book cover
“It all starts with clarity. You have to know why you do what you do. If people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. So, it follows that if you don’t know why you do what you do how will anyone else?”

Start With Why Book Review

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, 2018


Simple ideas sell. None more so than this one. Bolstered by a TED talk and a big social media following Simon Sinek has established the proposition that great leaders start by asking why? On a closer reading Sinek is actually arguing that great leaders start with purpose, cause or vision. Actually, they ask what! What is my purpose, what beliefs drive me and what will success look like?

So What? 

The author explains his model of concentric rings of the “Golden Circle” starting with establishing the mission by putting ‘Why?’ in the centre, then moving outward to ‘How?’ and then ‘What?’.

Sinek argues that 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? explaining that people buy into why you, and they, ought to do something. Leading companies ‘inspire’ others ‘manipulate.’ When successful individuals, teams and organisations grow they should stay connected to their ‘original vision’ otherwise they risk ‘losing that spark’.

Sinek uses lots of stories from history and from business. They make interesting ,but not persuasive, reading. The stories – especially The Wright brothers, Shackleton, Wal-Mart – seem to have been manoeuvred into supporting his thesis. For example, his assertion that Shackleton spent too much time isolating a truculent carpenter. Similarly, unless you’re a neuroscientist don’t cherry pick outdated brain research about the limbic system to prove a point.

Now What?

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

For Sinek, 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? We would ask: really?

Which successful company does not know their core purpose? Modern business is tested on its ability to embody its core purpose in the client experience. Decisions at every level including board level and the shop floor, are all about delivering core purpose. To do otherwise is to court disaster.

This is a challenging book. Worth reading but probably not worth swallowing. We think Sinek is wrong to start with why. Why leads to self-justification and anecdotes. We would say that though! Start with What and go from there. What is my purpose, what beliefs drive me and what will success look like?