Has Start with Why by Simon Sinek been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.
Wouldn’t you like to call a job you love your own?
Although just about anyone would answer “yes” to this question, in reality most people don’t even entertain the possibility of loving their work. They figure it’s a waste of time to try to find their dream job – the one project that would change everything.
But is it really impossible? Can’t we all find some task that fulfills us?
Yes, we can. But only by looking for something that excites us, something we believe in. In short, we need a WHY – a goal or purpose that gives our lives a deeper meaning and makes everything else secondary.
Simon Sinek, the author of this book, is a good example. Although he was leading a successful career in advertising, he only began to feel fulfilled by his work when he discovered his own WHY. And he launched his own business with the aim of leading a movement to inspire everyone to find their own WHY.
Essentially, his goal is to inspire others to pursue what excites them – which, in turn, inspires others to do the same. The underlying idea is that we can all find our WHY without any special resources or a whole lot of luck: all we need to do is stick to a few easily applicable principles that anyone can learn.
By applying these principles, anyone can create businesses and organizations where all the employees have a WHY – which, little by little, will help us change the world. And it all begins with the individual WHY that exists inside each and every one of us.
Start with Why Key Idea #1: If you want to motivate others, don’t manipulate – captivate.
At some point or another, every person or organization needs to motivate others to take action, whether it’s to work more effectively, to get involved in a charitable project, to vote for a certain party or to donate to a relief organization.
And yet, most businesses and organizations stick to the same old strategies to motivate their employees: they give them incentives to do something and threaten the ones who don’t with negative consequences.
On the contrary, good managers who want to get the people around them to take action don’t resort to rewards or punishments: they inspire others, instilling in them the will to take action.
Hence, we don’t follow others for rational reasons, but because we feel compelled to do so. This type of motivation goes much deeper than material incentives. People who are enthusiastic are personally invested and stay that way.
Enthusiastic employees will bring personal resources to the table and sacrifice themselves to achieve the common goal without being prompted. They don’t act for the sake of rewards or incentives, but because they recognize a deeper meaning in their actions. They feel their calling.
Take the Wright brothers, who built the first engine-powered plane in 1903. Unlike their competitors, they had no trained team, no major ties to industry and no financial support. They weren’t motivated by the expectation of becoming rich or famous, but by the mere challenge of making the impossible possible. This devotion was key to their success and gave them the necessary advantage over their competitors.
Start with Why Key Idea #2: If you want to lead and motivate others, get to know The Golden Circle.
Sinek’s Golden Circle is loosely based on the golden ratio, a mathematical concept describing proportions that are considered particularly pleasing to the eye. The Golden Circle consists of three concentric circles with the WHY as a bull’s eye in the center, the HOW wrapped around that, and the WHAT as the outermost circle.
The WHAT describes the activities of the business or organization. Usually, the WHAT is pretty self-explanatory – say, manufacturing a product or offering certain services.
The HOW illustrates the way in which the WHAT is achieved: How do you handle everything? What is it that, for example, turns a particular manufacturing process or business culture into something special?
The WHY describes the mission of a business or organization. Why was it founded? What is its main goal?
Although all three of these factors should be well known and thought out in advance, many businesses and organizations don’t have a clear idea of their WHY. Yielding profits is, for example, not a WHY: it’s the result of the WHAT and the HOW.
In order to cooperate effectively with others, we should adopt the perspective of The Golden Circle and understand all three of its rings. Some people may naturally see the world like this, but those of us who don’t have that innate inclination can learn it.
The Golden Circle provides a leadership model that can serve as a basis for creating a business or organization and for inspiring and leading others. Ultimately, leaders must make an effort to not only communicate WHAT is being done and HOW, but also the often-forgotten WHY.
Start with Why Key Idea #3: Good leaders communicate The Golden Circle from the inside out.
When we make decisions, we base them more on the WHY than the WHAT – because only the WHY fosters a sense of belonging. As for the WHAT, it’s purely rational and hardly stands a chance against the emotional impact of a WHY.
For that reason, people in leadership positions who want to get others to take action always begin by explaining WHY something has to be done. That way, they create a sense of belonging which makes others want to take action.
When people are emotionally invested, they join movements, buy products and brands – and even use them as symbols to show others who they are and who they support.
The more clearly you describe and communicate the WHY, the more people will like it, because people don’t buy WHAT people make; they buy WHY people make it.
And so, leaders communicate by starting in the core of The Golden Circle and working their way out: they first explain WHY they do what they do, then HOW they do it and, only at the very end, WHAT their product is.
Apple is a good example of this phenomenon. Their “Think different” slogan emphasizes their philosophy of challenging the status quo – and succeeds in getting across their WHY. The HOW comes next: a user-friendly and visually appealing approach to design and interface. Finally, they translate all this into their WHAT: computers, smartphones and MP3 players.
When a WHY excites people, the product itself usually doesn’t matter as much: customers are convinced by the business itself and happy to buy whatever it sells.
Start with Why Key Idea #4: Businesses and organizations that start with WHY are more stable.
Successful businesses don’t stand out because of their business strategies or unconventional thinking. They are simply able to excite their employees and customers and begin every decision-making process by asking WHY.
That’s the only way for them to successfully realize their ideas. Even factors like financial and other resources are only secondary to their success.
By inspiring others we establish a following. Whether they’re clients or employees, excited followers are the most loyal. And, backed by them, we have the capacity to change an entire industry – or even the world.
The American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, for instance, has built up a huge community of loyal followers over the course of its more than 100-year existence. For its customers, a Harley isn’t just a motorcycle, but a symbol so important to them that they’re willing to wait several months for a bike they’ve ordered – and, in the meantime, get the company’s logo tattooed onto their arms.
Businesses with a clear WHY generally don’t have trouble distinguishing themselves from others, which gives them the luxury of largely ignoring the competition.
As a result, they can be more authentic and imaginative than others and don’t need to depend on imitating the competition.
In addition, when businesses have a definitive personality and convey a clear WHY, they are also able to attract the best employees – which is priceless when it comes to securing the survival of a business.
Start with Why Key Idea #5: Excited people are the most powerful resource a business can have.
The WHY of a business or a movement has to be clear so that people who believe in the same thing have a chance to develop trust and loyalty. Once that happens, they’ll be willing to follow – not just because they feel obligated or expect rewards, but because they believe in the cause.
Followers that have a common goal and trust their leader will voluntarily work harder and longer than those who don’t, since they feel it’s worth it for them to work overtime. That’s why we should always make it our mission to find supporters and employees who believe in a shared WHY, and not just people who have certain qualifications or skills.
In other words, businesses shouldn’t hire people purely for their qualifications and start motivating them later. Instead, they should always make a point of looking for motivated employees and then get them inspired.
Southwest Airlines has always put this philosophy into practice in an exemplary way. Back in the 1970s, when the competition to have the best flight attendants was at its peak, they decided to only hire cheerleaders and dancers to fill the positions. And, as it turned out, they were the ideal candidates: it was simply in their nature to spread joy and make people feel at ease.
Such enthusiastic employees are not only better with customers, but also attract similarly minded staff by actively vouching for their company and its WHY.
In an atmosphere of trust, employees feel freer to innovate and go out of their way to contribute to achieving the common goal. This is what makes a business or organization stand out from the rest.
Start with Why Key Idea #6: Long-term success hinges on the survival of the original WHY.
In the real world, it’s no small challenge to keep all three rings of The Golden Circle in check. Especially because when success becomes the norm and an organization is no longer in its euphoric initial phase, the WHY often gets neglected.
It’s right at this moment that people start prioritizing numbers over all else, and short-term thinking and quick wins become more important, even though none of it reflects the business’s actual goals.
In addition, the success of an organization leads to growth, which leads to an increasing number of people being involved. And the more people are involved, the higher the risk of watering down the original WHY, which can, in turn, have a negative impact in the long run.
That’s why it’s important to preserve the WHY established by the founders in an organization’s culture: future leaders will be able to adopt it if it’s part of the organization’s identity.
An organization runs the highest risk of letting the WHY – its raison d’être – fall by the wayside when the founder leaves.
Take Wal-Mart, for example: its original WHY was to serve customers and its staff. Once the founder died, the focus was shifted towards maximizing profits at the employee’s expense. Consequently, dozens of employees sued the company for being severely underpaid and Wal-Mart ended up paying hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties and settlements.
The lesson is: the hardest part isn’t finding the WHY, but staying true to it and keeping it alive.
Start with Why Key Idea #7: Customer manipulation doesn’t foster trust and is ultimately counterproductive.
The majority of businesses rely on methods of manipulation to influence potential customers – usually to get them to buy their products. By doing this, these businesses ignore the true motivations of their customers – the WHY – rather than using them to excite the customers.
They manipulate customers by applying generic sales tactics that don’t have any special connection to a product or a service.
The tactics range from alleged clearance sales, limited-time offers and two-for-one deals that trick us into believing they’re once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, to announcements that don’t quite tell the truth or that exert social pressure – for example, “Four out of five dentists use this toothbrush.”
These tactics are used for one simple reason: they work. For a little while. But their success is short-lived. Ultimately, a business can’t benefit from these scare tactics because they don’t generate a sense of trust or loyalty.
Because once you have truly loyal customers, you don’t need to bother with tactics like these. Loyal customers will always prefer the product of their favorite business even if it’s not the best or cheapest in its class.
And so, customer manipulation can boost sales in the short-term, but it’s not a sustainable strategy.
The main message of this book is:
Businesses, individuals and movements of all kinds should always start with WHY – their reason for doing something. This WHY should be the basis for every decision its leaders make and every message they transmit. By doing so, they will attract loyal supporters and garner long-term success.