Book Review: Start with Why

I had heard of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why for some time, and had seen his TED talk. But I hadn’t actually read the book until recently. I found it pretty inspiring, and wanted to outline some of the ideas that I found helpful.

The Golden Circle

The key illustration of the book is the so-called “Golden Circle”.

The idea is that many businesses start from the outside of the circle and work their way in. They know what they do, and how they do it, but typically don’t put as much emphasis on why they do it.

In contrast some of the most successful businesses, and the ones that command the most loyalty, go the opposite direction. They have a clear sense of why they exist, and from there they derive how they do it and finally what they do.

An example that is brought up throughout the book is Apple. Their purpose is to challenge the status quo and empower individuals, and everything they do follows that purpose; their sense of why. As a result, they command an incredible amount of loyalty from their base.

Not only does a strong and permeating sense of why command such loyalty from customers, but it is also a mechanism for inspirational leadership. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” is repeated several times through the book. In other words, people are intrinsically motivated to contribute to a cause that they believe in rather than simply doing something because they are “supposed to”.

As someone in leadership, I really connected with the idea of having and communicating a clear purpose. I want to inspire people to do their best work and push toward important goals, and having a clear sense of why is an important aspect of achieving that.

The Megaphone

Another interesting concept was the “megaphone”. The idea is that having a sense of why is not enough. All of the how and what that follows needs to align with that purpose. It can be very difficult to effectively communicate your why. This sense of purpose stems from a belief system. Personal values. Something that is felt in the emotional part of the brain rather than something logical.

Because this sense of why is so hard to communicate through words, we have to communicate it in many ways: through the things we do (what), and the way we do them (how). Collectively, the things we say and do — as a business, an organization, a leader, or an individual — create a “megaphone” through which our why is cumulatively communicated with the rest of the world. People who resonate with what they see and hear will get it.

Personal Thoughts

The book really resonated with me, and had some good takeaways. But I also have some questions that I still need to figure out.

Coming up with a sense of why is really tough. I think it’s the sort of thing that evolves and shapes over time, rather than just something you wake up and figure out one day. I think we need to try things, iterate, and see what gives a sense of fulfillment. Looks like Sinek has another book about that.

For me, I’ve been working for some time in the eLearning industry. Although it’s taken some time, I’ve found that I have a pretty deep sense of purpose associated with this work. I’m highly motivated by learning, growing, levelling up. And I love to help others do the same. I think that learning is an important part of making the world a better place, and I want to contribute positively to a world where learning is accessible for everyone; where anyone can learn anything. This is deeply motivating to me, and I want to build a megaphone of how and what that helps bring this sense of why to life.

But I’m also very aware that people have different values and lenses through which they see the world. I don’t expect everyone on my team, for example, to feel the same sense of motivation for the same reasons that I do. I’m motivated by learning, others may be motivated by other things, such as quality, or integrity, or relationships.

But I think it’s possible for us to share a sense of purpose, and find motivation in that purpose, while also having different values and perspectives. In fact, those differences are what bring life, creativity, and productive tension into the things we create.

Anyway, I definitely enjoyed the book. If you haven’t already seen Sinek’s TED talk about this topic, I highly recommend checking it out. The book expands on the talk and drives the point home a bit more, and also gives some more examples.

Here’s to finding, building, and proclaiming your why.

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