Book review: Start with why

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‘Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action‘, written by Simon Sinek, carefully illustrates examples of leaders such as Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King and Sam Walton, who stand out from everyone else for one simple reason… They always start with WHY.

As a whole, I enjoyed reading ‘start with why’ finding it a quick, easy yet catchy read. I did, however, have a few reservations and criticism, which are outlined below. But first, I will introduce you to Sinek’s main ideas/the idea’s that most inspired me.

There are only two ways to influence behavior

I don’t believe for one second that Sinek was the first person to come to this conclusion of human behavior. However, to me it was a concept that, as someone with no marketing knowledge, I had never heard before. And, I liked the way Sinek wrote about it in the early stages of the book.

There are only two ways to influence the behavior of consumers, either by inspiration or manipulation.

The mistake most leaders make is they manipulate. They use fear, price, promotions, aspiration, peer pressure and novelty (which, by the way, is not to be confused with innovation) as ways to get us to buy their products. Now, manipulation works for transactions. However, it doesn’t mean it is right and it definitely doesn’t create loyalty, which is what all successful businesses need.

The Golden Circle and Starting with Why

So, how do we create loyalty?

How do we get customers to keep coming back to us time and time again? Regardless of our price, the waiting time for the product or the inconvenience it takes to get?

How do we get customers to sing our praises and refuse to shop elsewhere, even if another company were offering lower prices, better deals or, dare I say it, better quality products?

Well, Sinek’s answer is simple: start with WHY.

In the early chapters of the book, Sinek introduces his golden circle. Designed to provide a consistent way to communicate, the golden circle promotes that, in order to attract those who believe what we believe and therefore those who are most likely to be loyal to our brand, we need to start with explaining WHY we are doing what we do.

Then, after grabbing the attention of those who you want to influence by telling them why you are doing exactly what you are doing, you can then explain HOW you are different to anyone else and WHAT exactly you do. In essence, the ‘WHAT’ is the tangible proof of your why.

Sinek then goes on to advocate that the golden circle is not an option, it is biology. As humans, we all have a desire to belong, and this desire drives us to pursue others who share the same values and beliefs – the same WHY.

Sinek explains that the golden circle matches to the way our brain operates. Our neocortex responds to the WHAT level. It is responsible for rational and analytical thought and language. It allows us to look at facts, but it doesn’t drive our behavior. Whereas, the limbic brain responds to the HOW and WHY, which is responsible for the feelings, trust and loyalty which drives our behavior.

So, once we show people our WHY, we appeal to their limbic brain and they trust us and are therefore loyal and more likely continue to buy from us for as long as their beliefs make them feel like they fit in with our WHY.

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation

The Law of Diffusion, introduced by Everet M. Rogers, pertains to the bell curve of product adoption, which outlines the percentage of the market who adopt your product with the innovators, followed by early adapters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

People who queue up for the latest iPhone, they are the early adopters. And, it is to these people that we need to be crystal clear about our WHY to, as when you get these early adopters on your side, they will effortlessly spread the word to others.

The Celery Test

Another interesting idea that Sinek proposes is the ‘celery test’. When starting up a business, or trying to rectify a failing one, people take advice from too many different people. The problem with this is that this advice might not connect up to your WHY, rendering it useless.

Think about it – you are trying to set up a business that does everything based around the unbreakable belief that us humans need to live a healthy lifestyle. Yet, when you speak to four different people, each who are successful in different industries, person A tells you to that buying chocolate is the key to success, person B says coconut water, person C tells you sweets are the key, and person D says celery.

If you go to the supermarket and buy all four, they won’t all work as effective healthy eating success strategies. However, if you were just to buy celery and coconut water, you would be promoting your key belief, your WHY.

The key lesson to take away from this is to filter every single business decision to the WHY of your company.

Every WHY Needs a HOW

I liked this idea as it nicely rounded up my confusion as to how starting with the WHY actually makes a successful business.

Sinek proposes that there are ‘why’ types of people. Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Walt Disney, Bill Gates for example. These are the visionaries, the optimists with the overactive imagination and big dreams for the future.

However,  every ‘why’ type needs a ‘how’ type. The ‘how’ types are realistic, they are focused and they put plans into place.

Indeed, how types can be successful when going solo – they do not need visionaries to do big things. However, why types cannot, and will not, be successful without the realistic perspective of the how type.

This also helps understand the difference between a ‘mission’ statement and a ‘vision’ statement. A vision statement is the founders why, and the mission is the how they will realistically reach that vision.

My Stance on ‘Start with Why’…

What irritated me about ‘start with why’ is Sinek’s compulsive use of Apple for nearly every point he made. Yes, Apple, and Steve Jobs, are pretty extraordinary. However, to the average person, Apple is a little bit unachievable. I think Sinek could’ve made his ideas a more relatable by referencing smaller, yet still successful, businesses.

Sinek is not alone in using Apple as examples for success. Many motivational speakers will find some way to relate their theory to Apple. I also feel that Sinek doesn’t give enough examples of how his ideas relate to the everyday businessman.

And, I feel that Sinek glazes over the fact that many companies do actually succeed with only clever marketing techniques. Do you honestly buy your toothbrush, toilet paper, shampoo or bed linen based on a companies WHY? I feel that Sinek focuses too much on huge companies and not on small companies and therefore many of us won’t find it particularly useful to applying to our own life.

Another criticism: theres just too much ‘fluff’. Maybe I am biased, but I find that a lot inspirational, ‘life-changing’ books ramble on a bit. And for me, after spending a lot of time writing academic papers, I am a huge fan of keeping it purposeful and concise.

As engaging as I found Sinek’s work, there were many points where I found myself thinking “oh, get to the point” or “yes, you said that three sentences ago but phrased in a slightly different way”. In all honesty, I was engulfed by the first half of the book, but found myself getting more withdrawn by the page in the second half. In my opinion, Sinek has tried to turn a simple idea into a book and I found myself wondering if he got commission for writing X amount of pages, hence all the waffle… any authors on here, is that true?

However, despite being a bit too fluffy, the purpose of the book still remains clear throughout. In fact, I would argue that Sinek meticulously ‘practices what he preaches’ throughout the entire book. His ‘WHY’ is profusely clear. He has written this book to  inspire us to become great leaders and, overall, I liked it.

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