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Start with Why - Book Review

1 April 2015

Dr. Moria Levy

"Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action" stands as a bestselling book penned by Simon Sinek in 2009. Rooted in an analysis of organizations that have thrived consistently, it underscores the significance of having a mission that transcends the pursuit of financial gains and profits for effective leadership within a company or organization. The book brims with many examples, including contemporary ones like Apple, Dell, and Walmart, as well as historical figures such as the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King. Moreover, it is crafted in an easily digestible style.

Sinek's book respects the question "WHY?" but also delves into three interdependent elements:

  1. WHY

  2. HOW

  3. WHAT

These three components are depicted as a golden circle, with the core representing the mission and the periphery symbolizing the "what" – the services or products the organization delivers. It is paramount to recognize that the "what" is a result of the "why," not its origin. For instance, Sinek cites Bill Gates as an example. Bill Gates sought to bring technology to individuals, not as an end in itself, but with a purpose. Initially, he accomplished this through Microsoft, primarily through developing the PC, including the operating system and office software. However, he departed from the company in recent years while pursuing the same mission through another "what" – the foundation he and his wife lead.

Successful companies do not merely gain customers; they nurture loyal customers who remain with them for the long term. This distinction is of utmost importance.

Undoubtedly, the book prompts profound reflection and comes highly recommended for readers.


The fixation on vocation is grounded in the notion that two methods exist for influencing people: manipulation or inspiration. Manipulation, whether it takes on a negative or positive form, can manifest in pricing strategies, promotional tactics, exertion of pressure, or intimidation. In contrast, inspiration involves nurturing aspirations and cultivating innovation. However, all these methods have limited, enduring impact. Customers may grow accustomed to lower prices and continually seek more economical options. Selling aspirations can be challenging, notably when the other party needs more discipline. Furthermore, all incentives and deterrents ultimately lose their effectiveness. Sinek argues that while these strategies may generate immediate results and boost business, they do not foster long-term loyalty.

Most companies understand what they sell or offer (the "WHAT"), but frequently they fail to define a purpose – the "WHY." It is essential to explain why the company exists and what it believes in and communicate it effectively to your clientele. If customers align with your beliefs, they will experience a shared sense of purpose, laying the foundation for loyalty. Sinek elucidates how this approach forges a profound emotional connection between companies and their customers, a connection more potent than a purely rational one. (It's worth noting that Sinek does not suggest neglecting the sensible aspect of the sale; he merely emphasizes that it should not be the primary factor in the decision-making process.)

This isn't about manipulating the customer but rather the opposite. Customers prefer making decisions based on emotions as well as rationality. It's about evoking deep emotions, not exploiting vulnerabilities. Numerous examples abound of individuals, companies, and even countries that have delineated what motivates them, including:

  • Apple: "We believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently."

  • USA: "The American Dream."

  • The Wright Brothers: "The flying machine can change the world; everyone will benefit."

  • Martin Luther King: "I have a dream."

  • Other examples include Disney, J.F. Kennedy, Harley-Davidson, and Southwest Airlines.

Achieving success in embedding "WHY" into a mission doesn't necessarily entail being the best at everything (for instance, Microsoft outsells Apple in computer operating systems). Instead, it signifies having a disproportionate influence in the market within which a company operates. A successful "WHY" is characterized by:

  1. Aspiration – guiding the customer towards a place they might not have dared to envision themselves.

  2. Clarity – being clear and easily understandable.

  3. It reflects society, its core values, and beliefs.

From an organizational perspective, a company that effectively incorporates "WHY" into its mission necessitates:

  • A leader who can articulate the company's "destiny" and instill it in its DNA.

  • A leader with the ability to recruit individuals who share the same mission and beliefs.

  • Employees who harbor a profound connection to the organization foster motivation.

  • Trust within the company and among its people enables exceptional growth and innovation as individuals trust, rely on, and collaborate.


No company or individual can lead based solely on dreams and beliefs. The "HOW" layer that encompasses the mission defines the values and work principles that guide them. This is how dreams and beliefs are translated into action. Naturally, different people and organizations possess distinct guiding values and work principles that set them apart.

For example, take a company's "HOW," like Apple, which creates solutions in a beautiful, user-friendly, and accessible manner. This guiding principle permeates every product they develop and sell.

When attempting to persuade the public about a new idea or product, typically, most individuals will look around and assess who has already adopted it. At the outset, there may be no such person. At this stage, values, which serve as an externalization of the mission and a conceptualization of it, lay the foundation for gaining the trust of early adopters. These individuals believe in the values of society and the principles it embodies, and they pave the way for others to follow. Even later, while most of the public is heavily influenced by emotions, they still seek out the pioneers who consciously embraced the new idea, assuming they believe in the person behind it.

Unsurprisingly, the "HOW," along with the "WHY," resides in the realm of emotions and the irrational. Sinek refers to these two aspects as activities related to the Limbic brain, the brain responsible for feelings, trust, and loyalty. This contrasts with the "WHAT" (described below), attributed to the external Neocortex Brain, accountable for rationality, analytical thinking, and language.

So, what sets the "WHY" and "HOW" apart? If the "WHY" is the idea, then the "HOW" can be considered an amplifier that empowers the "WHY" and, therefore, enables its dissemination.

People driven by the "WHY" are led by dedicated individuals. These individuals may not necessarily be leaders, but they excel in defining values and principles based on the overarching idea and subsequently mobilizing people to bring it to fruition. They are visionary and imaginative, often considered optimistic because they believe that destiny can be translated into action and reality. They closely accompanied the leader for many years. For instance, at Disney, it was Roy Disney, Walt Disney's brother, and at Microsoft, which was guided by a strong sense of destiny during Bill Gates' leadership, it was Paul Allen, who had been friends with Bill Gates since high school. These examples abound.

However, there are some challenges to consider:

  • Declining values and guiding principles is relatively easy, but it is only sometimes easy to implement them. Real-world constraints, budget limitations, time pressures, technological hurdles, and other difficulties often tempt us to compromise on our values. Sinek regards discipline and unwavering adherence to values, even in the face of challenges, as critical factors in successfully implementing the "HOW."

  • Expectations surrounding the purpose and "why" are often exceedingly high. If these expectations are set too high, creating a "HOW" that genuinely fulfills them can be challenging. Sinek also warns against defining a mission that the leader and the organization do not genuinely believe in, merely as a means to achieve success. Such an approach will fail when the "HOW" stage is reached. Consider yourself forewarned.


Up to this point, we have established ideas and values consisting of words. However, these internal layers need an external layer encompassing services, actions, and products. This outer layer is called the "WHAT," symbolizing the tangible outcome of your efforts.

The "WHAT" encompasses not just products but goes beyond that, including services, marketing endeavors, organizational culture, and the individuals we choose to employ. It contains all the practical, day-to-day activities that mirror the mission, values, and principles.

Nonetheless, there are vital considerations:

  • The "WHAT" must be in harmony with the "why" and the "how." It holds little value when detached from them.

  • Attempting to define the "WHAT" first and then deriving the "WHY" and "HOW" in reverse order is an unreliable approach.

  • While preserving the "WHAT" is relatively straightforward, maintaining its connection to the inner layers is not always easy. Sinek suggests that gradual detachment can occur due to various factors, such as inadequate communication of the "why," leadership changes, or financial pressures, which are often necessary for the survival of any organization not operating on an unlimited budget. Ironically, this disconnect between the "WHY" and the "WHAT" can sometimes arise when success is achieved, leading to complacency and overlooking the foundational elements that initially led to that success.

Another reason for this disconnection may be the common practice of focusing on measuring the bottom line, which often quantifies the "WHAT." Sinek provides examples of organizations that have found ways to measure the "WHY" within the organization, ensuring that it is not only communicated but also perpetuated and continues to maintain a significant presence.

In conclusion, I'd like to summarize this summary with the exact words from the book's introduction. I've chosen to retain the quote in English because its language is simple, and a translation wouldn't capture its essence: "There are Leaders, and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us. ... This is a book for those who want to inspire others and those who want to find someone to inspire them." May we all aspire to inspire and be inspired.

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