Key message from Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why”.

Rapid review of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”

-Really, how does one build teams, brands, and loyalty

Not sure what led me to read Simon Sinek’s work but I am glad I did. It took me a Saturday afternoon to drop what I was doing and go through the book. Might as well write about it. The book is about a simple strategy, a refrain, and answers an interesting question: “how does one build loyalty among the end users”.

This is not a trivial question and inducements do not build brand loyalty. You can get some friends in the process, but the process is expensive and mostly does not work. You cannot lead that way. So what works? Sinek has a theory that is worth exploring and should mostly work.

Basically, in “Start with Why”, Sinek has examined and answered the question of how to build loyal followers and brand and tap into creating a band of followers . He has criticised and differentiated between inducements, motivation, and inspiration. He writes that companies and people who want to position them as leaders provide incentives to potential followers in various forms — by reducing prices, by instilling fear, using peer pressure. The assumption in these cases, as in peer pressure goes something like this: if X is endorsing product Y and X is more believable or has a higher profile (such as a celebrity) then the customer might as well buys into this. Sinek argues that while these can build a following in short time, these are not sustainable. These things may work short term, but they do not build loyalty or trust. You can induce people to like you, but that does not mean that if they meet someone more interesting or some product that is better than yours, they will still stick to you or what you have to offer. On the other hand, it is also true that people tatto brand names on their skins, or wait in long queues and continue to buy products from companies even when fancier or better functional products are available. What do these other companies or individuals do differently? Sinek has proposed a “Start with Why” theory to explain this.

Sinek has analysed that most individual leaders and companies with limited success and loyal following but mostly brands, focus on three questions when they deliver their products or whatever it is they deliver: the product itself (“what”), their “trade secret” or know how (“how”), and the purpose of their work (“why”). To explain the theory, he uses three concentric circles as metaphor (or view it as a cone) he states form three hierarchical entities: the outside is what, the middle arc is how and the inner core is why. The reason most people do not succeed in gaining sustainable following and loyalty that would be profitable for them as leaders of people or leaders in sustaining a business practice is that, they start with “what” and “how” and then end up in “why” aspect of their product offering or their messages.

On the other hand, he argues that successful people and brands start with “why”. “Why” here refers to identifying a belief or purpose of every aspect of the work people do. A clear statement of “why” or purpose leads to clarity. The clarity would then lead to the next steps of how to get that end results, and a description of the goal of a project.

So, Sinek invokes limbic cortex as the biological influencer (I do not find tis argument convincing and he has not cited any studies so this is mostly his opinion). He has explained that the way this might work is how people relate to accept or purchase ideas and products — most people are persuaded by their limbic system in the brain rather than analytical selves when they make decisions about accepting any product or a set of beliefs. According to Sinek’s theory, it is about emotional appeal. When anyone or any company that has a clear set of purpose or belief or has clearly set out a “why are we doing this?”, they end up in a better position to craft a message that will appeal to the potential client or customer’s belief system as well. He has argued that such an action would help to create a sense of trust and eventual community building. In comparison, if the focus is entirely on how X does certain work, or what X has offered, X is less likely to earn loyal followers who will sustain the business model by favouring the product that X offers against comparable or even better products that rival companies offer. Sinek offers case studies from Apple (a lot) and products that have succeeded and failed and outlines that successful companies such as Apple have stressed on the purpose and have appealed to the ego of people to make purchase decisions; similarly people like Martin Luther King and Bill Gates have appealed by using a clear set of principles as to the purpose of their movements, rather than merely laying out what would be available or how they wanted certain things to work.

The take away message of the book is to first craft a clear purposeful message of “why am I doing this?” or “why are we doing this?” Specifically, aim to answer the purpose of the existence or philosophy of the project or the product or writing or whatever it is that you make. The how and what need to follow that line of hierarchy.

It is an interesting point in the sense this is applicable to almost every situation in life, where you define the purpose of the work in the first place and start from there as the next step is to set the how to achieve the purpose. In the end layout the end product. For example, writing a proposal to do a piece of research, the first step is to define the purpose. Then set out a roadmap. The end product will follow this. It’s the same with planning anything, including giving up smoking or a bad habit for instance, or reading, or consumption of information. Why-How-What in that order becomes a recipe for achievement rather than starting out with What-How-Why reordering of priorities. From essay writing to reading a book to investment to asking for raise or doing the work, this does have intuitive appeal in enhancing productivity.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

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