Start With WHY

This is, without question, the single most important book I’ve read in the last 12 months.  Start with WHY is an unassuming title on an unassuming book cover from a (relatively) unknown author.  And maybe that’s why it had the impact on it me that it did.  I rarely ever say this, but if you are an employee, an employer or an entrepreneur, you must read this book.  It could change your life.  And save your business from itself.

In an extremely broad description, Start with WHY is a book about three aspects of any organization – The WHY, the HOW and the WHAT.

In its simplest form, the WHY is the founder’s purpose for creating the company in the first place.  Sam Walton wanted to make quality goods affordable and available to rural USA.  And so he founded WalMart.  Herb Kellerman wanted to take the stodginess out of air travel, and bring it to the common people.  SouthWest Airlines was the result.  Bill Gates had a vision of accessible information for all and so created Microsoft, becoming a key player in the rise of the personal computer.  All these men had a clear vision of a better future.  Their company was not created to make money; making money was simply a benefit of realizing their visions.

The HOW are the values and principles that are utilized to bring the WHY to life.  Bill Gates’ HOW were simplicity and ease of use for non-engineers.  Herb Kellerman focused on price and fun.

The WHAT is easy – these are the products or services that you offer.  The WHAT have differentiating features and benefits.  The WHAT is easy to explain.  The WHY, and the HOW, by comparison to the WHAT, are not so easy to explain.  The WHY is the vision.  The WHY is the soul of an organization.  It’s driving power behind the company, and without it, you’re just another corporate conglomerate.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

No More One Night Stands

"I cannot dispute that manipulations work… But there are trade-offs. Not a single one of them breeds loyalty."
- Start with WHY, page 28

When choosing a product or service from the virtually limitless options these days, people buy a particular brand because of one of two factors:  manipulation or inspiration.  You see examples of manipulation everyday:  discounts, promotional offers, celebrity endorsements, peer pressure (4 out of 5 doctors recommend…).  Do they work?  Of course they do!  Corporations wouldn’t spend millions of dollars on them every year if they didn’t.  But, as Sinek explores, manipulation tactics are short term solutions to long term challenges.  Sure, they generate sales, but they don’t generate loyalty.  Loyalty is created by something deeper; something more visceral.  True loyalty comes from a shared sense of purpose and spirit.  Loyalty comes from a clear understanding of who you are and what you stand for.  $2 off coupons or a new flavor doesn’t build loyalty.  WHY, not WHAT, builds loyalty.  Loyalty builds relationships and, as we’ll discuss in insight #2, there are some wonderful advantages to having true relationships with your customers and employees, beyond a financial transaction.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Keep your WHY sharp

"The reason the change happens is simple – they suffered a split and their WHY went fuzzy."
- Start with WHY, page 184

The change referred to in the quote above is embodied by WalMart in 1983.  With the death of Sam Walton and a new CEO at the helm, very little changed in the HOW and WHAT of the business.  Walmart still focused on price and location and stuck to their big box store format.  But the WHY was gone.  The belief that community is most important was destroyed, and the purpose for the company’s existence became profit, above all else.  The same happened when Steve Jobs left Apple for most of the 80’s and 90’s.  It’s not to say that these leaders had to physically be in the company for it to succeed, but it’s either that or the WHY needs to be so clearly understood that the physical embodiment (the founder) no longer has to be present.

Do you have a vision statement?  Do you know your (individual or company) purpose for being?  Spend a few minutes thinking about the WHY.  Forget about the features and benefits of your product(s) for a moment and think about why your company exists in the first place.  This is not a competitive exercise.  This is not a matter of pointing to the other guy and saying, “because we want to fix all those shortcomings”.  Your WHY is deeply personal.  Your WHY is tied to a core belief.  Martin Luther King Jr. had a WHY.  What’s yours?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Find Your Tribe

"The goal of business then should not be to simply sell to anyone who wants what you have – the majority – but rather to find people who believe what you believe..."
- Start with WHY, page 120

The advantages of loyalty are profound.  When a group of individuals are on board with your WHY, it allows you a lot of freedom.  Look at Apple.  Since revolutionizing the personal computing industry, they’ve gone on to tackle the Telecom world with their iPhone and the music industry with iTunes.  Never wavering from their WHY of challenging the status quo, they’ve been able to move from industry to industry without ever confusing or disappointing their loyal fans.  Each new venture has, in fact, allowed them to grow their fan base as new people find a WHAT that can best be utilized in their personal lifestyle.  Loyal fans are willing to do more, pay more, and put up with more inconveniences for the brands they relate to as well.  Apple computers cost upwards of 25% more than other computers.  Are they better?  Mac users will tell you they are.  That’s because Apple knows what’s important to people that share their sense of WHY, and they produce products (WHAT) that make sense to their tribe.

Don’t try to sell to everyone.  Know your WHY, your purpose for existing as a company, and talk to the people who get it.  You’ll never regret building a tribe of people who share your sense of purpose.

Start with WHY was a reminder (and perhaps a personal kick in the butt) that we need to remind ourselves, and those around us of our WHYs – our purpose for being and doing in the first place.  Never have I come across an author who can so brilliantly connect the “soft stuff” of business – vision, culture, etc, to bottom line numbers.  In example after example, Simon Sinek (a new writer that I certainly hope to see more of) shows us the wild success that has come from applying the power of Why.  It’s a lesson received loud and clear.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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