” written on it, followed by another larger circle marked with “What.”

Most people are able to define what they do, how they do it, and what makes their business, service, or products different from the competitors, but only a few can explain why they do what they do. That’s because they are using a reversed target with “What” being at the center and “How” and “Why” the larger outer circles.

Let’s use Apple as an example and see how their advertising might look using the Golden Circle and the reversed version of it.

If Apple were an ordinary company it might say, “We make great computers and phones that are user-friendly and beautifully designed. Want to buy one?” However, being an innovative company that leads and inspires its advertising actually sounds more like: “We believe in thinking differently—in everything we do, we challenge the status quo. We do this by making our beautifully designed products user-friendly. We make great computers and phones. Want to buy one?”

Apple has loyal customers who believe in the company’s vision, so they don’t need to rely on manipulative tactics to reach customers and make sales. Companies that don’t know their “why” back themselves into a tight corner with only price, quality, and service to compete, and they struggle to differentiate themselves as new companies enter the market.

A company, an entrepreneur, or anyone in the creative world who sells products should not want to do business with just anyone, but seek to connect with those consumers who share the same beliefs and values. This allows consumers to have faith and trust in the company, and it makes them feel valued and a part of something.

Lesson #3: Trust is the foundation of leadership

There are 2 components that are key to building trust in business. First, you must build trust with your team, and secondly, you must back your words with actions.

Continental Airlines had trust issues in the 80’s and 90’s due to it having the most delays, low customer satisfaction, and high employee turnover. Then, CEO Gordon Bethune took over and turned the company around. He made himself accessible to employees, often working alongside them (including the baggage handlers), and created a sense of team spirit within the company. He fixed the delays which were costing the company $5 million a month and offered to pay every worker in the company an extra $65 a month (separate from their regular paycheck) for every month that the airline ranked in the top 5 for on-time performance to reinforce the message that every employee was responsible for the company’s success.

You see, it’s not only the customers who need to believe in the company’s values and beliefs, but its employees, too. When the Golden Circle is perfectly aligned, this is easy to achieve; people perform at their best when they’re part of a culture they believe in, so make sure you’re hiring people who have the same values as the company.

Remember, you can’t always succeed alone. Behind every inspirational leader who has the why, there is usually an inspired, action-oriented partner who knows the how. Steve Jobs couldn’t have made Apple a success without Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates couldn’t have made Microsoft without Paul Allen, and Walt Disney couldn’t have done it without his brother Roy who was in charge of finances and selling, whilenWalt was in charge of dreaming and drawing!

Lesson #4: Focus on those who embrace change

Finally, in order to see your business succeed you have to get the innovators and early adopters on board. These people will believe in your mission or product, even if it’s completely new and alien, and they’ll ultimately lead the majority to your products and company by proving it works and is needed or useful.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, talks about “connectors” and “influencers” as he explains the tipping point that must be reached before ideas or behaviors go viral. Products are often marketed to influencers in an effort to reach the “early adopters” before the majority, and finally, the “laggards” catch on to the product or business. The “Law of Diffusion of Innovation,” as it’s known, follows a bell curve with 2.5% of people needed on one side of the curve, these being the innovators. The curve then rises to 13.5% of people who are the “early adopters,” followed by 2 sets of 34%, the majority of people who follow early, and the second 34% who adopt late with the remaining 16% on the other side of the downward curve being the “laggards” who are the last to adopt a new trend or new technology.

It’s the brave and trusting innovators and early adopters, those who are the first to try new products and new ideas, and are therefore prepared to take a leap into the unknown, who push the majority of society to follow, so that something that was once brand new is now a new normal and is known to work. They trust their intuition and are willing to pay more as well as to be inconvenienced if it doesn’t work out.

Think about those early adopters of the internet, smartphones, or going back to aviation, those people who were willing to be the first passengers long before hopping on a plane to go on a holiday abroad became ordinary. Then think about the people you know who are stuck in their ways, who refuse to embrace change—these are the “laggards.” As a leader, where do you fall on the chart, are you usually an early adopter or one of the last to get on board?

Start With Why Chapters

  • Chapter One: Assume You Know
  • Chapter Two: Carrots and Sticks
  • Chapter Three - The Golden Circle
  • Chapter Four - This Is Not Opinion, This Is Biology
  • Chapter Five - Clarity, Discipline and Consistency
  • Chapter Six - The Emergence of Trust
  • Chapter Seven - How a Tipping Point Tips
  • Chapter Eight - Start with WHY, but Know HOW
  • Chapter Nine - Know WHY. Know HOW. Then WHAT?
  • Chapter Ten - Communication Is Not About Speaking, It’s About Listening
  • Chapter Eleven - When WHY Goes Fuzzy
  • Chapter Twelve - Split Happens
  • Chapter Thirteen - The Origins of a WHY
  • Chapter Fourteen - The New Competition

Best Quotes from Start with Why

"Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it... Henry Ford summed it up best. “If I had asked people what they wanted,” he said, “they would have said a faster horse"."

"When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you."

"People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe"

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

"Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders—in that order."

"Leading means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to."

"You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills."

"Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them."

"All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year."

"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."

"Some in management positions operate as if they are in a tree of monkeys. They make sure that everyone at the top of the tree looking down sees only smiles. But all too often, those at the bottom looking up see only asses."

"Working hard for something we do not care about is called stress, working hard for something we love is called passion."

"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."

"Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. Energy, in contrast, comes from a good night’s sleep or lots of caffeine. Energy can excite. But only charisma can inspire. Charisma commands loyalty. Energy does not."

"Great leaders and great organizations are good at seeing what most of us can’t see. They are good at giving us things we would never think of asking for."

"Passion alone can't cut it. For passion to survive it needs structure. A why without how has little probability of success."

"Innovation is not born from the dream, innovation is born from the struggle."

"Our behavior is affected by our assumptions or our perceived truths. We make decisions based on what we think we know."

"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?"

"Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY."

"If the leader of the organization can’t clearly articulate WHY the organization exists in terms beyond its products or services, then how does he expect the employees to know WHY to come to work?"

"When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders."

― Simon Sinek, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action

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Editor and Founder

Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.

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