Some businesses succeed. Some fail. There are brands standing the test of time and leaving a lasting imprint on the world. And there are brands who we forget after a while. While many people are quick to point out “what” the successful companies are doing correctly, or “what” those that fail did wrong, Simon Sinek asks us to consider not so much the “What”, but to start with Why.
The concept of “Start with Why” began with Sinek’s influential TED Talk, in which he considered companies use the principle of “Why” to motivate employees, who in turn, will be inspired to pass along that confidence to customers. In his book, Simon Sinek explores the idea of “Why” in more detail, including how our brains are wired, and how success can be engineered at the outset, rather than haphazardly created through trial and error.
The Market Truth
In the second chapter of “Start with Why”, Sinek unveils a very hard truth that many of us attempt to ignore as new business owners:
“There’s barely a product or service on the market today that customers can’t buy from someone else for about the same price, about the same quality, about the same level of service, and about the same features”.Simon Sinek
If these words automatically create a sinking, sick feeling in your stomach, just keep reading. If there’s one thing Sinek does not intend, it’s for people to just give up on their budding entrepreneurial endeavor.
Instead, he wants to gently guide new business owners and those considering going into business on creating a purpose-driven business, rather than a product-driven business. In every niche, in every market, the product that offers “something extra” will always win the majority of sales.
And for many businesses, that sales volume translates into success and longevity.
The Whats and the Hows
Sinek suggests that up-and-coming business owners examine the concept he dubs, “The Golden Circle”. The Golden Circle is comprised of three circles settled within each other. The largest outer circle is “What”. The middle circle is “How”. The smallest, innermost circle is “Why”.
In his text, Sinek notes that every worker and every company knows “What” they do. “What” they make. “What” service they provide. A What-focused company only delivers product, and only changes in order to match or exceed the product offered by the competition.
“How” refers to the process. In many companies, the “How” is the most unstable part of the process. Early in the text, Sinek uses Japanese and American automotive manufacturing as an example.
In the example, an American group touring a Japanese car factory notices that no one hammers on the doors to make sure they fit correctly. The Japanese engineers reply simply that they design the doors to fit without extra measures.
This part of the process is often ill-considered. While many business owners and workers know “How” to get from concept to product, this process is often incompletely considered in an attempt to rush towards success.
As a result, short term fixes are used to patch over failed processes and procedures. Sinek points out that short term fixes often result in short term success, while long-term success is found in plans that are designed to be successful.
Making the difference
The difference, of course, is in the “Why”. As a business owner, “Why” do you do what you do? “Why” does your company exist? Why is your product necessary?
As someone concerned with the success of your product, you have probably considered popular marketing questions like “What problem does my product serve?” But have you really considered why someone should choose your product or service over every other option? Perhaps the something extra shouldn’t be a “What”, but a “Why”.
Using the Brain
Sinek is aware of how the human brain likes to make decisions. In fact, he dedicates the entire first chapter to the art of assumption.
When humans make decisions, such as “I’m going to start my business”, a lot of facts go into the process. You’ve probably done plenty of research, or are in the midst of it right now. You’re looking deep into your niche. Reading every possible blog. Reviewing contents, ingredients, steps, components. Building a brand around “What” people want.
In “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek recommends we redirect our brains. You might argue, “But if I’m armed with the facts, I’ll know what I’m doing”. Sinek does not refute that research is important. However, we also must acknowledge that we live in a world where good and bad luck are given credit for success and failure just as much as informed decisions and gut decisions are credited.
The brain features parts that correspond to each purpose. The neocortex, for example, is the “What” portion of the brain, and handles rational and analytical processes. The limbic system, however, is given credit for feelings and intuition. This is the “Why” portion of the brain.
Starting with Why
So what does starting with “Why” do for us, as business owners? Well, “Why” types tend to see a full picture, rather than a start and an end, with a bunch of question marks in between.
Those who look for “Whys” are able to inspire their staff and their customers equally, because their vision includes more than a vague concept of making things and making profit.
Sinek includes examples of “Why” visionaries, including Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Wright Brothers. Each of these parties started with a vision, and each experienced plenty of success and failure throughout their lifetimes.
As “Why” thinkers, they were able to communicate “What” they were doing, but “Why” others should listen to their thoughts and invest in their concepts.
As success-minded business owners, we often focus on the “Whats” of our business: what we’re going to deliver, what we’re going to do to make that happen, and what we define as success.
Instead, Simon Sinek challenges us to think less of the “Whats” and more of the “Whys”.
Once we discover and embrace “Why” we do the things we do, why we are invested in this product, and why our customers should choose us over any other option, we find ourselves in the midst of a big, fluid plan engineered for long term success, rather than a patchwork step-by-step of progress that only works for a short while… until another patch is needed.