Start with Why Summary: Simon Sinek

Start with Why Summary

Start with Why Summary provides a free book summary and review, key takeaways, top quotes, author biography and other key points of Simon Sinek’s famous book. This book is about why and how inspiring leaders are the total opposite of everybody else?

Simon Sinek, an entrepreneur, hit rock bottom in 2005. He began his own consulting firm in 2002. But, after three years, he lost his passion. At a dead-end, Sinek wondered about what made him happy. He thought why some companies and leaders were successful while others were not. Sinek realized that great leaders find a purpose and chase it. What they earn from it is only secondary to attaining their goal. Sinek names this process of leadership: The Golden Circle.

Simon wrote this book Start with Why. It begins with a vision, i.e., “Why.” Then it passes on to implementation, i.e., “How.” Lastly, it masters the product/service, i.e., the “What.” Sadly, most leaders follow this pattern backward. They first decide what they do and how to do it. It is only later that they try to differentiate their offering. Sinek is not subtle about what he wants to convey. We recommend his method to leaders, execs and leaders. His approach is also helpful for people seeking to find their passion.

“Inspiring leaders and companies… think, act and communicate exactly alike. And it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.”

This Summary Will Help You Learn

  • Why great leaders believe in inspiring their consumers instead of manipulating them to buy;
  • What great leaders do to gain customer and employee trust; and
  • How to recruit those who share your vision.


  • Great leaders begin by finding their vision and purpose.
  • They stick to the rings of the “Golden Circle.” It starts with developing their mission (Why) in the core. And then going outside to “How” and “What.”
  • “Why” comes from your primary purpose. It is the reason you get up every morning.
  • “How” defines how your offering is desirable and unique.
  • “What” explains the certain features of your offering.
  • Less successful firms and leaders work from the outside. They start with What-How-Why. But, successful leaders and firms begin from the inside out.
  • The reason is that people do not buy “What” you do. Rather, they buy “why” you do it.
  • Great leaders trust their gut. They can find a gap in the market before the consumers see it.
  • Do business with your perfect consumers. That is the ones who share your vision and beliefs.
  • New employees who share your vision are good fits. They will be your best team and the future leaders of the company.

Start with Why Summary

Inspirational Leadership

Regardless of the industry or size, inspirational leaders know why they do what they do. They follow their dreams and have a vision they can express. During the early 1900s, many Americans wished to be the 1st one to fly a plane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was a Harvard math professor who had great networks. He had many wealthy friends and also a government grant of $50,000. Orville and Wilbur Wright did not any have high education. Nor did they have any wealthy friends. Plus, they had limited money. But, on Dec. 17, 1903, the duo made their dream a reality. They began with a purpose – why – and inspired many others. Some people lead, and there are leaders. The former is commonplace. But, real leaders encourage and motivate others.

“Manipulation Versus Inspiration”

Most sellers do not inspire. Instead, they manipulate. Businesses influence consumers by banking on fear, promotions, peer pressure, price, etc. This manipulation gives short-term returns. It cannot garner long-run loyalty. Businesses claim their consumers pick them because of their great products sold at a right price. But, firms often have no idea why their consumers act the way they do. Instead, managers assume things and use that to make decisions. Companies may do research, collect data and get advice. But, even after studying all that data, sellers still err.

For example, merchandisers often reduce their prices to attract customers. Hence customers become habitual of paying fewer prices. And so, they do not want to pay the full price. Some companies offer promotions rather than dropping prices. For example two for the price of one. Or buy 1 get another at 50% off. Many public-service announcements and even ads use the fear-based content. Consider the famous 1980s ad that featured an egg being cracked into a pan. The message said, “this is your brain (the egg). This is your brain on drugs (eggs burning). Any questions?” Fear is the strongest manipulator. Peer-pressure advertising feeds on emotion and fear. Like when sellers persuade customers to buy things because celebrities use them.

Aspirational Messages

Aspirational messages are a subtle form of manipulation. Aspirations stress on the positive. Or on things, you may desire. Aspirational messages include statements like, “in 5 weeks, you can be rich.” Or, “lose 15lbs in a week.” Firms sell innovation. But, in a quick-paced market, innovations cannot remain unique forever. Manipulation inspires repeat business. That is when customers engage with you repeatedly, but not loyally. True loyalty is when customers can turn down a better price/product to be involved with you. Companies should try to gain such loyalty.

“The Golden Circle”

Inspirational leaders follow the “Golden Circle.” This Circle begins with a “why” in its center. This “why” is circled by a bigger circle marked “how.” These two circles are surrounded by the largest one named “what.” Most firms and human beings can explain what they do. They can also express how they do it and their differentiating factors. But, just a few can define their “why.”

As-far-as marketing is concerned, most firms follow the typical What-How-Why. They must reverse this order. First, explain their why and how and then move to what. For example, if Apple was a regular firm, its ads may read “We make amazing computers. They are designed beautifully and are easy to use. Want to buy one?” But, a realistic advertisement for Apple may read something different. For example, “in everything we do, we challenge the status-quo. We challenge the status quo by making our products user-friendly yet beautifully designed. And we happen to make the best PCs. Want to buy one?”

The second advertisement does not depend on the typical manipulations. Apple has a loyal consumer base. They have faith in the firm’s vision and values. Other tech companies may make simple and beautiful products. But, Apple connects with consumers because they recognize its vision.

Leaders should not define their firms by what or how they make it. If they do, then they will become like everybody else. They will then compete on factors like price, quality, etc. Every new company in the market makes it tougher for those companies to differentiate their products. And, so the manipulation starts again.

Gut Decisions

Customers want to engage with parties they trust. Hence, they look for firms that share their beliefs and values. Such firms make customers feel part of something greater than themselves. People make decisions through gut-feeling and emotions. To be specific, the emotionally charged limbic brain takes intuitive decisions. This is before the higher-level, the more logical brain comes starts working. During complex decision-making, people tend to ignore objective facts. Instead, they depend more on gut-feeling.

Richard Restak is a neuroscientist. He writes about the strength of the limbic system in The Naked Brain. Restak says, “when people have to decide on facts alone, they take more time. Plus, they often over-study the scenario. In contrast, gut decisions are quicker and better-quality. Choices which do not come from emotions may lead to doubt in people’s mind. They may start questioning if they took the correct decision. But, the ones with reliable intuition hardly second-guess their decisions.

The Case of Southwest Airlines

Inspiring leaders depend on their gut. They can find a gap in the market before the consumers see it. There was a businessman in San Antonio, named Rollin King. In the 1970s, King decided to imitate the success of Pacific Southwest. Pacific Southwest was a low-fare, short-haul airline. King had an unlikely partner, Herb Kelleher, his friend, and divorce lawyer. Pacific Southwest covered California. King and Kelleher’s Southwest Airlines covered only Texas initially. It connected Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.

But, King and Kelleher had a bigger vision. They wanted to draw the common-man by providing air-travel which was easy and cheap. Hence, their main rival was now ground transport and not airlines. Southwest eventually became a legend. It stayed profitable year after year while other firms suffered. Delta and United also tried to imitate Southwest’s model. But, they failed within four years. It was because they were not following their purpose.

Building Trust

There are two elements for building trust with consumers. Firstly, create trust with your staff and support your words with actions. Continental Airlines faced trust issues during the 80s and 90s. It stood last in customer satisfaction and on-time arrivals. There was a huge staff turnover. Then Gordon Bethune became the company’s CEO. He removed the locked doors on exec offices. Bethune made himself accessible to the staff. He even worked alongside them. He also handled bags when needed. This built a team-centric culture at the Airlines. Bethune wanted to mend Continental’s horrible on-time record. This was costing the airline $5mn/month in extra expenditure. He gave every worker $65/month to bring the airline among top-5 for timely performance. These checks were sent separately from monthly paychecks to emphasize the message.

People do their best when they belong to a culture which matches their beliefs. Great leaders identify great matches. They hire workers who have faith in the firm’s purpose. In 1914, Ernest Shackleton voyaged to cross Antarctica and reach the South Pole. Unfortunately, winter came early that year. Hence, Shackleton and his crew were stuck in ice for nearly a year. Shackleton with some men of his traveled 800miles to get help for their crew. No one on his team died. Nor did they try to overthrow his command. Why? Because he had recruited the correct people. His newspaper ad was, “People wanted for the dangerous journey. Harsh cold, small pay, continuous danger, long months in darkness, uncertain safe return. Recognition and honor if succeeded.” Shackleton got people entirely suitable for the task at hand. He got what every firm needs and wants: great fits.

“Imagine if every or­ga­ni­za­tion started with Why. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency.”

Tipping Points and Bell Curves

Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2002 bestseller The Tipping Point explains “influencers” and “connectors.” He finds a “tipping point” which happens when ideas spread quickly. Almost like a virus. Marketing and advertising execs try to give momentum to their goods/services by seeking help from “influencers.” Gladwell had many predecessors. Especially Geoffrey Moore and Everett M. Rogers.

Rogers explained how society accepts new ideas in his 1962 classic, Diffusion of Innovations. Moore came 30 years later with Crossing the Chasm. He explained why and how people use new technology. The “Law of Diffusion of Innovations” undergoes a bell curve. Under this 2.5%, people are innovators on the curve’s one end. Then, 13.5% fall in the group of early adopters. Lastly, the majority are in the middle. 34% adopt new things early while 34% adopt it late. On the other end of the curve are laggards. They make for about 16%.

As per Moore, early adopters and innovators push others. They are the first ones to test new ideas and methods. These people trust their gut and take risks. As customers, they are ready to pay more to be first. Most people try a new thing after they learn about it. Laggards are the last people to follow anything new. For example, they still do not get mobiles because their landlines are working fine. Hire early adopters and innovators who believe in your mission and product. They will hire others to your mission.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.”

Finding Your True Believers

Your real believers do exist. You only need to find them. Action-centric people are needed to turn your dream into reality. You need a team focused on how to be your executors. Even charismatic leaders require followers to build vehicles for taking their thoughts ahead. Where would Steve Jobs be today without Steve Wozniak? Or Walt Disney sans Roy Disney. Or Bill Gates if not for Paul Allen. In each pair, the leader defined the Why. And, the second person executes the How. The “Why types” require stable “How types” to keep them rooted.

In 1957, Walt Disney could have been in jail with bouncing checks. It was his brother Roy who prevented this from happening. Walt said he did not know about his finances at any point. But, Roy was always up-to-date. While Walt was the visionary, Roy was the doer. Walt made cartoons and dreamt of making films. Roy was smart enough to license those cartoons and sell them as products. It was Roy who founded the Buena Vista Distribution Co. This company became part of the film empire of Disney.

Even with success, firms and individuals should stick to their original vision. Firms which become too big or people who succeed often lose that spark. They should stay connected to it. Only then will their actions continue to have a cause.

Reflecting Back

A real sense of your purpose and actions comes from reflecting on your life. Think where you were and how your mission can take you to your intended destination. Sinek went through an innate shift away from his Why. Within three years of starting his consultancy firm, he was depressed. He knew that he would go out of business. Someone told him how the mind functions. That person explained to him that buying behavior comes from biology. Hence, Sinek found his Why. He set out to encourage people to do work which inspired them.

“Companies with a clear sense of Why… ignore their competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of Why are obsessed with what others are doing.”

Start with Why Review

Drawing on an extensive gamut of real-life tales, Sinek weaves together an explicit vision of what it takes to inspire and lead. This book is for everyone who wishes to inspire others or who wishes to find someone to take inspiration from. While no one book says it all, this one binds the bigger picture together for readers. This book does inspire thoughts as one goes through it.

From one perspective, the book Start with Why is about marketing. For example, Sinek speaks about how inspiration is more effectual at driving human behavior than manipulating. From another perspective, the book reminds that we ought to reconsider what gives meaning to our lives. The message is excellent, and it will get readers interested. The book is also focused organization wise. Firms usually know their How and What, but no Why or at least not an evident Why.

The book may not give readers a proper structure for identifying their Why. But, it does provide some great anecdotes to relate to. When you read how firms like Apple convey their WHY will help readers articulate their own. However, after a while, readers may grow restive with the continuous focus on Apple and some other firms. Also, the message about the necessity to focus on “why,” though fascinating, eventually does become redundant. Sinek could have kept the book short and precise. But, the experience can be different for everyone.

This book is bound to give its readers a new standpoint on how they go about doing things and can stimulate many ideas. The book offers innovative ideas which will inspire readers to think about what they are doing and why deeply.

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Start with Why Quotes

“Inspiring leaders and companies… think, act and communicate exactly alike. And it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.”

“Imagine if every or­ga­ni­za­tion started with Why. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency.”

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.”

“Companies with a clear sense of Why… ignore their competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of Why are obsessed with what others are doing.”

“The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe.”

“Successful succession is more than selecting someone with an appropriate skill set – it’s… finding someone… in lockstep with the original cause around which the company was founded.”

“When an or­ga­ni­za­tion defines itself by what it does, that’s all it will ever be able to do.”

“Loyalty to a company trumps pay and benefits… We don’t want to come to work to build a wall; we want to come to work to build a cathedral.”

“If there were no trust… no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and no advancement of the society.”

“If the levels of the Golden Circle are in balance, all those who share the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s view of the world will be drawn to it and its products like a moth to a light bulb.”

“We do better in cultures in which we are good fits.”

“Great leaders… inspire people to act… Those who truly lead… create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.”

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About the Author

Simon Sinek is an assistant member of the RAND Corporation. He is an optimist. His book Start With Why extends on his popular TED Talk, “How great leaders inspire action.”


After reading this Start with Why Summary, what do you think? Do you have something to share with us? Please feel free to share your thought with us.

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  1. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read more things about it!

  2. Really amazing and useful content! Appreciate you for sharing! Look forward to more.


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