This is a comprehensive summary of the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get access to a downloadable worksheet.
Members-only printable. Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
In Start with Why, Simon Sinek explains the major difference between a good company and a great company. Between a boss and a leader. And no, it’s not market share, charisma, or the size of the office. It’s the ability to clearly communicate the reason you exist – your why. But while the idea shared in the book is of great importance, the text feels like an endless repetition of the same message, the same company (Apple) as an example, and the same capitalized text: WHY, HOW, WHAT.
The Core Idea:
The reason your company exists, beyond making profit, is the main reason people will spend their hard-earned cash to get what you offer. If you continuously shout how many features you have, some will buy, yes. But this is not a good long term strategy. You have to whisper your vision. To communicate why you do what you do. If you do that, you’ll have a horde of fans who will follow you no matter what.
- Your message should inspire people to act. It should give them a sense of purpose.
- If you solely rely on promotions to make profit, you’re sabotaging your own business. You’ll make sales but you won’t get loyal customers.
- Clearly communicate with others why you do what you do. Tell them how you want to make the world a better place.
5 Key Lessons from Start with Why:
- Lesson #1: Companies Without a Strong Why Rely On Promotions
- Lesson #2: Use The Golden Circle Concept To Inspire People
- Lesson #3: Why Drives Behavior Because It Communicates With Our Brain On A Deeper Level
- Lesson #4: Transform Your Values Into Verbs
- Lesson #5: Focus On The Reason You Exist, Not On Making Money
Lesson #1: Companies Without a Strong Why Rely On Promotions
Inspired by the entrepreneurial craze, young engineers and innovators are relying on promotions to make a quick buck.
These wannabe unicorn companies are literally pouring millions of dollars on ads and on hacks to optimize the “engagement” on their platforms.
While this strategy might drive some sales, what do you think will happen when all the venture capital is burned?
That’s right, we’re back to the drawing board!
Bombarding people with ads is an expensive way to make money. When you rely on promotions to make cash, you don’t create loyal fans. You get new customers because the price is low. But when the trial is over, they’ll most probably leave and never return. People will be careless of your values and principles if you have any at all.
You’ve manipulated these people to make them get your service. And manipulation rarely leads to something long-lasting.
If you want to build a sustainable business, you have to think long term. To inspire people and to encourage loyalty.
How to do this?
By sharing your views with the world. By sharing why you exist.
“For the seller, selling based on price is like heroin. The short-term gain is fantastic, but the more you do it, the harder it becomes to kick the habit. Once buyers get used to paying a lower-than-average price for a product or services, it is very hard to get them to pay more.” Simon Sinek
Lesson #2: Use The Golden Circle Concept To Inspire People
The Golden Circle is the formula shared in the book that you can use to create an Apple-like company and dominate the market in your niche.
The concept was inspired by the golden ratio – at least that’s what the author says.
What’s the golden ratio?
It’s a mathematical relationship between two quantities. It’s indicated by a special number approximately equal to 1.618 and symbolized with the Greek word “Phi”.
We don’t need to know the whole story about the Phi phenomenon. Actually, I wasn’t able to understand how The Golden Circle concept is exactly tied to the Phi number but let’s not go in that direction.
Put simply, the main idea here revolves around finding order in this seemingly chaotic world and understanding why we do what we do.
To understand the Golden Circle, imagine three circles inside one another. Inside these circles we have the following ideas:
- What (the outer ring): Every single organization and person on the planet know what they are doing.
- How (the middle): Most of us know how we do what we do. What are all the processes involved in our actions and how our business is different from others.
- Why (the center): Few companies know why they do what they do. And that’s the differentiating factor for a successful company. You need to ask yourself: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What do you stand for? Why does your organization exist? Next, make sure you clearly communicate your message – your why – with your audience. Make business decisions based on why you do what you do.
What companies do and how they are doing it are interesting subjects. However, these things don’t inspire people to do business with you.
You need to tell people why you do what you do. This way you’ll build a loyal fan base.
“The Golden Circle offers an explanation for long-term success, but the inherent nature of doing things for the long term often includes investments or short-term costs. This is the reason the discipline to stay focused on the WHY and remain true to your values matters so much.” Simon Sinek
Lesson #3: Why Drives Behavior Because It Communicates With Our Brain On A Deeper Level
You might think that why, how, and what (a.k.a the Golden Circle) is just another fancy circular formula for persuading more people to become your customers but it’s more than that.
The idea of why corresponds with the limbic brain. And according to the research done by the author in the book, the limbic brain is this tiny part in our heads responsible for our feelings. Mainly, the feelings of trust and loyalty.
And our feelings and emotions, if you still don’t know, are in charge of the decisions we daily make.
You might present your product as better than your competitors but people’s decision to buy is largely influenced by their emotions, not by the comparison between the products.
When people relate to our why, they feel attracted by our proposition. Even if they can’t verbalize why they like us, they are subconsciously drawn to our brand.
Simon Sinek writes the following in the book, “when we communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls decision-making.”
Lesson #4: Transform Your Values Into Verbs
OK, we now know that this why thing is important. The author makes a really good job instilling this in our heads by mentioning the following sentence on every second page: “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”
But how to come up with an authentic why and make people fall in love with your brand?
Transform your values into verbs.
Painting your kitchen walls with inspiring words and slogans might seem cool on Instagram but few people will realize how they should behave if you simply put the word “honesty.”
To communicate clearly your values with both your customers and employees, you should convey your values into verbs.
Let me give you one of the examples mentioned in the book: “It’s not “integrity,” it’s “always do the right thing.” It’s not “innovation,” it’s “look at the problem from a different angle.”
The word innovation, for example, means different things for different people.
Some might think that your company uses only the latest tech when creating products. Others, in contrast, may think that your kitchen is equipped with fancy coffee machines.
In reality, no one will know for sure until you clearly state what the word innovation means for your company.
For example, instead of simply writing innovation we can expand it a bit and go with: “We’re always using the latest and greatest tech in all of the gadgets we produce to ensure that our clients are benefiting from the best on the market.”
But simply stating this is not enough.
Once you know what your values are you should (1) communicate them with clients and employees and (2) remain true to them and operate according to these beliefs.
Lesson #5: Focus On The Reason You Exist, Not On Making Money
“Great organizations don’t just drive profits, they lead people, and they change the course of industries and sometimes our lives in the process.” Simon Sinek
If you’re starting a company with the sole intention to make money, you’re starting for the wrong reason.
The foundation of your business should be your why. Not trying to squeeze the last dollar out of every customer.
Once you have that, move on to the next thing: creating a culture.
We’ve survived thanks to our ability to form cultures. That’s why you should perceive your biz as a movement. A way of living.
Don’t imagine your business like that: “I’m simply selling rice bread.”
Think of it the following way: You’re making gluten-free rice bread because you believe that more people should eat healthy and have easy access to high-nutritions, deletions meals that will help them survive in the midst of a busy day. OK?
The more specific your value proposition is, the better. This way you’ll attract the right kind of customers. The early adopters who will believe what you believe.
Once you appeal to them, they will help you form a movement and attract more customers.
If your message is clear and if you repeatedly do what you mentioned in the beginning, people will stay with you. Eventually, you’ll form a cult-like culture that will keep the ball rolling as long as you don’t screw things up (i.e. forget your why and start thinking only about making money).
- Compete against yourself: Competing against everyone else in your niche feels exhausting. Obviously there will be other people/companies who will be better if you’re just starting. But should you even care? Simon Sinek says no, you shouldn’t. You should compete against yourself. Show up every day and aim to be better than yesterday.
- Look in the future to understand your why: Why-type people can see things other people can’t. They can imagine a future that still doesn’t exist. A world where things are different, better. So, to find your why, take a moment to think about a moment in the future where people’s lives are improved. What you’ve done to positively influence their lives?
- Formulate your why: This next action-tip is quite straightforward. Think about why your brand exists? Of course, the answer should be something beyond making money. Look for reasons like these: What change you want to make in the world? What’s the core reason you started this?
- Your Golden Circle: Your why will be enough to inspire you to take action but to keep going, you need to consider some extra things. You also need to formulate your how and what. Once you have a reason to start a company, sit down and write down what are you going to do and how are you going to do it.
- Find how-type people: Creative folks are usually considered lazy and disorganized by society because they often get lost in their own thoughts. They have a vision but they often don’t know how to make things work. If you’re the same type of guy/girl, you need how-type folks. These fellas are well-organized and love creating processes and automatic tasks. Your need such people to transform your vision, your why, into a tangible product. Without how, you’re just daydreaming.
Commentary And My Personal Takeaway
Though the idea the author is trying to communicate through his book is amazing, something you should really take into account if you’re running a business, the text feels like endless praise for Apple. An endless repetition of pretty much the same message, again and again.
I loved the TED talk by Simon Sinek (How great leaders inspire action). I’ve watched it at least 50 times. I’ve shared it with friends and discussed it with colleagues. Actually, I don’t know why it took me a couple of years to get my hands on the book.
I wanted to like the book. To give it 5 stars and to tell you that you should go and buy it now. However, it turns out, that the TED talk is all you need to know about why some organizations are more profitable than others.
Don’t get me wrong, the concept of starting with why is of uber importance. You surely need to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing every single day. But a whole book to convey the idea? A waste of time. Probably a long article would have been enough.
My personal takeaway? This: Don’t just do stuff. Don’t sell and resell. First, figure out why you want to be in the business. Sit down and write your why. How to do it? The why usually uncovers by answering the following question: What kind of change do you want to make in the world?
“A clear sense of WHY sets expectations. When we don’t know an organization’s WHY, we don’t know what to expect, so we expect the minimum—price, quality, service, features—the commodity stuff. But when we do have a sense for the WHY, we expect more.” Simon Sinek
“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.” Simon Sinek
“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.” Simon Sinek