Why do some companies succeed while other similar companies fail? Why do some managers excel at getting their employees into high gear while others garner yawns? Questions like these are at the heart of the discussion in Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.
Sinek, a business consultant, says that instead of concentrating simply on “what” – for instance, what products or services a company offers or “how” it should accomplish these things, an organization should instead examine the “why”. This is the basis of inspiration, both from a company’s operational standpoint as well as from a consumer’s viewpoint. In other words, why do people choose to buy from Company A as opposed to Company B?
As the foundation of his theory, Sinek explains that companies and their leaders should operate according to what he calls the Golden Circle, a series of three concentric circles prioritized in importance from the center out. At the center is “Why”. Why does a company exist? Beyond the obvious goal of business success and gain, what does it hope to accomplish? Around that circle is “How” or the operational details of doing what it does. The final outer circle is “What”. He says the most successful companies and leaders take a contrarian point of view, focusing on the why and letting the how and the what fall into place.
He uses Apple Corporation and its founder Steve Jobs as an example. From the “what” perspective, Apple computers are comparatively more costly than similarly appointed PCs, require proprietary parts when repairs are needed, have less software available for use, and are not necessarily the fastest computers on the market. That said, the choice of purchasing a Mac or a PC is basically apples versus oranges. The swaying factor, in Sinek’s view, is the way that Apple portrays itself to the public. Their slogan “Think Different” conjures images of the rebel or the individual – all of which speak to the purpose of why Apple, as a company came into being in the first place. When a consumer understands and believes in a company’s “why” they will buy the “what”. People are loyal to companies they identify with and with whom they feel represent their own nature. Furthermore, it is Apple’s “why” that allows them to successfully branch out into other markets. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad are all innovative products matching the company’s image as a trailblazer.
Sinek goes on to explain how “why” not only helps a business itself, but also its employees. By having a clear vision of its purpose, a CEO or manager of a company inspires its workers toward clear-cut goals and responsibilities. Keeping this vision at the forefront of all actions and dealings inspires employees to look beyond the mundane day-to-day operational concerns and elevate themselves and the company to the next level.
While “Start With Why” doesn’t offer step-by-step plans of action to duplicate Apple’s success, it does give a thorough explanation of the conceptual lessons needed to follow in the footsteps of many successful organizations and leaders. These include:
The theory of the Golden Circle – the what, how, and especially why of doing business.
Reasons a company or leader should focus primarily on “why” instead of “what” and how this impacts future success and growth.
Details on why customer loyalty follows certain patterns and how to take advantage of it.
How “why” influences a leaders effectiveness in inspiring workers in all levels of an organization and how this can make or break it.
Utilizing the principles outlined in “Start With Why” can create the necessary inspiration needed to take your leadership style or organization to new heights. This translates into greater stability, a bigger bottom line, and most important of all, a clearly defined vision of why you do what you do and the satisfaction it brings.