Book Notes: Start With Why

How is it that that Toyota and Honda were able to expand into the luxury car market successfully, but Volkswagen was not?  Why is Apple able to remain so innovative in so many different areas of the market for so long?

We can answer these questions and many like them with a one-word question of our own:  Why?  When leaders are able to figure out their “Why” and communicate it to others, they are able to inspire and lead more effectively.


Start With Why - Simon Sinek

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In Start with Why, author Simon Sinek explores the reasons behind why some companies and leaders are able to inspire and motivate a loyal following, while others do not.  Among the many great points he makes in his book, two  are well worth internalizing.

The Golden Circle

Early on, he introduces the idea of a Golden Circle consisting of three concentric rings.

WHAT.  The outermost ring is the WHAT – it’s what a company does, makes, produces or sells.  Everybody can clearly explain the WHAT, but that’s the easy part, and it’s a mistake to focus only on the WHAT, yet that’s what most do.

HOW.  The next inner ring is the HOW, which is how the company does the WHAT.  It might be a proprietary process or a different way of providing value.  Having this differentiation is important, but that’s not all that is required.

WHY.  At the center of the circle is the WHY.  And this is the part that companies have the hardest time articulating – Why do they do what they do, and how do they communicate that Why to others?

Everything should emanate from the center of the circle.  The WHY drives the HOW, which in turn directs the WHAT.  Companies that lose sense of their WHY and focus instead on their WHAT often become unfocused, and make poor choices.

Your WHY drives your HOW which directs your WHAT; be sure to keep it that way. Click To Tweet

The Celery Test

When leaders understand their WHY, other things fall more easily into line.  One of my favorite analogies Sinek makes is called the Celery Test.

If food represented business options and solutions, and if you were asking for advice about how to make your company better, people might tell you that you needed more Oreos.  Others might say you needed M&Ms; still others might tell you to get rice milk, or celery.

All of these could be good options, so when you go to the supermarket, you buy a little of everything if you can afford it, or waste lots of time roaming the aisles trying to decide which thing to choose.

Knowing your WHY, changes all this.  If your WHY is to eat healthy, then even if Oreos and M&Ms look good, you’re not going to buy them because they do not match your WHY.  Knowing your WHY can help you quickly narrow your choices, focus your energies, and save you lots of time and potential heartache.   You can skip the candy aisle all together and get out of the store faster.

If you are staying true to your WHY, at checkout the only things in your basket will be the rice milk and celery.

And the kicker is this:  the more celery you buy, the greater trust you build.  If you say your WHY is to eat healthy, and people see celery in your basket every time, they trust you more; your actions are consistent with your words.  If you are buying cookies and candy, not so much.

Volkswagen failed in its effort to introduce a luxury car because their WHY is literally to make the “people’s car.”  It made no sense to produce a luxury vehicle that few could afford and call it a Volkswagen.  That’s Oreos in the shopping basket.

Toyota and Honda understood this.  When they wanted to expand into luxury cars, they launched Lexus and Acura – new entities with new WHYs that wouldn’t compete with the WHY of “affordable and dependable” that their brand names already represented.

The Takeaway

Start with Why is a revealing look into how leaders and companies can inspire and motivate others.

In Apple’s case, they are not a company that makes computers.  That’s only their WHAT.  Apple is the company that challenges the status quo and believes in thinking about things differently.  That’s their WHY.  The way they do that just happens to be making computers, among other things.

Because they approach the world this way, people trust them, they have a loyal following of believers, and they continue to innovate and prosper.

What goes for companies goes for us as leaders, too.  When we focus on our WHY, lots of other decisions become clearer, we develop trust, and if people agree with the WHY, we can develop loyal, inspired followers.

When you focus on your WHY, other decisions become clearer. Click To Tweet

Start with Why is a well-constructed, thought-provoking look at motivation and inspiration, filled with clear examples from not only the world of business, but also politics and society at large.  It’s well worth the time to read, and  the time to pause and think about what it means to you.

Sinek is also the author of Leaders Eat Last; you may be interested in my thoughts about this great book.

Question: What is your WHY?

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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