Start With Why (2009) tackles a fundamental question: What makes some organizations and people more innovative, influential, and profitable than others? Based on best-selling author Simon Sinek’s hugely influential lecture of the same name, the third most-watched TED talk of all time, these summaries unpack the answer to that conundrum. As Sinek’s examples show, it’s all about asking why rather than what.
Entrepreneur Simon Sinek “hit rock bottom” in late 2005. He had started his own consulting business in 2002, but three years later, he ran out of passion. Dead-ended, Sinek thought about what made him happy. He wondered why some leaders and companies succeeded and others do not. He realized that inspirational leaders identify a purpose and follow it. The actions they take and what they make is secondary to achieving their mission. Sinek calls this leadership process the “Golden Circle”: It starts with a vision (the “Why”), then moves to implementation (the “How”), and then conquers the product or service (the “What”). Unfortunately, many leaders have this pattern backward. They first focus on what they do and how; then they try to differentiate their product based on price, quality or features.
- Why great leaders want to inspire their customers, rather than manipulating them into buying;
- What inspirational leaders do to build employees’ and customers’ trust; and
- How to hire others who share your vision.
Introduction: What’s in it for me? Learn to inspire others by leveraging the power of why.
How to inspire . . . and how not to
Apple and the Golden Circle
How to start with why
“Manipulation Versus Inspiration”
“The Golden Circle”
Tipping Points and Bell Curves
Finding Your True Believers
Great Businesses Start with Why
Great Leaders Start with Why
Finding Your WHY
Method #1: The Friend Exercise
Method #2: Impactful People Exercise
About the author
Video and Podcast
Management, Leadership, Industries, Computers and Technology Industry, Entrepreneurship, Motivation, Business, Self Help, Personal Development, Psychology
Entrepreneur Simon Sinek “hit rock bottom” in late 2005. He had started his own consulting business in 2002, but three years later, he ran out of passion. Dead-ended, Sinek thought about what made him happy. He wondered why some leaders and companies succeeded and others do not. He realized that inspirational leaders identify a purpose and follow it. The actions they take and what they make is secondary to achieving their mission. Sinek calls this leadership process the “Golden Circle”: It starts with a vision (the “Why”), then moves to implementation (the “How”), and then conquers the product or service (the “What”). Unfortunately, many leaders have this pattern backward. They first focus on what they do and how; then they try to differentiate their product based on price, quality or features. Although Sinek isn’t subtle about his message, We recommends his approach to executives, managers, leaders and those who seek to rediscover their passion.
- Inspirational leaders start by identifying their purpose, cause or vision.
- They follow the concentric rings of the “Golden Circle,” starting with establishing their mission with “Why” in the center, then moving outward to “How” and then “What.”
- “Why” stems from your core purpose, the reason “you get out of bed in the morning.”
- Your How explains the ways your product or service is unique and desirable.
- Your What defines the obvious aspects of your product or position with your firm.
- Less successful leaders and companies work from the outside in: What-How-Why. Successful organizations and leaders work from the inside out: Why-How-What.
- WHY is a belief, HOWs are the actions taken to realize that belief, and WHATs are the results of those actions. When all three are in balance, trust is built and value is perceived.
- This is because “people don’t buy What you do, they buy Why you do it.”
- Visionary leaders rely on their gut or intuition and can identify a void in the market before their potential customers spot it.
- Set out to do business with your ideal customers: those who share your beliefs and will recruit others to your cause.
- New hires who share your passion are “good fits” and will be your best employees and your company’s future leaders.
Introduction: Learn to inspire others by leveraging the power of why.
Have you ever heard of Puget Sound? If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest or a distinguished connoisseur of naval shipyards, the answer is likely no. So when the TEDx conference happened there in 2009, in an inconspicuous room that seated slightly more than a hundred people, it wasn’t a big deal. The first speaker of the night was a no-name, a law school dropout who’d gone into marketing. And his microphone didn’t even work properly until it was suddenly switched on mid-speech.
But listeners soon realized that there was something captivating about the guy. The room was so silent you could’ve heard a pin drop – the audience was that captivated. At one point, he drew three concentric circles on a whiteboard. In the middle, in big, fat letters, he wrote a single word: “why?” Then he uttered a sentence that he would go on to repeat endlessly throughout not only the talk but also the rest of his life: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” No one realized it at the time, but this would become the third most clicked-on TED talk of all time. The title: “Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” And the name of the speaker? Simon Sinek.
In the chapters that follow, we’ll be walking you through the book that followed Sinek’s famous TED Talk and which has the same name. At this point, the book is just in its teenage years, but it’s already a classic; if you want to start a business or become a leader, there’s no way around it. In this summary, you’ll learn two things: first, how to come up with an inspiring vision; second, how to communicate it. In his talk and his book, Sinek often used Apple as an example, and we’ll do the same. Here’s what to expect: we’ll lay some groundwork, explaining how inspiring leadership works according to Sinek and what the three concentric circles – also known as the Golden Circle – have to do with it. Then we’ll get practical, and you’ll get some tips on how to apply it in your everyday business practices – that is, how you can find your “why” and put it into practice. So without further ado, let’s get right into it.
How to inspire . . . and how not to
All right! The goal here is to turn you into an inspirational leader – if you aren’t one already. Before that can happen, though, you need to understand what inspiration actually is and how it works. And to understand inspiration, it’s best to first understand its opposite.
Sinek identifies two main ways to influence the behavior of others, whether they’re your employees or customers: inspiration and manipulation. And while companies want to be inspirational, many of them are actually manipulative.
Mind you, “manipulation” here doesn’t mean brainwashing people into buying products or anything; it refers to a strategy of laying out incentives. Basically, it means the carrot and the stick. Just think of the plethora of marketing messages you’re bombarded with every day. Half off, for a limited time only! Supplies limited! Buy two, get one free! These are anything that pushes consumers to buy – think clearance sales, advertising hype, and appeals to authority with claims like “Four out of five dentists prefer Trident.” Manipulation is a popular strategy – and it’s effective, too. The only problem is that it doesn’t work over the long haul.
That’s because manipulation doesn’t breed loyal customers. When you manipulate your customers, they come to you for the good deals, not because they like you. This becomes painfully visible in tough economic times; when you have to raise your prices, your customers will desert you for a better offer, because they never cared about you or your product in the first place. And why would they? You didn’t inspire them. You just incentivized them.
Okay, now let’s shift to the other side of the spectrum and talk about an inspirational company – let’s talk about Apple.
Apple presents us with a very interesting example – almost a mind-boggling one. Because, on the face of it, there’s really nothing special about the company. Apple is a corporate structure like any other. It makes computers, just like Dell and Toshiba do. It also makes phones, but so does Samsung. Sure, its products are beautifully designed and work seamlessly, but so do products that other companies make. Sometimes Apple does well, sometimes not so much, and when it comes to its products or business operations, there’s plenty of criticism out there. Maybe the most noteworthy knock on Apple is that it doesn’t really offer any good deals on its products. For $1000, you could get the new iPhone . . . or you could have two brand-new Samsungs that do almost exactly the same things – or even more. But look closely. Apple doesn’t pull any carrot-and-stick trickery. It doesn’t offer any incentives. But when a new iPhone is released, what happens? People go crazy for it. They don’t do that for Samsung’s phones.
It’s fair to say that Apple’s customers are so committed to their brand that they behave irrationally. So the big question here is: How does Apple pull that off?
The short answer is that Apple is inspirational. And here’s the somewhat longer one: customers deeply care about Apple because Apple starts with why. Or, as Sinek put it in his now-famous TED Talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Let’s dig a little deeper.
Apple and the Golden Circle
Northern California at the end of the sixties. There’s a spirit of protest and uprising making its way throughout the state – throughout the whole country, frankly – and revolution is in the air. Young people with flowers in their hair and the occasional joint in their mouth are radically questioning those in power. They don’t like the conformist, individuality-crushing ways that government and big corporations are run. In the crowd are two nerdy-looking young men, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, both of them filled with an anti-establishment spirit. They’re sucking up the energy and the values around them, and it’s in this historical context that Apple’s spiritual core takes shape.
While hippies are roaming the streets of San Francisco, another upheaval, quieter and less drug-fueled, is also taking place: the computer revolution. Technology is developing in leaps and bounds; gone are the days of computational devices that run on punch cards and take up entire rooms, and the arrival of the personal computer is drawing near. Suddenly, it seems realistic that every American will have their own personal device in their living room.
The two Steves, Wozniak and Jobs, know that this is their chance. And it will be a game-changer. For the two Steves, computers aren’t a way to make money – that comes second. Instead, they’re a vehicle for fulfilling their deeper mission: empowering the individual and challenging the status quo. Put differently, Apple started with why, not with what or how.
Okay, at this point, let’s introduce you to Sinek’s key concept: the Golden Circle. It’s fascinating, and Sinek’s most influential idea to this day. It’s a pattern that naturally pops up in the success stories of all great leaders and thinkers, from Martin Luther King to the Wright Brothers to Apple. It explains why some brands are there for the long haul and some aren’t. And honestly? It’s pretty simple.
The Golden Circle is actually made up of three concentric circles. The why is the bull’s eye in the very center, the how is wrapped around that, and the what is in the outermost circle.
The what describes the activities of the business or organization. Usually, the what is pretty self-explanatory – say, manufacturing a product or offering certain services. The how illustrates the way the what is achieved: How do you handle everything? What is it that, for example, turns a particular manufacturing process or business culture into something special?
The why describes the mission of a business or organization. Why was it founded? What is its main goal?
So back to Apple. What’s Apple’s mission? You don’t have to look far – the company tells you right away: its purpose is to think different. Apple is there to challenge the status quo in creative ways and give power to the individual – remember, the two Steves developed these core values during the ’60s. Apple’s purpose isn’t to make computers or phones – that’s what it does. Sure, its computers and phones happen to embody its why, but that’s the result of the company following its higher cause, not the reason those products exist in the first place. Apple never started with what. It started with why.
So what makes the why so crucial? Well, it resonates on an emotional level. It speaks to a deep-seated human need to belong. People are drawn to individuals and organizations that share their core beliefs and values. They didn’t buy iPods because they were a good deal – they bought them because they shared Apple’s belief that challenging the status quo in a creative way is a purpose worth pursuing. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
That’s why they never bought Dell’s MP3 player, which was launched in 2003. Yes, Dell had the capacity to produce high-quality ones. But it just didn’t feel right. People could sense they just did it to get a foot in the market, not to fulfill a deeper mission. With the iPod, it all made sense: Apple likes to challenge the way things are done, and back then it was challenging the music industry. That’s just what Apple does, which made the move an authentic one, and that spoke to their customer’s core values. That’s why the iPod was a success and Dell’s MP3 player wasn’t.
There are other good reasons to figure out your company’s higher cause, too. When you start out as a company, you’re aiming for mass-market penetration. To achieve that, you first need to get your foot in the door. But how do you do that? Two types of customers are key here: innovators and early adopters. These are the kind of customers who love to be at the forefront of innovations. The geeks, the nerds, and the cool kids, in other words – the first ones who had an iPhone. Innovators and early adopters will go to great lengths to acquire a product that no one else has tried yet. And they’re drawn to visionary leaders and companies that know their why. Once you have the geeks on your side, things should get easier – they’ll spread the word about what you’re up to.
Here’s a last good reason to know your why: once you know your purpose, you’ll automatically attract those who share it. This is particularly important when it comes to hiring. You’ll be able to filter out the bystanders and freeloaders – those that are only in it for the money or for prestige. You’ll then be left with people who are inherently passionate about your mission. If you really start with your why, it’ll be easier to continue on with it once you have the right people on board.
How to start with why
Now, this all sounds pretty good, you might be thinking, and it wouldn’t actually be that hard to implement. After all, how hard can it be to know why you’re doing something? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than you might think.
Here’s the catch: Even though the why should be at the very center of any company, most founders and leaders actually don’t have a clue what their why is. They can tell you exactly what they do and how they do it, sure. But if you ask them why their company exists, a lot of them struggle to answer. They might mumble something about how they always wanted to start a company, or just admit they’re in for the money. Or maybe they’ll offer up something abstract about “making the world a better place.”
That’s a problem – a big one! Because if you don’t know the purpose of your company, why would anyone else care? And, maybe more importantly, how can you expect your employees to come to work with a sense of purpose if you don’t have one yourself? Why would anyone buy your products if they don’t understand what they stand for?
So this is the time to get practical. Sinek sprinkled some ideas about how throughout his book – just little tidbits here and there. We’ve gathered the three most useful points, ways for you as a leader to actually figure out and properly communicate your why.
So let’s begin with the first one: finding your why.
This is actually a tough one, so tough that Sinek wrote a whole other book about it called Find Your Why. Finding your purpose in life, or your company’s purpose, isn’t by any means easy. It can take a lifetime, and we can’t promise you’ll find your life’s purpose in a summary. But nonetheless, here’s a good piece of advice: If you want to find your purpose, investigate your past and try to find patterns there.
Ask yourself: What were you known for? How did friends, family, and coworkers perceive you – what did they notice that made you special? Often, the key to your purpose lies there. For example, in a time of struggle and failure, Sinek himself did some introspection and remembered that he was always seen as an eternal optimist. He was the one who would believe in others and inspire them to take action no matter the context. So now he’s dedicated his life to that – his why is to inspire others, just like he always used to do.
Once you’ve found your why, move on to step number two. That’s finding a way to clearly communicate your why. If you can’t, people won’t understand you. There are thousands of leaders who know what they want, but their companies never take off because they struggle to get the message across. From their perspective, others just don’t “get it.” Well, if you’re serious about your why, that’s not an option. No two ways about it: inspiring leaders have to know how to clearly communicate their why.
Here’s where we bring back the Golden Circle, which has the why in the center, the how in the middle, and the what in the outer ring. The key to inspiring leadership is to communicate from the inside out. Put simply, whatever you communicate, always start with why you do things. Then move on to how you do them before moving on to what exactly you do. Never go in the other direction, leaving your why for last. This is just as true for internal communications as it is for marketing messages.
Think about our MP3 player example. If Dell were to make another player, like most companies, it would probably start with what and then move on to how, something like “Hey, we made MP3-players with 25 gigabytes of internal storage, designed by top-notch engineers focused on user friendliness. Check them out!”
See what it would be doing there, though? First, the what gets mentioned – that is, players with 25 gigs of storage; then the pitch moves on to the how – Dell’s top-notch engineers. That’s how most companies communicate. Not very appealing, is it?
In contrast, when Apple launched the iPod, it put its why first. It said “We want to revolutionize how music is distributed and consumed.” Then it followed up with, “We made a device that can store a thousand songs and fits in your pocket” – the how. Based on that, if you wanted to, you could buy an iPod – the what. This is authentically inspiring. It speaks to who you want to be – to your beliefs. That’s what communicating from the inside out looks like – you start with why you do things.
So always get the order of your information right: why first, how second, and what third. This will help you attract not just the right customers, but also the right employees. To put it in very practical terms: Set up your job ads in a way that puts the why first. Blinkist itself is a good example. When you browse our open positions, you’ll read these two sentences first: “We’re on a mission to help people turn ordinary moments into extraordinary learning opportunities – anytime, anywhere. We inspire people to keep learning.“
Which brings us to our third tip: Get the right people to handle the how so you can concentrate on the why. As the leader of the company, you represent the why. As your company grows, there’s a risk that you’ll get lost in the nitty-gritty of everyday operations. Don’t do that. You’ll have to rely on senior executives who are driven by your vision to set up the infrastructure that will make your vision tangible. You won’t be able to manage everything. Remember, as a leader, your job is to inspire others to take action – not to do everything yourself. So focus your energy on your company’s why. Don’t let things get fuzzy. Regularly remind your employees why they started with the company in the first place and why they’re passionate about your mission. Communicate the why clearly, and everything else will follow.
Regardless of size or industry, great leaders know the reasons that they do whatever they do. They follow their passion and have a vision they can articulate. In the early 1900s, several Americans wanted to be the first person to fly an airplane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was an educated, well-connected Harvard math professor with wealthy friends and a $50,000 government grant. Wilbur and Orville Wright had no education, no high-end connections and limited finances. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made their dream come true. They started with their reason Why – their purpose – and inspired those around them. “There are leaders and those who lead.” Those who lead are more common, but real leaders motivate and inspire you.
“Inspiring leaders and companies…think, act and communicate exactly alike. And it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.”
“Manipulation Versus Inspiration”
Most sellers manipulate rather than inspire. Businesses influence customers by leveraging price, promotions, fear, peer pressure, aspirations and novelty. Such manipulation harvests short-term transactions, but it doesn’t earn long-term customer loyalty. Businesses say their customers choose them because they offer the best products or services at the right price. In reality, companies often don’t know why their customers act as they do. Instead, managers make assumptions that they use as the foundation for decisions. Firms may conduct research, collect information and seek advice, but, even after analyzing all that data, sellers still make mistakes.
“Imagine if every organization started with Why. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency.”
For example, merchandisers routinely drop their prices to entice potential customers. Once customers get accustomed to paying reduced prices, they don’t want to pay the full price, which cuts profits. Some firms offer promotions instead of cutting prices, such as “two for the price of one” or “buy X, get Y free.” Many ads and public-service announcements use fear-based messages, such as the popular 1980s commercial featuring an egg being cracked into a hot skillet: “This is your brain” (the egg); “This is your brain on drugs.”(the egg sizzling). “Any questions?” Fear is the most powerful manipulator. Peer-pressure marketing preys on fear and emotion – as when a seller tries to convince you its product is best because celebrities or experts use it.
“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.”
Aspirational messages and innovation are more subtle forms of manipulation. While fear focuses on the negative, aspirations focus on the positive or on something you might desire. Aspirational statements include such messages as, “In six weeks, you can be rich” or “Drop 10 pounds fast.” Companies tout innovations, but in a fast-paced market, innovations don’t stay unique for long. Manipulation instills “repeat business” – that is, “when people do business with you multiple times” – but not loyalty. Customers who feel loyal “are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.” Firms must earn such loyalty, but instead many use manipulation to gain repeat customers and must keep manipulating to maintain their business.
“Companies with a clear sense of Why…ignore their competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of Why are obsessed with what others are doing.”
“The Golden Circle”
Great leaders follow a pattern called the Golden Circle. Like a target, the Golden Circle starts with a small bull’s-eye with “Why” in the center, surrounded by a larger circle marked “How” and then surrounded by the biggest circle labeled “What.” Most individuals and companies can define what they do. They can usually articulate how they do it and the elements that differentiate them from their competitors. However, only a select few can identify their Why.
“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 it comes to marketing, most companies pursue the standard What-How-Why approach. They should reverse the order, explaining first their Why and their How, and then their What. For example, if Apple were a typical company, its ads might read: “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?” But, a more realistic ad for Apple might read, “[In] 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?”
“Successful succession is more than selecting someone with an appropriate skill set – it’s…finding someone…in lockstep with the original cause around which the company was founded.”
The second message doesn’t rely on any of the usual manipulations. Apple has loyal customers who believe in the company’s philosophy. Other technology firms might make beautiful, simple products, but Apple resonates with customers because they appreciate its vision.
“When an organization defines itself by what it does, that’s all it will ever be able to do.”
Leaders who define their companies according to what they make or how they make it paint themselves into a corner. Without realizing it, they become just like everyone else and compete on price, quality, service, and the like. Each new competitor in the marketplace makes it harder for those organizations to differentiate their offerings, and the manipulation must begin anew.
“Loyalty to a company trumps pay and benefits…We don’t want to come to work to build a wall; we want to come to work to build a cathedral.”
Consumers want to do business with those they trust, so they seek companies that seem to share their values and beliefs. These sellers make shoppers feel part of something bigger than themselves. People make instinctive decisions based on emotion. Specifically, the basic, emotionally driven limbic brain makes gut decisions before the higher-level, more rational, deductive neocortex comes into play. When people make complex decisions, they tend to dismiss objective facts and figures and rely more on instinct.
“If there were no trust…no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of the society.”
Neuroscientist Richard Restak, who writes about the power of the limbic system in The Naked Brain, says that when people are forced to make decisions based on data alone, they take more time and usually overanalyze the situation. He believes gut decisions “tend to be faster, high-quality decisions.” Choices that aren’t rooted in emotion can lead people to doubt whether they made the right decisions, but those with reliable gut feelings seldom second-guess their choices.
“If the levels of the Golden Circle are in balance, all those who share the organization’s view of the world will be drawn to it and its products like a moth to a light bulb.”
Great leaders rely on their instincts or intuition. They can identify a void in the market before their customers detect it. In the 1970s, San Antonio businessman Rollin King decided to replicate the success of a short-distance, low-cost airline named Pacific Southwest. King had an unlikely business partner, Herb Kelleher, his divorce lawyer and friend. Pacific Southwest served California, and King and Kelleher’s new Southwest Airlines initially served only Texas by providing flights linking Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. But King and Kelleher wanted to appeal to the common person by creating an airline that was cheap, easy to use and fun. They saw their main competition as ground transportation, not other airlines. Southwest became a business legend by remaining profitable every year while other airlines struggled. United and Delta tried to follow Southwest’s model by creating their own low-cost air carriers. Both failed within four years because they didn’t following their own sense of mission or purpose.
“We do better in cultures in which we are good fits.”
Building trust with customers has two components: First build trust with your employees and then back your words with actions. Continental Airlines suffered trust issues in the 1980s and 1990s until the arrival of CEO Gordon Bethune. Continental ranked last in on-time arrivals and customer satisfaction and suffered from high employee turnover. Bethune did away with the locked doors on the executive suites at corporate headquarters and made himself accessible to employees. He often worked alongside them, even handling bags when necessary, and he instilled a team-oriented culture. Bethune set out to fix Continental’s abysmal on-time performance record, which was costing it $5 million a month in extra expenses. He offered every single employee $65 each month that the airline ranked in the top five for on-time performance. He sent these checks separately from regular paychecks to underscore his message.
“You don’t hire for skills; you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” (Herb Kelleher)
People perform at their best when they’re part of a culture that fits their values and beliefs. Great leaders find good matches and hire people who believe in the company’s cause or purpose. In 1914, Englishman Ernest Shackleton set out to cross Antarctica’s frozen terrain and reach the South Pole. Winter came early, and he and his crew became trapped in ice for 10 months. Shackleton and some of his men traveled 800 miles in small lifeboats to bring help to the rest of the crew. Nobody on his crew died or tried to overthrow his leadership. Why? Shackleton had hired the right people. His newspaper ad read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” Shackleton found people perfectly suited to the job at hand; he found what every company wants and needs: “good fits.”
“Great leaders…inspire people to act…Those who truly lead…create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.”
Tipping Points and Bell Curves
In his 2002 book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses “connectors” and “influencers.” He identifies a “tipping point” that occurs when ideas or behaviors spread rapidly, like a virus. Advertising and marketing executives try to build momentum for their products by reaching out to “influencers.” Gladwell had several predecessors – notably Everett M. Rogers and Geoffrey Moore.
Rogers described how society embraces new ideas in his groundbreaking 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations. Moore followed up 30 years later with Crossing the Chasm, explaining how and why people adopt new technology. The “Law of Diffusion of Innovations” follows a bell curve, in which 2.5% of people are “innovators” on one end of the curve. Then, 13.5% are “early adopters,” and the “majority” falls in the middle with 34% adopting new technology early and 34% adopting it late. Far on the other leg, 16% are “laggards.”
According to Moore, innovators and early adopters push us. They are the first to try new approaches, ideas and technologies. They trust their intuition and take risks. As consumers, they’re willing to pay more or be inconvenienced to be first. Most people fall in the majority; they try something new after they know it works. Laggards are the last ones to adopt something new. They, for example, still refuse to get cellphones because their landlines work just fine. Recruit innovators and early adopters who believe in your product and mission. They will recruit others to your cause.
Finding Your True Believers
Your true believers are out there; you just have to find them. You need action-oriented people to make your vision a reality. You need people focused on how to be your implementers. Even inspiring, charismatic leaders need followers to create vehicles for moving their ideas forward. Where would Steve Jobs have been without Steve Wozniak, or Bill Gates without Paul Allen, or Walt Disney without Roy Disney? In each pair, the visionary leader defines the Why and the second person implements the How. Inspirational leaders (“Why types”) need steady “How types” to keep them grounded.
In 1957, Walt Disney said he’d be in jail “with checks bouncing,” if not for his brother, Roy. Walt admitted that he never knew how much money he had in the bank, but Roy always knew. Walt was the thinker; Roy was the doer. While Walt drew cartoons and dreamed of making movies, his brother had the idea of licensing the cartoons and selling them as merchandise. Roy founded the Buena Vista Distribution Company, which became part of Disney’s film empire. When people who focus on the Why join those who carry out the How, they can change the world.
Even with success, individuals and companies must stay connected to their original vision. Individuals who succeed or companies that become too large risk losing that spark. They must hold on to it, so their endeavors continue to have purpose and earn profits.
A true sense of why you do what you do comes from looking inside yourself and reflecting on your life. Ponder where you’ve been and how your purpose can lead you where you want to go. Author Simon Sinek experienced an internal shift away from his Why. Three years after starting his consulting business, he was depressed and certain he was going out of business. Someone explained to him how the brain works and taught him that buying behavior is rooted in biology. Sinek thus discovered his Why and set out to “inspire people to do the things that inspire them.”
Great Businesses Start with Why
In 2018, Nike released an ad with the face of the quarterback and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, and the caption, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” No product, just Kaepernick’s face and those words.
Nike’s stock fell 3% the day after the ad was released. But over the next week, Nike’s online sales jumped 25%.
Nike made it clear what they believe and what they stand for, and those who believe what Nike believe went out and bought a bunch of Nike products.
Great businesses, like Nike, start by telling you what they stand for, not what they’re selling.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
Great Leaders Start with Why
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did NOT stand in front of 250,000 people in Washington DC and say, “I have a 10-step plan to end racial segregation in the South.” Dr. King told the crowd about an inspiring vision – his WHY – he was willing to die for: “I dream of a world where little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers…”
Dr. King motivated thousands of people to join the civil rights movement because he started with inspiration, not instruction.
Finding Your WHY
Find your WHY and you’ll not only be able to inspire others to buy your product or join your cause, you’ll inspire yourself to get out of bed and take on challenging tasks.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
“Discovering your WHY is like panning for gold in the river of the past: the gold is there, lost in the debris of the river, hidden by rushing water.” – Simon Sinek
As you search through the river of your past, your goal is to fill the following WHY statement:
“My WHY is TO propel people forward SO THAT they can make their mark on the world.” – David Mead (co-author of Find Your Why)
“My WHY is TO inspire people to do what inspires them, SO THAT together we can change the world for the better.” – Simon Sinek
Method #1: The Friend Exercise
Author Simon Sinek found his WHY asking close friends: “Why do you consider me a good friend?”
One friend said, “I can trust you to be there for me,” and “You’re fun to be around.” But Sinek encouraged him to go deeper, and asked, “What is it that makes me a unique friend?”
After a few uncomfortable moments, his friend said something that gave him goosebumps: “When I talk to you, I feel inspired.”
Sinek felt a surge of energy and knew he was close to finding his WHY. He thought more about it and experimented with different wording until he came up with the statement “My WHY is TO inspire people to do what inspires them, SO THAT together we can change the world.”
Once Sinek could articulate his WHY, every decision filtered through his WHY. As a result, he shut down his marketing business and started writing ‘Start with Why’…the rest is history.
Method #2: Impactful People Exercise
Create a list of people who have helped you become the person you are today.
- Did your grandma give you the confidence to be yourself when most people thought you were weird?
- Did your middle school teacher change the way you see the world and your role in it?
- Did a coach help you realize your potential?
Find a partner and tell them about the specific impact each person had on you. Your partner’s job is to notice when you talk about an impact that makes you come alive. Your WHY is to have that impact on others. Fill in your WHY statement accordingly.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
Let’s wrap this summary up with an analogy, a little story about inspiration from Start With Why that we particularly liked. It’s an inspirational story about inspiration – seriously. Call it meta-inspiration if you like.
It’s the story of two medieval stonemasons at a large construction site. You go up to the first one and ask him if he likes his job. He says: “Well, it’s really a drag, if you want to know the truth. It’s burning hot in the sun and the work is back-breaking, just one stone after the other. And I don’t even know if I’ll live long enough to see the end result of what I’m doing here. So in short: no. I don’t like it at all.”
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Then you walk up to the second stonemason and ask him the same question.
He says, “Well, as you can imagine, it’s pretty monotonous, it’s hot and not particularly good for my lower back. I’ve been doing this for years now, and I don’t even know if I’ll live long enough to see the end result. But you know what, despite all the drudgery, I love it. It’s worthwhile, because I’m building a cathedral!”
Those two stonemasons are doing exactly the same work. But the second one does it with a sense of purpose. He knows what he’s doing it for – he’s building a cathedral. He’s inspired. And this is exactly your job as a leader: Remind everyone why they’re doing something. Give them cathedrals.
About the author
SIMON SINEK, the bestselling author of LEADERS EAT LAST and TOGETHER IS BETTER, is an optimist who believes in a brighter future for humanity. He teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people and has presented his ideas around the world, from small startups to Fortune 50 corporations, from Hollywood to Congress to the Pentagon. His TED Talk based on START WITH WHY is the third most popular TED video of all time. Learn more about his work and how you can inspire those around you at StartWithWhy.com.
Simon Sinek is an optimist, British author, motivational speaker, marketing consultant, and adjunct member of the RAND Corporation. He teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. His book Start With Why expands on his popular TED Talk, “How great leaders inspire action.”
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