Start With Why


How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action



30 second summary


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Companies should clearly explain WHY they exist and then make products and services that align with that purpose. Instead, most companies make the mistake of starting with WHAT, and that makes for a much less compelling pitch.

Start with what: “We make really cool products, they are better than competitor products in many ways. Want to buy one?”

Start with why: “We believe in thinking differently and challenging the status quo, so we design beautiful and intuitive products. Want to buy one?”


2 more minutes of summary


The “Start With Why” golden circle. You (people, brands, organizations) should communicate to the world in this order:

1 Why: What do you believe and why do you exist?

2 How: The actions you take because of those beliefs.

3 What: The results of those actions (often your products).

Alignemnt in the golden circle leads to “authenticity” and authentic brands elicit trust from consumers.

This approach works because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Consider this alternatives. Convincing people to do something based on a “what” can often become a manipulation. Promotion, novelty, endorsement – these are all ephemeral methods of changing people’s behavior. They are not inspiring and do not lead to loyalty. Convincing people to do something based on a “why” is called “inspiration.”


Chicken scratch notes below. Posts to come!

Sinek explains that leadership and true leaders INSPIRE. This might be the key sentence – start with Why, because that inspires people to follow. Inspired people are loyal.

Loyalty is different than people who do repeat business; loyalty is willing to stick with you through inconvenience, to not even seek out information about the alternative.

How else might you attract business, if not through inspiration? Manipulation.

Promotions are a manipulation. GM sold cars using cash back, and when those promotions ended, people stopped buying. Rebates are great for driving sales, but they do not build loyalty and they are not very sustainable (Walmart might be one of the few examples where low cost has been sustainable, but look what it has cost them in scandals).

Novelty also drives sales. The Razr phone was very novel and drove sales for Motorola, but then they were copied and sales plummeted. Novel features are not to be confused with innovation. Innovation transforms business or markets or behavior; novelty is just the shiny new object.

As competition increases, companies must keep differentiating and innovating until there are 32 different types of toothpaste! It’s not leading to more people brushing their teeth, it’s just trying to sell you a particular brand.

Endorsement also is a manipulation. Tiger woods uses it, so it must be good!

The golden circle: why, how, what. Ted talk content. Start with Why. It is inspiring. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Limbic brain is where the emotions and instincts are, but there is no language. Neocortex is where the thinking and language happen. We make gut decisions in the limbic brain and then rationalize in our neocortex. When you agree with the why of a brand or product or person, you feel it in your limbic brain. It’s a biological response to make decisions that way.

Why: your beliefs

How: the actions you take

What: the results of those outcomes

When you align all those things, why how what, you are being authentic. People will sense misalignment and it will “feel wrong” in their limbic brain. People are very good at sensing that misalignment because we’ve been conditioned in nature to sense out those we can trust.

Alignment in the golden circle leads to authenticity and leads to trust.

The products and messages and all those other things are the Whats that must all serve as evidence of your Why.

A lot of talk about trust. Trust enables hunters to go out and leave their families in the community and that makes the society function. Trust allows people to take risks. You need trust in your organization to get people to take personal risk for the good of the company. You also trust those around you who make product recommendations, so a challenge as a company selling products is to get the right influencers to talk about you. But how do you do this?

You do this by talking about the tipping point. There are 5 groups of consumers in the market, as outlined by crossing chasm. Innovators in the beginning and then early adopters. You want these people to buy the WHY of what you’re selling and to use your products as evidence of who they are. You have to talk with them about your why. Law of diffusion of innovation is how new technology spreads through the market…from innovators to laggards, who will only switch because they have to.

Inspiring action. You can’t just tell people WHY and that’s it – you need to more to rally and motivate a group of employees. Why needs to be combined with How. Think of the golden circle as a cone…in 3 dimensions…with the why being the highest, likely the CEO, the message from the top of an organization telling people why (vision), then you have a group of people below that CEO telling people how it’s going to be achieved, and then you have employees, most other people, around the outside, the WHAT, doing things and executing.

Split happens. Funny, but hard to follow. Companies like microsoft, starbucks and apple often lose track of their why. The biggest example is walmart, which was all about serving communities and employees, but eventually became all about their how/what: cost savings and low prices. What has resulted has been a decade of scandal. A lot of this talk reminded me of Innovator’s Dilemna. Sinek also said that success can be the biggest challenge to a company, because you can begin to get distracted. The volume of other stuff is louder as you have to manage all the increased revenue, and that can drown out your why. This reminded me of feeding the beast at Pixar per the Creativity Inc.

He also talks about what gets measured gets done. A company in the debt collection space found a way to measure kindness (cards sent to their debtors) and that company had great success. I think Sinek connects the dots a little carelessly on the “fuzzy why = failure” but it’s interesting food for thought, if nothing else. It is certainly true that what gets measured gets attention, and measuring EBIT, revenue, profit, etc. are all easy, but they are not WHY. You should find a way to measure your Why.