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Start With Why - Simon Sinek

How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Falling out of love and feeling unfulfilled by his work led Simon Sinek to discover WHY. Simon encourages you to learn to start with WHY so you can feel fulfilled by and passionate about the work you do. Ready to be inspired?

Read my summary below or get your own copy of Start with Why here.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek book cover

Introduction - Why Start with Why?

This book is a way of thinking, acting and communicating that allows leaders to inspire those around them. There are differences between leaders and those who lead: leaders get others to act, not because they were swayed by incentives, but because they were inspired. All inspiring leaders, regardless of industry, think, act and communicate exactly alike. What if we could all learn to think, act and communicate like those who inspire?

Chapter 1 - Assume You Know

We make decisions based on our assumptions and our perceived truth. How we go about achieving our goals is very similar: some of us wing it but most of us try to gather data to make an educated decision, whether it's formal or informal.

But not all decisions work out to be the right ones, regardless of how much work we put in. And not only bad decisions are made on false assumptions, sometimes when things go right we think we know why but it doesn't always mean it can be repeat it. So we collect as much data as we can, but sometimes things still don't go right.

More data doesn't always help, especially if a flawed assumption started the whole process. At the end, we are left where we started. How do you explain or decide a course of action that yields the desired effect that is repeatable? When faced with a result that doesn't go according to plan, a series of perfectly effective short-term tactics are used until the desired outcome is achieved. But how sound are those solutions?

There is value in things we cannot see. There are those who manipulate the situation to achieve a desired result and there are those who start from somewhere very different. Both courses of action yield similar short-term results, but it is what we can't see that makes long-term success more predictable for one of those.

Chapter 2 - Carrots and Sticks

  • Manipulation vs. inspiration - there's barely a product or service on the market today that a customer can't buy from someone else for roughly the same price, same quality, same level of service and similar features. Most businesses will tell you their customers do business with them because of their superior quality, features, price or service. In other words, they have no idea why. The same goes for their employees.

  • Most businesses today are making decisions based on a set of flawed assumptions about what drives their business. There are two ways to influence consumer behavior: manipulate it or inspire it.

  • Manipulation tactics include dropping the price, a promotion, using FOMO, peer pressure, aspirational messages. And it works.

    • Price is a highly effective manipulation tactic to get people to buy from you but it can create a problem for your business. Short-term gains are great, but they become addictive to both the seller and the buyers expect to pay lower than average prices for your product or service.

    • Promotions: As competition increases businesses provide incentives to hold on to their part of the market. But in the long-term, these incentives will dramatically affect profit margins. Once the incentives go away, sales will slow.

    • You can also add a value item to compete rather than a price reduction.

    • Rebates lure the customer to pay full price for a product because of the prospect of money back, but nearly 40% consumers never ask for that money back.

    • Fear: Selling consumers something with a warning to fear the consequences if they don't buy it.

    • Aspirations: Offering someone something they desire to achieve and the ability to get there more easily with a particular product or service.

    • Peer pressure: When marketers report a group of experts prefer their product over another, they are attempting to sway the consumer to believe that what they're selling is better. They listen because they believe the experts or celebrities must be right!

    • Novelty: The first-of-its-kind, new on the market be the first to get it. This is an example of using the newest shiniest objects to lure customers into buying.

All of these manipulations work to influence behavior and help a company become successful. But typically these do not breed loyalty and over time they cost your business more. The gains are short-term and they increase the stress level for the business and the consumer.

Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or better price to continue doing business with you and it is not easily won. Like any addiction, manipulation is driven to get the next sale faster and more often. For transactions that occur an average of once, manipulations are the best way to elicit the desired behavior. However if your business wants more than a single transaction from the consumer, manipulations do not work.

Manipulations cost a lot of money. Like loyal friends, you want your customers and employees to be there for you when you need them most - it's the "we're in this together" feelings.

Consumers have a lot of choices and all the advertising pressuring them, results in consumer stress. Your competition is doing something new and better everyday. When businesses focus on short-term gains and operate without loyalty, it is a series of transactional decisions that come at a high cost. Think of the loan crisis, car manufacturers and housing market collapse.

Part 2 - An Alternative Perspective

Chapter 3 - The Golden Circle

WHY is in the center of the circle, then HOW in the middle, then WHAT in the outer circle.

There are few leaders who choose to inspire rather than manipulate in order to motivate people. The concept of the Golden Circle was inspired by a mathematical relationship based on the order found in nature. It offers a formula that could produce repeatable and predictable results in places where such results have been assumed to be random or luck of the draw. It helps us understand WHY we do WHAT we do.

WHAT: Every single company and organization knows WHAT they do. It should be easy to describe the products and services a company sells.

HOW: Some businesses know HOW they do WHAT they do, which is often called a differentiating value proposition or unique selling proposition. It explains how something is different or better.

WHY: Very few businesses can explain WHY they do WHAT they do. This is your purpose, cause or belief. WHY does your company exist? WHY should anyone care?

When most organizations think, act, or communicate, they do so from the outside in, starting with WHAT. Inspired businesses act and communicate from the inside out.

For example, let's look at if Apple were to create a marketing strategy, it would state WHAT the company does or makes, followed by HOW they think they're different or better than the competition, and then they would have a call to action. It would read something like: “We make great computers. They're beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?”

This is the norm for most businesses. Here's our Law Firm. Our lawyers went to the best schools. We represent the biggest clients. Hire us.”

Here is what Apple actually communicates starting with WHY :

"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?”

There's no trickery, manipulation, free stuff, aspirational messages, or celebrities. Other businesses can steal their ideas, their employees and copy their products but they can't sell their purpose and cause - WHY they do it.

People don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Businesses use tangible features and benefits to build a rational argument for why their business product or service is better than another. But when you sell WHAT you do, you are selling proof of the belief in WHAT you do not just the external factors. WHAT they make serves as the tangible proof of what they believe. That's what makes them stand out and makes them be perceived as authentic. And different.

When an organization defines itself by WHAT it does, it is limiting its ability to succeed in industries outside of their core business product or service. The company's WHY should be formed at its founding and not get lost to WHAT.

When your business focuses on WHAT you do and HOW you do it, without considering WHY, the public wants you lump you together with all others in your industry and you've just become a commodity.

Companies with a clear sense of WHY don't think of themselves as being like any of their competitors and they don't have to convince anyone of their value. They are different and everyone knows it. Some say Apple "sells a lifestyle" but it doesn't. It's a brand that those who live a certain way are drawn toward.. The products you produce serve as proof of the company's WHY, so too does a brand or product serve as proof of an individual's WHY .

The products don't have to be the best they just need to be good or very good. And the concept of better begs the question, based on what standard? WHY the product exists must first be considered and WHY someone wants it must match.

There is a flawed assumption that only one group can be right. But what if both parties are right? What if one product was right for some people and the competitor was right for others? It's not a debate about better, it's a discussion about different needs. When you go back to whose is better, you don't create loyalty. The customer is inspired by a product rather than manipulated. They will be able to verbalize the reasons WHY and create loyalty to your brand.

Knowing your WHY is the only way to maintain lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility. So many companies define themselves by WHAT they do and they fail to adjust their business model prompted by new technologies or changing times. Instead of asking "What should we do to compete?" the question is "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?"

Chapter 4 - This is Not Opinion, This is Biology

  • We have a basic human need to belong. It is not rational, but it's a feeling when those around us share our values and beliefs that make us feel connected and safe. This also applies to organizations.

  • So when companies talk about WHAT they do, they don't necessarily represent something to which we want to belong. But if they communicate WHY, what they believe and we believe what they believe, we feel like we belong and are special.

  • Our brain's neocortex is responsible for rational and analytical thought. On a bullseye, this is the outside ring. People understand features of a product or services, but this part of the brain does not drive behavior.

  • The middle 2 sections of our brain, called the limbic brain, is responsible for feelings like trust and loyalty. When we communicate from the inside out, we talk directly to the part of the brain that controls decision making. It is hard to put this into words, such as describing why you fell in love with somebody.

  • The limbic brain can be so powerful that sometimes it contradicts our neocortex. It's our first instinct or gut decision.

  • If you don't communicate WHY, you are forcing consumers to think, or overthink.

  • For example, you are looking to buy a new TV and you listen to the sales man give you all the benefits, but your mind gets overwhelmed and eventually you leave the store. You go to your friend's house and he goes on and on about how much he loves his TV. If the company fails to communicate WHY you should buy from them, it leaves comsumers feeling uncertain.

  • Don't just advertise facts, figures, features, benefits. Tell people WHY you do what you do. Win their hearts - this is not easy to do.

  • For example "get your whites whiter and your brights brighter" didn't matter to laundry detergent consumers. The smell of the clothes, not the actual cleanliness mattered most.

Chapter 5 - Clarity Discipline and Consistency

  • Consumers have to know WHY you do WHAT you do. If people don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

  • Once you know WHY you do WHAT you do, the question is HOW will you do it. These are your guiding principles which enhance your organizations strengths. And they can't be nouns, they have to be verbs.

  • Everything you say and do has to prove WHAT you believe. The WHY is a belief, the HOWS are the actions you take to realize that belief and the WHAT are the results of those actions. In other words, be consistent with what you say and do. You have to believe in it and Passion will exude to create authenticity in the relationships you create with your customers. Without it, you are selling on price, service, quality or features (or manipulation). Being like everyone else.

  • Any and all decisions and marketing should start with WHY. For example Southwest Airlines started in order to be the "champion for the common man". They went after the 85% of the market that did not air travel and made it cheap, fun and simple. That was HOW they did it. Their tag line "You are now free to move about the country" created a cause looking for followers. Those who could relate had a place to go and they became loyal. When United and Delta tried to copy Southwest Airlines, they failed because no one knew why Song or Ted existed.

  • It is a false assumption that differentiation happens because you offer a high quality product with more features or a better service or a better price. Differentiation happens WHY and HOW you do it.

  • When we are inspired, the decisions we make have more to do with who we are and less to do with what we're buying. Loyalty and emotional value must exist in the brain of the buyer, not the seller. When WHY , HOW and WHAT are in balance, authenticity is achieved. If a buyer is motivated by aspiration or fear and doesn't clearly embody their own sense of WHY, there won't be good feelings or loyalty. Your business must be clear about your purpose, cause or belief and make sure everything you say and do is consistent and authentic.

  • Your business can turn away customers because they don't believe what you believe.

Part 3 Leaders Need a Following

Chapter 6 - The Emergence of Trust

  • The greatest gains are in a performance category that is almost impossible to measure: trust. You cannot give someone a reason to trust you it must be felt. It emerges when the consumer senses the organization is driven by value not equated with money.

  • You can't convince someone to trust you or that you have value. You earn trust by communicating and demonstrating that you share the same values and beliefs. Talk about WHY and prove it with WHAT.

  • Leading is different than being a leader. You need to build a team that wants to win for themselves. How does the job benefit the employees? You can institute bonus programs to get everybody pointed in the same direction. Measure things the employees could really control and make the stakes something the employees would win or lose together, not individually.

  • We have succeeded as a species because of our ability to form cultures, groups of people who come together around a common set of values and beliefs. Sharing those values and beliefs creates trust. We're friends with people who see the world the way we see it.

  • America's WHY is called the American Dream. But what part of the country do you fit into? The culture that reflects our own values and beliefs. A company is a culture and brings people together around a common set of values and beliefs, not its products or services. Hire people who believe what you believe. Hiring people that do WHAT we do doesn't guarantee success because they aren't working for you, they're working for themselves. Hire for attitude and teach skills. Attract people who are passionate for what you believe, your purpose, and the attitude that fits your culture. Great companies don't hire skills people and motivate them, they hire motivated people and inspire them.

  • Wright Brothers vs. Langley. The former was motivated by belief, the latter for fame. A Dream Team of the best talent won't get you far.

  • Leaders need to create an environment in which ideas can happen from the people inside the company. Allow them to bring your company's cause to life, i.e Apple's "more innovative." Great companies give their people a purpose around which to develop ideas rather than simply instruct them to make a better mouse trap than their competition. A clear sense of WHY does not require a company to consider their competition. Thomas Edison "I didn't find a way to make a light bulb, I found a 1000 ways how not to make one."

  • A strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a safety net (similar to a trapeze artist). Employees who know their bosses, colleagues and organization will look out for him breeds reciprocal behavior.

  • Write your values and guiding principles on the wall, bonuses and incentive's must revolve around them and serve those whom wish to serve the company. Make employees want to leave the organization in a better place than they found it. The company must advance their WHY or it breaks trust.

  • We are more likely to trust the judgment of those who share our values and beliefs. "4 out of 5 dentists", celebrity endorsement, etc. People will more likely trust claims being made by a recognizable face or name if the celebrity represents a clear cause or belief, Especially if they embody the qualities that already exist at the company.

  • Our population is broken into 5 segments: innovators 2.5% (being first), early adopters 13.5% (take risks but aren't idea generators), early majority 34% (practical and slightly more comfortable with innovation), late majority 34% and laggards 16%. For the latter part of the curve, it usually boils down to price and they are rarely loyal or give referrals. We all sit at different places on the spectrum depending on the product. We all assign different values to different things. Mass market success is near impossible to achieve if you market to those in the middle of the bell. You must first appeal to the early adopters. The majorities need the recommendation of someone who has used the product or service. Otherwise you have to drop your price or offer value add services to reduce their risk tolerance. That is a manipulation tactic and they may buy, but they won't be loyal.

  • The goal should be to find people who believe what you believe on the left side of the bell curve because they perceive greater value and will pay a premium or suffer an inconvenience to be part of your cause. They look at WHAT you do as a tangible element that demonstrates their own purpose or belief to the outside world. These are the most loyal customers and employees. If you have the discipline to focus on the early adopters the majority will come along eventually but it must start with WHY.

Part 4 How to Rally Those Who Believe

Chapter 8 - Start with WHY but Know How

  • Energy excites. Charisma inspires. Energy is easy to see and measure and copy. Charisma is hard to define and almost impossible to measure. All great leaders have charisma because they have an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves. If you can help people remove some seemingly simple obstacles, then they too will have an opportunity to reach great potential. Charisma comes from a clarity of absolute conviction. Energy can be used to motivate people to do things with bonus', promotions, etc. but the gains are short term.

  • What is your cause and reason to get out of bed everyday? Trying to find new, different ways to bring your cause to life is the WHAT you do. When a WHY is clear those who share that belief will be drawn to it and want to take part in bringing it to life.

  • Looking at The Golden Circle as a cone, at the top is the WHY, a leader; HOW, Sr. Execs inspired by the leader's vision and know the actions needed to bring it to life: and WHAT is the result of those actions performed by the majority of the employees.

  • The HOW types take the intangible cause and build the infrastructure that can give it life. The leader imagines the destination and the HOW types find the route to get there. For example, Dr Martin Luther King had a dream but those he inspired knew HOW to make the cause actionable by telling people not to ride the bus, or to make new laws, for example.

  • Imagine a world where (fill in the blank) happens. WHY types are the visionaries and HOW types are the realists the WHY types need. Most people are HOW types. They don't need WHY types to do well. But the WHY types must have HOW types.

  • Vision statement versus mission statement. The vision statement is the public statement of WHY the company exists with a vision of a future that does not yet exist. The mission statement describes HOW the company intends to create that future. The most trusting relationship needs to exist between the WHY guy and the HOW guy. The best CEO's are WHY types who wake up every day to lead a cause, not just run a company.

  • Great organizations function like a social movement that inspires people to talk about their product or idea in context of their lifestyle or find new ways to advance their cause. They inspire people to take part without any manipulations.

  • Advertising and PR are great for making sure a message is heard but you can't only talk about the WHAT and HOW. Remember Oprah giving away cars? Do you remember the car manufacturer? An organization becomes the vessel through which a person with a clear purpose, cause or belief can speak to the outside world but clarity must come first.

  • When we don't know an organizations WHY, we don't know what to expect so we base decisions on price, quality, service and features. You have to constantly talk about and remind everyone WHY the organization exists and it takes time and effort to ensure that everything you say and do is consistent with your WHY message. What is your lifestyle and culture?

  • Ron Bruder sees a world which people accept the lives they live and do things, not because they have to, but because no one ever showed them an alternative lifestyle. He has an unyielding belief that if you can simply show someone that an alternative route is possible it can open the possibility that such a route can be followed.

Chapter 9 - Know WHY. Know HOW. Then WHAT?

  • WHAT you do can change with the times but WHY you do it never does.

  • The Golden Circle sits atop the Marketplace, which is made up of customers, potential customers, competition, suppliers and all the money. It is chaotic and disorganized. The only contact the organization has is at the WHAT level. Communication, products, services and marketing must communicate WHY. When a company is small, it revolves around the personality of the founder, which often does communicate with the customer. As a company grows, the CEO has to talk about, preach and be a symbol of the company belief and moves further away from WHAT the company does to rely on the HOW-types to bring it to life. The struggle so many companies have is to differentiate or communicate their true value. Similar to how a person struggles to put emotions into words. Absent proper language to share our emotions, we tell stories or use symbols.

Chapter 10 - Communication is Not About Speaking, It's About Listening

  • The American Flag is a symbol representing the country's desire for freedom. Most companies have logos but few have been able to convert them into meaningful symbols because they are bad at communicating what they believe. Saying a logo stands for quality, service, innovation is about the company, not the cause. Logos should stand for something we can all support.

  • In order to improve HOW and WHAT we do, we constantly look to what others are doing. It is a flawed assumption that what works for one organization will work for another. What matters is that WHAT and HOW you do things is consistent with your WHY. Use the celery test: You get advice from multiple people about what you should do to make money in your business, so you go by those things, wondering what value these products will have in your business. Nobody can see what you believe in based on the products you have purchased. But, if you knew your WHY before you went to buy the items, you would only buy the products that make sense and fit. For example, if you are a health conscious company, you would not buy the candy or cookies that were recommended by colleagues. You filter your decisions through your WHY so you spend less time and money. With WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within can make a decision as clearly and accurately as the founder. Hiring, partnerships, strategies and marketing should all pass the celery test.

Part 5 The Biggest Challenge is Success

Chapter 11 - When WHY Goes Fuzzy

  • There are 27.7 million registered business in the US as of publication and only 1000 get to be fortune 1000 companies (.04%) which requires about $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

  • Sam Walton built Walmart on service to the community, employees and customers but after his death, the company started to confuse WHY it existed with HOW it did business -o offer low prices. Efficiency, cheap and profit margins became the company focus. Scandals about how the company treated their customers and employees emerged.

  • The Gathering of Titans, a meeting of entrepreneurs, found as their tangible success grew, something elusive started to dissipate. The owners knew WHAT they did and HOW they did it, but for many they no longer knew WHY.

  • The irony of success: many people who achieve great success don't always feel successful, just as some who achieves fame talks about loneliness. Success is a feeling or state of being. It is difficult to lay down a path to reach that feeling of success. Achievement comes when you pursue and attain what you want but success comes when you are in clear pursuit of WHY you want it. Success comes when we wake up every day in that never ending pursuit of WHY we do what we do. WHAT we do serves as the milestones to indicate we are on the right path. Do not mistake what you achieve as the final destination. Never lose sight of WHY, no matter how little or how much you achieve. If you get to a point when WHY and WHAT are not aligned, it marks a split.

Chapter 12 - Split Happens

  • When people start companies, statistics of failure don't matter; passion and optimism reign and energy is high. The reason so many small businesses fail is because passion alone can't cut it. The WHY must have the HOW. Often times as companies grow more successful, WHAT starts to comes first and WHY gets fuzzy. As more people join the company, the risk of the WHY getting diluted grows. Staff is no longer inspired by a greater cause and they come to work to reach certain goals. Employees are there to do a job which resonates to the customer.

  • For small businesses that are perfectly comfortable staying small, the need to articulate the WHY is not as important, but to become a billion dollar organization, you must manage through the split. The school bus test asks if a founder or leader were to be hit by a school bus, would the organization continue to thrive at the same pace without them? You must find effective ways to keep the founding vision alive forever.

  • When people can point to a company and clearly articulate the company's beliefs with words unrelated to price, quality, service and features that is the proof the company has successfully navigated WHY.

  • Any effective movement, social or business, needs a leader to march in front, preaching the vision and reminding people why they showed up in the first place.

  • For example, Microsoft is just one of the WHATs Bill Gates uses to achieve his WHY. He left Microsoft and moved on to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • Successor leaders must have a continuity of vision.

  • Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart made one big blunder: he didn't put his cause into clear enough words so that others could continue to lead the cause after he died.

Part 6 Discover WHY

Chapter 13 - The Origins of WHY

  • Only 2.5% of the population has an innovator mentality.

  • Finding your 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 market research, or extensive interviews. It comes from looking in the completely opposite direction from where you are now. It's a process of discovery not invention. It is borne out of the upbringing and life experience of an individual or small group.

  • The vision is to have every person and every organization know their WHY and use it to benefit all they do. You are the same person and you know the same things you did before, but the difference will be you start with WHY.

Chapter 14 - The New Competition

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

  • What if you showed up to work every day simply to be better than yourself? What if the goal was to do better this week then last week? For no other reason than because we want to leave the business in a better state than we found it? Those who forget WHY show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of outdo themselves.

  • Your goal is to find customers who believe what you believe and work together so everyone can succeed.

  • If every organization started with WHY, decisions would be simpler, loyalties would be greater, trust would be common and innovation would thrive.

  • All leaders must have 2 things: a vision of the world that does not exist and the ability to communicate it.

  • The question is, where does vision come from? This is the power of WHY. Our visions are the world we imagine, the tangible results of what the world would look like if we spent every day in pursuit of our WHY.

  • Leaders don't have all the great ideas but they provide support for those who want to contribute. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things not what we need to do. They inspire action.

I would love to hear about your WHY - leave a comment below to share.

Get your own copy of Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

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