Book Review: Start with Why, Simon Sinek

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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

I started reading to try and find how I could put my why for a business project I am currently working on into words. Not only did I find a why for the project, but I found the why to many more aspects of my life. This book is a global bestseller for good reason, Simon Sinek references many great leaders, ones that inspire and all ones that started with why. You can often see people or companies that want to push a product or service and you can see right through them, all they are after is either more money, more followers or something from you. When you have an honest and clear why, people tend to see that, good leaders are able to communicate their why, and people follow. Having a why is more than explaining to people how or what you are trying to achieve. What you offer is easily understood, the metrics are measurable. How you produce/market/design/etc it can be shown. But WHY can inspire more than someone to buy the service or good, it can inspire them to action. All aspiring leaders should read this book, anyone that wants to inspire should read this book. If you start with why you can change more than a decision, you can change an attitude.

Sinek starts with his why for writing the book, explaining that he wants to point out a ‘naturally occurring pattern,’ that anyone can learn it, and ‘with a little discipline,’ anyone can inspire others around them. Following this are three stories, stories that everyone knows. The Wright brothers successfully flying for the first time in human history. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak with the birth of the Apple computer. Dr. Martin Luther King leading the civil rights movement with thousands massing to hear the famous “I have a dream” speech. All leaders who lead, all starting with why. It is not like others didn’t want to fly, or bring the computer to the masses, or bring about change. Others had more funding, more support, more knowledge, yet they didn’t succeed in achieving their goals. Sinek points out that, the ability to motivate others is not difficult, motivation can be in the form of incentives or punishment, these are external forces. When one can inspire, not motivate, that is when the force is internal and the person may act on their own accord. You see this when a consumer will pay a premium for an Apple product over a competitor, whose product may, in fact, be similar or better and with a lower price tag. That is because Apple’s why is clearly understood by the buyer. Sinek goes on to say that over 80 percent of Americans do not have their dream job, and I am sure Australia would have a similar percentage. He hopes that the book can inspire more people to follow their dreams and give readers the cause of action. Sinek is a person that truly believes his vision, often guest speaking and spreading his cause, you can watch his now famous millennials in the workplace speech here.

As a kid growing up, you or some other kid would offer the other something in return for being friends. For example, Kid 1: “hey wanna be my friend? I’ll give you a cookie.” Kid 2: “sure I’ll be your friend. (eats the cookie)” Next day, however, Kid 2 is expecting a cookie. This is manipulation when Kid 1 wanted that loyal friend and only used a cookie as a form of swaying kid 2. Kid 2 now expected that he would get something in return for friendship. When kid 1 can’t offer anything in return for friendship kid 2 doesn’t want to play. Of course, this is something everybody learns, you can’t buy friends, well you can, they just won’t be there for you when you need true friends. Sinek describes customers/workers in a similar fashion, if you want people to be loyal you can’t win them over with manipulations. You have to inspire them. Had Kid 1 offered friendship for friendship, Kid 2 might have wanted to stay friends. You might keep employees for a little while with bonuses and promotions, but as soon as a better proposition comes up they will leave in an instant. However, if your company has a good work environment, and is fair and just in their treatment of all employees then they are more likely to stay. The same thing with customers, if you can provide a better experience or you can provide a statement instead of providing the best and/or cheapest product then they are more likely to stay. Sinek goes back to the example of Apple throughout the book, people will pay a higher premium for an Apple product over a, let’s say Samsung, due to the statement that the Apple product provides. The Samsung might even have better measurables, better camera, bigger and brighter screen, there might even be a sale on, but it cannot provide the Apple branding. People know the why of Apple and want to make the statement, “I’m different, I want to challenge the status quo.”

I personally don’t subscribe to Apple, however, I can see the allure of the products, they do have a lot of pulling power in the industry. In the Phone and computer industries their why is evident, and their products(or What) hold true to their vision(or Why). Sinek brings in one of Apple’s advertisements that ran a few years ago:

“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.

Wanna buy one?”

You can feel their why clearly, If you look at a Samsung ad, it would first state the product’s features and how they were able to fit all those features in. The viewer, unless they know all about comparable features of other products, they can’t really get behind the product. It’s just another phone. Well, that’s what I think when I see a new ad (including apple).

Human beings are creatures that have the need to belong to something, a group. I can say that I am a martial artist, or I can say that I am an avid book reader, or I can say that I am a Marvel fan. We can belong to many groups, and that is how we often interact with others, we find a similarity and then we have a friend, or we may even trust a person more because they share some of the same morals and values. For instance, my girlfriend as soon as she figures out that someone else is from the country, or near where she grew up, she strikes up a friendship and will instantly like them. This is why companies can have such loyal fans because customers/fans want to belong to that group. Recently we have witnessed the explosion of Marvel fans, with good reason, Marvel has been producing these epic movies that have been breaking the mold of sorts. Superhero movies where multiple big names are teaming up against a big bad that alone each could not beat. Marvel does such a great job of appealing to the fans and taking them on massive rollercoaster rides of emotions that DC cannot compete. So, when a company can express it’s why authentically, the people will feel that they want to belong to it.

Sinek references the anatomy of the brain, the reason as to why us as humans are drawn to things. Whenever you get that gut feeling that something is right, or that you feel someone is more trustworthy, that is your old brain (or limbic brain). This is where your why comes from, for example, when someone asks you why you love something or someone, you can express things like: because it is fun, or because they are smart and pretty, or because it’s interesting. These are all what’s, there are lots of fun things that you could do, there are lots of pretty and smart people out there, there are lots of other interesting things. You struggle to actually express the why, you can describe it with what’s, but it comes from the old part of the brain which doesn’t have the capacity for language. The new part, or neocortex, is where all rational and analytical thoughts come from, or what’s. The neocortex is the part of the brain that we use for language, hence why it is easier for us to describe the what’s. When you or a company describe it’s what though, we have a harder time connecting with it. We go back to our gut feeling, the feeling we get from our limbic brain, why something is the right decision. So, my take from with bit from Sinek, Follow your gut (or limbic).

I have felt it and asked myself and I’m sure most of you have to, “Why the fuck am I doing this?” And it can get you good sometimes, you just don’t know why you are doing something, might be at work or it might be at school or university. You have to remind yourself of the why, so why would it be different for others that might be helping you or under you in the workplace? The answer: It’s not. Sometimes you have to give people the reason. Sinek uses the example of the first person to sustain flight and create the new technology of the time, the airplane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was at the front of the pack with a lot of backing from investors, government and businessmen alike. He was a professor of mathematics at the United States Naval Academy, had a team of the some of best minds of the time, and money was not object. The newspapers followed them everywhere, he knew what he was doing, building the first plane, he also knew what he would get from it, fame and money. Yet he did not have a clear sense of why he was doing it. Not far away was a less than dream team, that had no funding, no press coverage, none of the people in the team had a college education, but they had a why. They knew that it would change the world, they did it for a higher cause than themselves. We all know now that the Wright brothers, not Langley built the first plane, even though the odds were stacked against them. This situation happens more than you would think, that the underdog without any backing comes up with a breakthrough, when a why is involved, then the how and what can follow. Why provides inspiration, and inspiration provides drive and purpose, how is the implementation, and a product is what is created.

Simon Sinek produced has produced a well thought out book, one that inspires the reader to start with why and set out after their goals. I enjoyed the message that he shares, start with why and stick to it, do not split from the path and follow the what and how. I will say that a few passages of the book can be repetitive, however, I see that he is proving a point and wants to make sure that the information is passed across effectively. I only uncovered the surface of what this book has to offer in this post, I suggest that everyone read it, even if you don’t wish to inspire or be inspired. All of the pieces of information in this book can be applied all through life. Ask yourself your why, for me, one of my why’s is to spread the knowledge that I gain from experiences in my life, from books I read and little thoughts I get whilst training. My how is through this blog, and my what is the content I produce. Tell me your why, and how you want to implement it.

Please like, comment, share and follow.

See you on the mats.

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