Start With Why covers everything you need to know about creating an organization that puts its values at the center of its business. The core concept is simple and straightforward: great businesses know why they’re doing what they’re doing—and they use that mission as their guiding principle.
Given this goal, Start With Why covers three aspects of WHY: 1) defining your WHY, 2) understanding how your WHY affects your company on all levels, and 3) making sure you stay focused on your WHY in the long-term.
Your WHY is your central belief. It’s the concept that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. In terms of an organization, it’s the reason you’re in business.
The WHY leads to the HOW and the WHAT:
As an example, we’ll use technology company Apple:
These three elements form The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle looks like a target, where the WHY is the bullseye, the HOW is the middle ring, and the WHAT is the exterior ring. When you start with WHY, you build your company’s message from the inside out. As a result, customers want to engage with your product because they believe in it. They become loyal to you and your company, which builds your brand and spreads your message.
Unfortunately, most companies don’t start with WHY. That’s because starting with WHY is hard. It involves a lot of introspection, inspiration, vision, and clarity.
Instead, most companies start with WHAT. As the most superficial layer, it’s the easiest to identify and communicate.
As a thought experiment, consider Tom, a man going on a date. When he sits down, he starts with his WHAT: “I’m a really successful person. I own a BMW and my best friends are all CEOs or models. I’m rich and I can buy you lots of nice things.”
Obviously, Tom sounds obnoxious, the kind of person who wouldn’t get a second date. Surprisingly, companies communicate exactly like this: “Our product has the best features. Our customers are the biggest companies in the world. We’re making a lot of money, and you should buy our product too.”
But customers don’t buy WHAT - they buy the WHY. Think about Tom starting with WHY: “What gets me out of bed every morning is making an impact on people by solving their problems. It’s the best feeling in the world. I’m also super lucky to get career success doing what I love. I’ve gotten to know lots of interesting people and I’m fortunate to be able to buy nice things.”
Because starting with WHY is hard, most companies turn to manipulations to sell a product. Manipulations are tactics that artificially influence customers to buy from your company or use its services. They include Price, Promotion, Fear, Aspiration, Peer Pressure, and Novelty.
Manipulations work, but they’re only short-term solutions. They won’t create loyal, repeat customers. Only inspiration can do that.
Inspiration happens when a company shares its WHY. At that point, the company isn’t selling a product—it’s selling an idea. As a result, the company’s communications are authentic: the company believes in its message, which comes across to customers. Those customers who share the same WHY are attracted to the company, and when the product is good, it establishes trust. That, in turn, brings in more customers, and creates a repeatable cycle of success.
Notable companies that focus on using their WHY to inspire include Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Harley Davidson.
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Certain companies and leaders inspire people around them to achieve amazing goals. They mobilize people beyond using personal incentives and rewards - instead, they make people feel a sense of purpose and belonging to a community.
These effective leaders Start With WHY - they communicate the purpose of what they are doing and the impact their work will have.
Here are three examples of leaders who put their WHY first.
Samuel Pierpont Langley had a goal: he wanted to be the first man to build a working airplane. He seemed like the perfect man for the job: he was a senior officer at the Smithsonian Institution, had been a mathematics professor at Harvard, and had secured a $50,000 grant from the War Department to help fuel his ambitions.
Already an established man, he sought fame and glory. He wanted to have the same level of fame as a Thomas Edison. He wanted the result more than the WHY itself.
A few hundred miles away, two brothers--Will and Orville Wright--had the same vision but none of the resources. They had no funding, no government connections, and no one on their team had a college...
Now that you’ve had a brief introduction to why a person, movement, or company’s WHY is important, let’s think of some other examples.
We’ve seen three examples of people and companies that start with WHY, i.e. a core idea that motivates them and inspires others. Can you think of another example of a person, movement, or company that starts with WHY? What is their WHY?
Business runs on a series of decisions. Whether it’s deciding what to sell, who to sell it to, or how to staff your organization, leaders have to make tons of decisions every day.
Many businesses and people rely on data to guide their decision making. We obsess over discovering details, thinking this will lead to better decisionmaking. We read books and journals, go to trade conferences, and ask our friends for more information.
But in many situations, more data doesn’t help make a better decision. We’re often tempted to think that a project didn’t work because of some missing vital detail. But sometimes, we have the entire premise of our information gathering incorrect, or we start with a wrong critical assumption. In these cases, no amount of extra data would have helped us make the right decision.
Sinek uses an example to illustrate how easily we can make mistaken...
All businesses need to motivate customers and employers to do something, whether that’s buying a product or just performing a job.
There are two ways we can motivate people to act: manipulation and inspiration.
Here are six common manipulation tactics and why they don’t work.
Lower prices induce people to buy, so companies engage in price wars and sell at rock-bottom prices.
But price manipulation can be dangerous for a company. When a customer becomes used to paying a low price, it can be nearly impossible to increase the cost of an item.
This creates a market of commodities, where companies have to create more products to keep their...
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Chapter 3 introduces the core concept of The Golden Circle, one of the fundamental concepts of the book. In essence, the Golden Circle is the embodiment of how you start with WHY.
The Golden Circle visualizes the structure of an organization and looks like a bullseye target with three rings. The bullseye at the center is the WHY, the next ring out is the HOW, and the largest ring is the WHAT. When making decisions or communicating, you begin at the center with the WHY, then migrate out to the HOW, then finally the WHAT.
Let’s define those terms in reverse order:
Apply The Golden Circle to what you do. Start with WHY, go to HOW, then to WHAT.
Think about your business, organization, or your personal work. What is your WHY?
The reason Golden Circle works has roots in human biology. Humans want to belong, and the need is so powerful that we will often put incredible effort and money into achieving that feeling.
Organizations that start with WHY clearly define who they are and what they stand for, and as a result, their products or services come to represent those beliefs.
When those beliefs align with our own, it creates a sense of belonging and kinship. Buying their products makes us feel like we belong in the same group as other people who buy the same things and believe in the same ideals.
Like we mentioned in Chapter 3, it’s not about Mac or PC being better or worse....
When has your gut triumphed over your rational brain?
Think about a time when your gut instinct triumphed over the more logical, rational choice when making a purchase. What was the outcome? How would the outcome have changed if you went with your neocortex (or rational brain) instead?
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The Golden Circle is a powerful tool that helps you run inspirational companies or become a great leader. But The Golden Circle only works if all three elements--the WHY, HOW, and WHAT--are in balance and used in the right order.
Let’s start by talking more about three key principles of the Golden Circle.
Starting with WHY means that leaders need to be able to clearly articulate why they do what they do.
Without a WHY, you have to resort to manipulations to get people to engage with your products or services, which only leads to short-term results.
Leaders who start with WHY get people to follow them willingly instead.
Discipline kicks in during the HOW phase. (Remember that HOW applies to the values, principles, and operational structures that help you achieve your WHY.)
HOW you work lets you make decisions that support your WHY, like hiring the right people, creating purposeful policies, and finding partners that support your vision.
But in order to do that, you have to have discipline. You need to hold every team member accountable to the principles and never veer from your direction....
Is your business operating with a balanced circle in mind?
Now that you know your organization’s WHY, do you think your company clearly and consistently articulates its WHY? Why or why not?
Trust is a gut feeling--it exists in the limbic brain and can’t be rationalized. That’s why we trust companies certain companies even when things go wrong, and mistrust other companies even though they do everything right.
And when people trust a leader or organization, they place a higher value on it. Sinek defines value as “the transference of trust,” meaning value is the result of people trusting in you, your product, or your company.
Consequently, you can’t rationally convince someone to trust you. You have to earn that trust by showing them that you share their values and beliefs. That happens when you clearly communicate your WHY. Once people trust you, they will follow you willingly.
Trust is important because it’s also the foundational building block of culture. Culture emerges when a group of people who believe and value the same things unite around those shared ideals. When we are around people who think like us, we start to trust them.
On an individual level, we form communities with people who share similar beliefs, values, and ideals. In other words, we form communities with people who share our WHY....
So after you define your WHY and Golden Circle, how do you get your new product or mission to reach more people?
In sum, by 1) understanding that different people will adopt your product at different stages of maturity, 2) finding your early adopters, and gaining a critical mass of them.
This chapter explains both concepts and how they apply to starting with WHY.
To understand the key points in this chapter, we have to define two key terms: the tipping point and the Law of Diffusion of Innovations.
The term “tipping point” was coined in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, a tipping point is “the point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” (Related terms for this include critical mass and inflection point.)
Tipping points happen when a mass of influencers unite to support an idea or a product.
While tipping points might seem like they happen somewhat spontaneously or by luck, they can actually be consciously designed by leveraging The Law of...
Reach the right people to create a tipping point for your new product or service.
In the work that you do, who are the early adopters? Why does your WHY resonate with these people? What would make them become loyal supporters of your mission?
Clarifying your WHY is well and good. But concretely, how do you achieve your WHY? It comes through building your HOW and your WHAT.
Without a strong HOW, inspirational WHY leaders have big ideas but struggle to execute them. An organization needs to be built to support and execute the WHY.
By now, you know what The Golden Circle looks like: it’s a bullseye with WHY in the center, HOW in the second ring, and WHAT in the last ring.
But The Golden Circle does more than help you create your message, it amplifies it, too. That’s because The Golden Circle is actually a cone, just like a megaphone. Pretend you’re looking at the Golden Circle from above:
The cone represents the three levels of a company or organization:
1. WHY at the Top
At the top, or point, of the cone is the WHY. This is the smallest layer of the organization which contains the top-level leaders, like the CEO or COO. These leaders provide the vision of the organization by articulating and living out its WHY.
2. HOW in the Middle
The next level of the cone is the larger...
Now that you’re thinking of The Golden Circle as a three-dimensional cone, it’s time to talk about what that cone is sitting on: the marketplace.
The marketplace is made up of all the customers, shareholders, competition, supplies, money, and all the other factors that make an economy work. The marketplace is characterized by chaos and disorganization. While your organization has structure and purpose, the world outside it doesn’t.
This chapter explains how an organization--especially a large one--can communicate its WHY to the marketplace effectively.
This centers around two big ideas: the power of symbols and The Celery Test.
A symbol is defined as an object imbued with additional meaning. It’s an object that represents an idea bigger than the thing itself.
Here are two examples of powerful symbols:
All societies use symbols to reinforce their core beliefs. And the...
So far, the book has covered how to take a company or organization without a clear WHY and put it on the right track. But what happens when a company has a WHY—but has lost it along the way?
Top executives and business owners have a common problem. When they were asked whether they felt successful, 80 percent of attendees said no. They all felt that as they became successful, they lost the thing that made their business special.
The pattern: although these leaders knew WHAT they did and HOW they did it, they’d become disconnected from their WHY.
The biggest hurdle any company will face is success. That definitely sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? After all, isn’t success the goal behind starting with WHY?
The problem is that as a company grows, leadership becomes more removed from the company’s messaging. In terms of the Golden Circle, when your company grows, the rings of the Golden Circle get wider, which moves the leader with the passionate vision further away from making every decision for the company.
**When that happens, it’s easy to shift focus from WHY to WHAT—and before you know it, WHY starts coming...
In this chapter, Sinek reinforces the process of following WHY by tracing it through three examples: Apple, the English longbow, and his own journey to becoming a mentor and coach.
Apple has put WHY first since its inception. When Apple first started, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs saw the company as a way to give individuals power.
At the time, companies held a monopoly on computing, and Jobs and Wozniak believed that by empowering individuals with computing power, they could change the world. Igniting revolutions by empowering people became the company’s WHY!
Just like the company, all of Apple’s products and their launches have started with WHY:
The common sentiment when it comes to building a business is that you have to make sure you’re beating the competition.
But the problem with that idea is that it makes you focus on what other companies are doing rather than steering your own. Instead of competing against others, it’s more effective to compete against yourself.
Here’s an anecdote of Ben, a high school cross-country track runner. He was the slowest on his team because Ben was born with cerebral palsy. Running was hard for Ben, but he pushed himself to finish...