Start With Why | Notes & Review

Posted on March 29, 2015


Simon Sinek. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action. Portfolio/Penguin, 2009. (246 pages)

Forbes article by Ken Krogue; Sinek’s TED talk; Summary by Kim Hartman;

start with why

There are leaders and there are those who lead.
Leaders hold a position of power or influence.
Those who lead inspire us.

Whether individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to.
We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.

This is a book for those who want to inspire others and for those who want to find someone to inspire them.

Preface: The Power of Why

…this message is inherently optimistic. It is inherently human. (x)

Introduction: Why Start with Why?

Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired. (6)

This book is not designed to tell you what to do or how to do it. Its goal is not to give you a course of action. Its goal is to offer you the cause of action. (7)


1. Assume You Know

…our behavior is affected by our assumptions or perceived truths. (11)

There is a wonderful story of a group of American car executives who went to Japan to see a Japanese assembly line. At the end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as in America. But something was missing. In the United States, a line worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t seem to exist. Confused, the American auto executives asked at what point they made sure the door fit perfectly. Their Japanese guide looked at them and smiled sheepishly. “We make sure it fits when we design it.” In the Japanese auto plant, they didn’t examine the problem and accumulate data to figure out the best solution-they engineered the outcome they wanted from the beginning. If they didn’t achieve their desired outcome, they understood it was because of a decision they made at the start of the process. (14)

So many organizations function in a world of tangible goals and the mallets to achieve them. The ones that achieve more, the ones that get more out of fewer people and fewer resources, the ones with an outsized amount of influence, however, build products and companies and even recruit people that all fit based on the original intention. Even though the outcome may look the same, great leaders understand the value in the things we cannot see. (15)

Every instruction we give, every course of action we set, every result we desire, starts with the same thing: a decision. (15)

2. Carrots and Sticks

Manipulation vs. Inspiration

…most companies have no clue why their customers are their customers. This is a fascinating realization. If companies don’t know why their customers are their customers, odds are good that they don’t know why their employees are their employees either. (16)

There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. (17)


Price always costs something. (18)


…the number of customers who just don’t bother to apply for the rebate, or who never cash the rebate check they receive. That’s called slippage. (20)



Peer Pressure

Novelty (a.k.a. Innovation)

Like so many before it, the company confused innovation with novelty. (26)

Real innovation changes the course of industries or even society. (26)

They are added in an attempt to differentiate, but not reinvent. (26)

The Price You Pay for the Money You Make

If manipulation is the only strategy, what happens the next time a purchase decision is required? What happens after the election is won? (28)

There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. (28)

Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers often don’t even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won. Repeat business, however, is. All it takes is more manipulations. (29)

Manipulations Lead to Transactions, Not Loyalty

For transactions that occur an average of once, carrots and sticks are the best way to elicit the desired behavior. (31)

Manipulations are a perfectly valid strategy for driving a transaction, or for any behavior that is only required once or on rare occasions. (31)

Knowing you have a loyal customer and employee base not only reduces costs, it provides massive peace of mind. … It is the feeling of “we’re in this together,” … (32)

Just Because It Works Doesn’t Make It Right


3. The Golden Circle

golden-circleBy WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY Should anyone care? (39)

It’s worth repeating: people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. (41)

Not the Only Way, Just One Way

Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility. (50)

4. This Is Not Opinion, This Is Biology

When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe. As humans we crave the feeling and we seek it out. (53)

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. Those whom we consider great leaders all have an ability to draw us lose and to command our loyalty. And we feel a strong bond with those who are also drawn to the same leaders and organizations. (55)

Gut Decisions Don’t Happen in Your Stomach

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. – Henry Ford

It’s What You Can’t See That Matters

Feeling clean was more important to people than being clean. (61)

5. Clarity, Discipline and Consistency

Clarity of WHY

Discipline of HOW

HOWs are your values or principles that guide HOW to bring your cause to life. HOW we do things manifests in the systems and processes within an organization and the culture. (66)

For values or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs. (67)

Consistency of WHAT

A WHY is just a belief. That’s all it is. HOWs are the actions you take to realize that belief. And WHATs are the results of those actions–everything you say and do: your products, services, marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire. If people don’t buy WHAT you do but WHY you do it, then all these things must be consistent. (67)

What authenticity means is that your Golden Circle is in the balance. It means that everything you say and everything you do you actually believe. (68)

Relationships also build trust. And with trust comes loyalty. (69)

The Right Order

If You Don’t Know WHY, You Can’t Know HOW

Manipulation and Inspiration Are Similar, but Not the Same

The human animal is a social animal. We’re very good at sensing subtleties in behavior and judging people accordingly. We get good feelings and bad feelings about companies, just as we get good feelings and bad feelings about people. There are some people we just feel we can trust and others we just feel we can’t. (75)

Doing Business Is Like Dating

Three Degrees of Certainty

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. (80)


6. The Emergence of Trust

Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience. (84)

Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain. (84)

With trust comes a sense of value… (84)

The drive to win is not, per se, a bad thing. Problems arise, however, when the metric becomes the only measure of success, when what you achieve is no longer tied to WHY you set out to achieve it in the first place. (86)

The Only Difference Between You and a Caveman Is the Car You Drive

Cultures are groups of people who come together around a common set of values and beliefs. (88)

Finding the People Who Believe What You Believe

When employees belong, they will guarantee your success.

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

The goal is to hire those who are passionate for your WHY, your purpose, cause or belief, and who have the attitude that fits your culture. (93)

Great companies don’t hire skilled people ad motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. (94)

[via: Poor leaders hire skilled and motivated people and crush them.]

Give ‘Em a Cathedral

Companies with a strong sense of WHY are able to inspire their employees. … It’s not such a stretch to see why the companies that we love to do business with are also the best employers. (95)

When Motivated by WHY, Success Just Happens

[Here is where Sinek tells the story of Samuel Pierpont Langley vs. the Wright Brothers]

Innovation Happens at the Edges

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. (99)

I didn’t find a way to make a lightbulb, I found a thousand ways how not to make one. – Thomas Edison

The Definition of Trust

…only when individuals can trust the culture or organization will they take personal risks in order to advance that culture or organization as a whole. (104)

There is a big difference between jumping out of a plane with a parachute on and jumping without one. Both produce extraordinary experiences, but only one increases the likelihood of being able to try again another time. (105)

Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them. This results in reciprocal behavior. Individual decisions, efforts and behaviors that support, benefit and protect the long-term interest of the organization as a whole. (105)

Real Trust Comes from the Things You Can’t See

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. (110) [via: Great leaders are respected by those who are both above and below.]

…earning the trust of an organization doesn’t come from setting out to impress everyone, it comes from setting out to serve those who [serve.] It is the invisible trust that gives a leader the following they need to get things done. (110)

The Influence of Others

7. How a Tipping Point Tips

This is one of the major reasons why it is nearly impossible to “convince” someone of the value of your products or ideas based on rational arguments and tangible benefits. (119)

Their willingness to pay a premium or suffer inconvenience to use your product or service says more about them than it does about you and your products. … No matter where they sit in the spectrum, these are the people who not only love you but talk about you. (121)

Refusing to Consider the Law of Diffusion Will Cost You

It is those who share your values and beliefs, not the quality of your products, that will cause the system to tip. Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services help advance that cause. (126)

Give the People Something to Believe In

He gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, not the “I Have a Plan” speech. (129)

People followed him [MLK] not because of his idea of a changed America. People followed him because of their idea of a changed America. The part of the brain that influences our behavior and decisions does not have the capacity for language. (129)


8. Start with WHY, but Know HOW

Energy Excites. Charisma Inspires.

Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. Energy, in contrast, comes from a good night’s sleep or lots of caffeine. Energy can excite. But only charisma can inspire. Charisma commands loyalty. Energy does not. (134)

The Chosen Path

I Have a Dream (and He’s Got the Plan)

Those Who Know WHY Need those Who Know HOW

WHY-types are the visionaries,… HOW-types live more in the here and now. … WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at building structures and process and getting things done.(140)

To Run or To Lead

Build a Megaphone That Works

Though there may be short-term benefits without clarity, loud is nothing more than excessive volume. Or in business vernacular: clutter. (146)

Say It Only If You Believe It

Repeating Greatness

All Movements Are Personal

9. Know WHY. Know HOW. Then WHAT?

Speak Clearly and Ye Shall Be Clearly Understood

10 Communication Is Not About Speaking, It’s About Listening

The Celery Test

It is not just WHAT or HOW you do things that matters; what matters more is that WHAT and HOW you do things is consistent with your WHY.

Filtering your decisions through your WHY, you spend less time at the supermarket and you spend less money, so there’s an efficiency advantage also. You’re guaranteed to get value out of all the products you bought. And, most importantly, when you’re standing in line with your products in your arms, everybody can see what you believe. With only celery and rice milk it’s obvious to people walking by what you believe. “I can see that you believe in looking after your health…” (167-168)

The More Celery You Use, the More Trust You Earn

In Violation of Celery


11. When WHY Goes Fuzzy

A computer can tell you down to the dime what you’ve sold, but it can never tell you how much you could have sold – Sam Walton

There is always a price to pay for the money you make… (177)

Being Successful vs. Feeling Successful

Achievement vs. Success

In my vernacular, achievement comes when you pursue and attain WHAT you want. Success comes when you are clear in pursuit of WHY you want it. The former is motivated by tangible factors while the latter by something deeper in the brain, where we lack the capacity to put those feelings into words. (181)

12. Split Happens

The single greatest challenge any organization will face is…success. (185)

Put another way, as the volume of the megaphone increases, the message traveling through it must stay clear. (186)

What Gets Measured, Gets Done

Money is a perfectly legitimate measurement of goods sold or services rendered. But it is no calculation of value. (192)

Good Successions Keep the WHY Alive

Nothing says to a customer “We love you, now get out” like a paper cup. (198)

Great second or third CEOs don’t take the helm to implement their own vision of the future; they pick up the original banner and lead the company into the next generation. That’s why we call it succession, not replacement. There is a continuity of vision. (201)

When the WHY Goes, WHAT Is All You’ll Have Left


13. The Origins of a WHY

I want to put a ding in the universe. – Steve Jobs

The WHY Comes from Looking Back

Before it can gain any power or achieve any impact, an arrow must be pulled backward, 180 degrees away from the target. And that’s also where a WHY derives its power. (214)

Gaining clarity of WHY, ironically, is not the hard part. It is the discipline to trust one’s gut, to stay true to one’s purpose, cause or beliefs. Remaining completely in balance and authentic is the most difficult part. The few that are able to build a megaphone, and not just a company, around their cause are the ones who earn the ability to inspire. In doing so, they harness a power to move people that few can even imagine. Learning the WHY of a company or an organization or understanding the WHY of any social movement always starts with one thing: you. (215)

I Am A Failure

…over 90 percent of all new businesses fail in the first three years. (215)

To Inspire People to Do the Things That Inspire Them

14. The New Competition

If You Follow Your WHY, Then Others Will Follow You

We’re always competing against someone else. We’re always trying to be better than someone else. Better quality. More features. Better service. We’re always comparing ourselves to others. And no one wants to help us. What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves? What if the goal was to do better work this week than we did the week before? To make this month better than last month? For no other reason than because we want to leave the organization in a better state than we found it? (224)

Imagine if every organization started with WHY. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency. If our leaders were diligent about starting with WHY, optimism would reign and innovation would thrive. As this book illustrates, there is precedence for this standard. No matter the size of the organization, no matter the industry, no matter the product or the service, if we all take some responsibility to start with WHY and inspire others to do the same, then, together, we can change the world. | And that’s pretty inspiring. (225)

Afterword: Be a Part of This Movement, Share Your Vision of the World

— via review —

I only have one quibble. On page 12 Sinek mentions that people were fearful of falling off the edge of the earth if they traveled too far. This is a modern myth, that I have referenced many times, and it’s both intriguing and irritating that it continues to be perpetuated.

Though the Forbes article by Ken Krogue articulates a slight revision, I find this to be distinction of views, not necessarily a declaration of right or wrong approaches. Starting with “who” is perhaps assumed under Sinek’s thesis, but then again, he’s writing about leadership, and inspiration, not marketing.

Other than that, thank you, Simon, for your contribution to helping us all be inspired more, to lead better, to find a clearer purpose and vision, and to ultimately make the world a better place.

start with why infographic