Growthabit logo

Start With Why Book Summary

Table of Contents

Book Title: Start With Why
Author: Simon Sinek
Date of Reading: December 2017
Rating: 8/10

What Is The Book About As A Whole:

The book describes the Golden Circle – the Why (Why you do what you do), the How (How you do what you do), and What (What you actually do). All companies know what they do, some companies know how they do it, but only a handful of them know why they do what they do. The secret lies in leading with Why you do what you do.

What Is Being Said In Detail:

The first part of Start With Why covers the examples of the world that doesn’t start with why. In these examples, Sinek shows the motivation of carrot and sticks which has its place. Carrots and sticks work for a one-time transaction where you’re not trying to nurture a relationship. An example is when the police offers a reward for a tip from the general public– they don’t want to build a relationship with the tipster, they just want that specific information.

Also, carrots and sticks work as a fear factor– by telling people that if they don’t do something, a fearful thing will happen, people will obey. But this kind of motivation has its limits (doesn’t create loyalty, personal identification nor does it provide autonomy or a sense of purpose) and that becomes clear when Part 2 enfolds.

Part 2 talks about the Golden Circle: The Why (why you do what you do), the How (how you do what you do), and What (what do you do).  If you communicate from the inside out (from Why to What), you will first talk to the emotional part of the brain (limbic brain) that’s in charge of decision making so the process will be more effective. You will create loyalty with your customer base.

To do that, you will need to have the clarity of why (purpose), the discipline of how (values and principles), and the consistency of what (products, services, and actions that bring results consistent to your why and how).

Part 3 covers the need for leaders to have followers. An idea needs people who will believe in it and spread it around to the majority of people. When you start with why, people will share what they believe in instead of sharing features and benefits. When they recommend Apple to someone, they’re not sharing the awesome configuration, they’re sharing the sense of identity– the square pegs in round holes.

Part 4 covers the process of rallying those who believe. You need to have a dream (a Why), but you also need to have a plan (a How). A why without a how is just a belief. You need people of action who will support your why by implementing it in reality.  Martin Luther King Jr. had Ralph Abernathy, Walt Disney had Roy Disney, Herb Kelleher had Rollin King, and Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak.

Part 5 talks about succeeding with Golden Circle. Sometimes, companies (like Walmart) start losing their why. The challenge isn’t to cling to the leader; it’s to find a way to keep the founding vision alive long after the founding fathers have passed on.

Part 6 covers the need to find your Why (and also describes the process of finding it). Even though your Why is for people out there, you won’t find it out there. You will find it deep within yourself. And the challenge isn’t in finding it, but having the courage to listen to it and not steer away from that path.

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:

On a cold January day, a forty-three-year-old man was sworn in as the chief executive of his country. By his side stood his predecessor, a famous general who, fifteen years earlier, had commanded his nation’s armed forces in a war that resulted in the defeat of Germany. The young leader was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He spent the next five hours watching parades in his honor and stayed up celebrating until three o’clock in the morning.
You know who I’m describing, right? It’s January 30, 1933, and I’m describing Adolf Hitler and not, as most people would assume, John F. Kennedy.

Simon Sinek Quote

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.

If anyone has ever sold you anything with a warning to fear the consequences if you don’t buy it, they are using a proverbial gun to your head to help you see the “value” of choosing them over their competitor. Or perhaps it’s just a banana. But it works.

If fear motivates us to move away from something horrible, aspirational messages tempt us toward something desirable.

Aspirational messages can spur behavior, but for most, it won’t last.

To quote my mother, “If your friends put their head in the oven, would you do that too?” Sadly, if Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods was paid to do just that, it might actually start a trend.

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. This is true no matter how big or small, no matter what industry.
HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. Whether you call them a “differentiating value proposition,” “proprietary process” or “unique selling proposition,” HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better.
WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money—that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

It’s worth repeating: people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Apple, unlike its competitors, has defined itself by WHY it does things, not WHAT it does. It is not a computer company, but a company that challenges the status quo and offers individuals simpler alternatives.

Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility.

a very basic human need—the need to belong. Our need to belong is not rational, but it is a constant that exists across all people in all cultures. It is a feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs. When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe. As humans we crave the feeling and we seek it out.

When we communicate from the outside in, when we communicate WHAT we do first, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information, like facts and features, but it does not drive behavior.

If we were all rational, there would be no small businesses, there would be no exploration, there would be very little innovation and there would be no great leaders to inspire all those things. It is the undying belief in something bigger and better that drives that kind of behavior. But it can also control behavior born out of other emotions, like hate or fear. Why else would someone plot to hurt someone they had never met?

Telling people to have integrity doesn’t guarantee that their decisions will always keep customers’ or clients’ best interest in mind; telling them to always do the right thing does.

Everything you say and everything you do has to prove what you believe. A WHY is just a belief. That’s all it is. HOWs are the actions you take to realize that belief. And WHATs are the results of those actions—everything you say and do: your products, services, marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire.

Loyalty, real emotional value, exists in the brain of the buyer, not the seller.

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. When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges.

Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.

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.

Don’t forget, the superior Betamax technology did not beat out the substandard VHS technology as the standard format for videotape in the 1980s. The best does not always win.

The early majority, indeed the entire majority, need the recommendation of someone else who has already sampled the product or service. They need to know someone else has tested it. They need that trusted, personal recommendation.

Dr. King’s articulation of his belief was something powerful enough to rally those who shared that belief even if they weren’t personally affected by the inequalities. Nearly a quarter of the people who came to the rally that day were white. This was a belief not about black America, this was a belief about a shared America.

Energy Excites. Charisma Inspires.

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.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader, but he didn’t change America alone. Though Dr. King inspired the movement, to actually move people requires organizing. As is the case with almost all great leaders, there were others around Dr. King who knew better HOW to do that.

The pessimists are usually right, to paraphrase Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, but it’s the optimists who change the world.

WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at building structures and processes and getting things done.

What’s the difference between Steve Jobs the man and Apple the company? Nothing. What’s the difference between Sir Richard Branson’s personality and Virgin’s personality? Nothing. As a company grows, the CEO’s job is to personify the WHY. To ooze of it. To talk about it. To preach it. To be a symbol of what the company believes.

“It really speaks to me.” It’s not really speaking to you, it’s speaking to the millions of people who saw the ad. When we say that something like that “speaks to me,” what we’re really saying is, through all this clutter and noise, I can hear that. I can hear it and I will listen. This is what it means for a message that comes out of the megaphone to resonate.

It’s too easy to say that all they care about is their bottom line. All companies are in business to make money, but being successful at it is not the reason why things change so drastically. That only points to a symptom. Without understanding the reason it happened in the first place, the pattern will repeat for every other company that makes it big. It is not destiny or some mystical business cycle that transforms successful companies into impersonal goliaths. It’s people.

Money is a perfectly legitimate measurement of goods sold or services rendered. But it is no calculation of value. Just because somebody makes a lot of money does not mean that he necessarily provides a lot of value. Likewise, just because somebody makes little money does not necessarily mean he provides only a little value. Simply by measuring the number of goods sold or the money brought in is no indication of value. Value is a feeling, not a calculation. It is perception. One could argue that a product with more bells and whistles that sells for less is the greater value. But by who’s standard?

Before it can gain any power or achieve any impact, an arrow must be pulled backward, 180 degrees away from the target. And that’s also where a WHY derives its power. The WHY does not come from looking ahead at what you want to achieve and figuring out an appropriate strategy to get there. It is not born out of any! market research. It does not come from extensive interviews with customers or even employees. It comes from looking in the completely opposite direction from where you are now. Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention.

Gaining clarity of WHY, ironically, is not the hard part. It is the discipline to trust one’s gut, to stay true to one’s purpose, cause or beliefs.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek - Book Summary Infographic

Share this Image On Your Site

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

I remember hearing about the Golden Circle years ago. Ever since, I’ve been using it in my presentations and lectures. It’s a remarkable concept which you can implement in the business, friendships, and even dating.

Rating: 8/10

This Book Is For (Recommend):


If You Want To Learn More

Here’s the famous Golden Circle TED talk by Simon Sinek
How Great Leaders Inspire Action

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

Ever since I heard about this concept, I fell in love with it. I implement it in everything I write about, from my freelance content marketer career to Growthabit. Also, when I was travelling around Europe teaching storytelling, I was using the concept of Golden Circle to make my points.

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

Figure out why would you want to read more books and grow a reading habit. And then, start by saying it out loud following the formula:

  • Why do I want to read more books
  • How can I do it
  • What will I actually do