Book Review: Start With Why by Simon Sinek

As I have been reading more non-fiction motivational types of books there are a few authors that I repeatedly come across.  Simon Sinek is one of those authors.  I started following him on social media about a year ago and this month I decided it was time to try one of his books.  Start With Why was first published in 2009 and the book looks at why some businesses are so successful.  

The key for Start with Why is something that Sinek calls, “The Golden Circle”. The “Golden Circle” is illustrated as a small, medium, and larger circle in a target configuration.  The inside circle says “why”, the middle circle “how” and the outside circle is labeled “what”.  Sinek tells us that great organizations “start with why” and work from the inside out of the “Golden Circle”.  His view is that all organizations can communicate “what” they do, most can tell you “how” they do what they do but very few organizations know “why” they do what they do, in other words, they don’t define the purpose of the organization. He says that knowing your why is important because “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

According to Sinek, the “Golden Circle” correlates with your brain functions.  The why being driven by your limbic brain, the part of your brain that controls decision making.  The “what” corresponds with your neocortex, which is the part of your brain that is responsible for rational and analytical thought and language.  When companies start with the “what” they are communicating what they do but they are not communicating “why” they are doing it.  When companies begin by communicating the “why” they are connecting directly to the decision-making part of a consumer’s brain which makes them more successful. 

Throughout the book Sinek illustrates his points with stories about companies and individuals that know their “why”.  Apple, Southwest Airlines, Harley Davidson, Martin Luther King Jr, and The Wright Brothers are a few of the examples that Sinek has of organizations and people that know their why and how they have been successful.  He discusses the vision of the leaders of the organizations and why they have both loyal employees and consumers.  He also discusses companies that have had great products but were not successful because they didn’t know or communicate their purpose.  

I really wanted to like this book and honestly it is a good book, it just wasn’t’ the book for me. The book is really written for people who are in leadership positions in business, but there are always lessons that one can glean about their own lives from a book geared toward a business person.  And I did, know your why, define your purpose and you will be more successful. The stories about the different businesses were interesting but the book was somewhat repetitive and that made it somewhat tedious to read.  There are just so many times that one can read the words, “start with your why”. Knowing your purpose or your why is also not a new idea. This book was written over 10 years ago, so in fairness to the author, maybe it was more of a novel idea then.  

If you are in a leadership position and you are wanting some insight into how to motivate others, this book would be a good resource for you.  Sinek originated the idea of “start with why” as a Ted Talk. If you are looking for some inspiration, I’d recommend watching the Ted Talk, and it will take a lot less time than it does to read the book. 

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