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The Ultimate Start with Why Summary

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Firstly, this Start with Why Summary is written purely for educational purposes and for those who do not have the time to read the entire book and just want the good parts of the book. Then, this article, Start with Why Summary is just for you.

Simon Sinek, like most entrepreneurs “hit rock bottom” in late 2005. He had founded his own consulting business back 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 had then come into realization that inspirational leaders identify a purpose, then follow that purpose. 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, a lot of these 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, I’d say this Start with Why Summary is recommended to executives, managers, leaders and those who seek to rediscover their passion.

In this summary, you will learn 3 main things:

1) Why great leaders know that they should inspire their customers, rather than manipulate them into buying;

2) What inspirational leaders do to build the trust of both employees and customers

3) How to hire people who share your vision.

Key Takeaways from Start with Why Summary

  1. Inspirational leaders start by identifying their purpose, cause or vision.
  2. Your “Why” should stem out from your core purpose, it should be the reason “you get out of bed in the morning.”
  3. The majority of visionary leaders rely on their gut or intuition and are able to identify a void in the market before their target customers spot it.
  4. Your “What” defines the obvious aspects of your product or position with your firm.
  5. Set out to do business with your ideal customers: those who share your beliefs and will recruit others to your cause.
  6. 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.
  7. This is because “people don’t buy What you do, they buy Why you do it.”
  8. Your How explains the ways your product or service is unique and desirable.
  9. 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.”
  10. New hires who share your passion are “good fits” and will be your best employees and your company’s future leaders.


The Role of a Leader

In Start with Why, Simon explains regardless of size or industry, fantastic leaders know the reasons they do whatever they do. They follow their passion and have a vision that they can articulate. From the early 1900s, several Americans desired to be the very first person to fly a plane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was an educated, well-connected Harvard math professor with wealthy buddies along with a $50,000 government grant. Wilbur and Orville Wright had no schooling, no high end connections and limited financing. They began with their reason -- their purpose -- and inspired those around them. “There are leaders and those who lead.” Real leaders have the ability to 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 try to manipulate as opposed to inspire. Businesses influence customers by leveraging price, promotions, fear, peer pressure, aspirations and novelty. Such exploitation harvests short-term transactions, however, it will not earn long-term customer loyalty. Firms say their clients choose them since they offer the best services or products at the right price. In fact, companies often don't know why their customers act as they do. Instead, supervisors make assumptions they use as the foundation for conclusions. Businesses may conduct research, gather information and find advice, however , even after analyzing all of that info, sellers nevertheless make mistakes. The real book goes deeper in this topic, and would highly recommend you to read this section fully, as it’s not going to be elaborated upon in the Start with Why Summary.

“Imagine if every organization started with Why. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency.”

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.”

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.”

“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 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 conduct business with those they are able to trust, so they seek businesses that appear to share their beliefs and values. These sellers make shoppers feel part of something larger than themselves. People today make instinctive decisions based on emotion. Particularly, the basic, emotionally pushed limbic brain makes gut decisions before the higher-level, more rational, deductive neocortex comes into play. If folks start to make complex decisions, they tend to dismiss objective facts and figures and rely on intuition.

“If there were no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of the society.”

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

Building trust with clients has two components: First build trust with your workers and back your words with actions. Continental Airlines endured trust problems in the 1980s and 1990s before the coming of CEO Gordon Bethune. Continental rated last in on-time arrivals and customer satisfaction and suffered from high employee turnover. Bethune did away with all the locked doors to the executive suites in corporate headquarters and forced himself accessible to workers. He often worked alongside them , even handling bags if needed, and he instilled a team-oriented culture. Bethune set out to fix Continental's abysmal on-time performance document, which was costing it $5 million a month in extra expenses. He provided each and every worker $65 each month the airline rated in the top five for on-time performance. He delivered these checks separately from regular paychecks to highlight his message.

“You don’t hire for skills; you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” (Herb Kelleher)

Most people are able to perform at their best when they’re part of a culture that completely fits their values and beliefs. Great leaders find good matches and hire people who believe in the company’s cause or purpose. They also have no problem in hiring people that can do a certain job better than they can, as they say, “A players hire A+ players”. 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.” Gladwell is able to identify a “tipping point” which 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”, and doing a new type of marketing called, “Influencer marketing.” 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.

Source: Abstract Books Summaries

Finding Your True Believers

There are a bunch of people that believe in you; you just have to find them. You need action-oriented people to make your vision into a reality. You need people focused on how to be your implementers. Even inspiring, charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs 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 (Concept of Mastermind Group in Think and Grow Rich). Inspirational leaders (“Why types”) need steady “How types” to keep them grounded.

Reflecting Back

A true sense of why you do what you do, as described in Start with Why, comes from looking inside yourself and reflecting on your life. Understand your obstacles, failures and successes and evaluate how each of your decisions resulted in the next. Ponder where you’ve been and how your purpose can lead you where you want to go. Author of Start with Why, Simon Sinek experienced an internal shift away from his Why. Three years after starting his consulting business, he was depressed, out of passion 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.”

Quotes of Start with Why

“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief - WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.

For values or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs. 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.” Articulating our values as verbs gives us a clear idea - we have a clear idea of how to act in any situation.

Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders—in that order.

Leading is not the same as being the leader. Being the leader means you hold the highest rank, either by earning it, good fortune or navigating internal politics. Leading, however, means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.

You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.

Trust is maintained when values and beliefs are actively managed. If companies do not actively work to keep clarity, discipline and consistency in balance, then trust starts to break down.

All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.”

“Great companies don't hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.”

“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.”

“The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”

“Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.”

“two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

“Some in management positions operate as if they are in a tree of monkeys. They make sure that everyone at the top of the tree looking down sees only smiles. But all too often, those at the bottom looking up see only asses.”

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

“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”

If you liked the Start with Why Summary, leave a comment below!

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher. It is completely for educational purposes only, and we do not intend on selling this summary. Note: this article may contain affiliate links.

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