How to Inspire Action

Published by Thriving Erin on

4 Key Takeaways from Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”


If you’ve read any of my other posts you probably already know that I love to ask WHY, so a book titled “Start With Why” immediately caught my attention. In our personal lives, knowing why we do things and why we believe what we do is the foundation of living intentionally and improving our lives. In this book Simon Sinek takes the concept of WHY one step further, outside of the benefits to our own life and into why it is important for our interactions with others that we know our WHY. In fact, knowing our WHY is at the very core of our ability to lead and influence other people.


1. The Golden Circle

It looks so simple. These three little rings together form a very simple diagram, and what it stands for also seems basic, but basic does not mean easy. The Golden Circle is a representation of why some leaders and organizations are able to achieve such high levels of influence compared to those around them. There are three levels to the Golden Circle:


  1. WHAT: every person, company, and organization can tell you WHAT they do, it’s easy to identify.
  2. HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. HOWs are often described as the thing that makes something different or better. These are not as obvious as the WHATs.
  3. WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate their WHY. The WHY is the purpose, cause, or belief that drives everything. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

Most of us work from the outside-in. It’s way easier. Not only can trying to determine a WHY be difficult, but it can also be intimidating. Digging deep into what drives us can be scary, what if we don’t like what we find?


2. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

All inspiring leaders and even the most inspired companies, have a clear sense of their WHY. When Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous speech he said “I have a dream,” not “I have a plan.” It was a statement of purpose, not a comprehensive twelve-step plan for achieving civil rights in America. As Sinek writes, “he offered America a place to go, not a plan to follow.” It’s not that there wasn’t a plan, but that day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was not the day for it. That was the day for the WHY, that was the day that the clear communication of the WHY inspired millions of people to stand up, follow him and change the course of history.


At that moment, people didn’t care what the plan was. At that moment, they didn’t care how change would happen, or what they had to do. They bought into the WHY, they believed in the cause, and when the plan came later, they were already convinced. This is what it means to communicate from the inside-out. Start with WHY, that’s what people will be loyal to, and then communicate the action.



3. Nothing happens without trust

It’s impossible to convince someone to trust you. Trust is not a checklist. It’s not the result of fulfilling all your responsibilities. Trust is a feeling and it only starts to develop when we believe another person (or organization) is driven by something other than their own self-gain. To fully earn someone’s trust, this has to be consistently demonstrated over time. In other words, to fully earn someone’s trust, the WHY must be consistently demonstrated.


We join movements, teams, and companies because their values and beliefs align with ours, we believe in their WHY. However, if over time, it is not consistently demonstrated, we start to lose trust. We start to pull away, separating ourselves from them, unwilling to take risks. Tell me if this sounds familiar:


Joe recently started working at Company A. He is very excited. He has seen some of the work they do and really believes they are making a difference in the world in an area he is passionate about. He has some great ideas he hopes to propose over the next few months.


Joe has been working at Company A for five years now and hates it. He thought the company was driven by making a difference in the world, but it turns out that the biggest factor in decision-making is just making money. Every project he has suggested has been approved and then put on-hold indefinitely. He hasn’t suggested a new project in over a year and counts the hours until home-time every day.

Now if you could change “working at Company A” to work at any company, volunteering with any organization, or being part of any group, I bet most of us could rewrite this to something we’ve personally seen play out. Now sometimes an individual’s WHY just doesn’t line up with a company’s WHY, but too often we see a person or company with a strong WHY lose their way. They no longer embody the values and ideals that made us follow them, our trust erodes, and we pull away.


4. Be careful not to confuse your WHAT with your WHY

But why do people and companies so often lose their WHY? Once you’ve established it, why doesn’t it inspire you forever?


Perhaps, it’s that a WHY is typically not self-serving.


For example, when Microsoft was founded, their WHY was: “A PC in every home and on every desk.” Bill Gates believed that “if you give people the right tools, and make them more productive, then everyone, no matter their lot in life, will have an opportunity to achieve their real potential.” Making money was not their WHY, it was simply a result. Microsoft changed the world through the advancement of the home computer. They attracted great employees, investors, and customers because their WHY was clear. They didn’t need to manipulate others, their consistency earned them trust.


Since Bill Gates left, Microsoft has not done as well, and it’s in large part because they seem to have forgotten their why. When it was founded, Microsoft was about leveling the playing field, providing new technology to give new opportunity, they just happened to do that by creating computer software. Now, everything is about making computer software. The WHAT has become the WHY. From the outside, the results may look the same, and they even had continued success for a number of years, but without Bill Gates, their CEO who embodied the WHY in everything he did, things slowly fell apart. Decisions were made based on different criteria, there is no more innovation; they essentially stagnated. Sure they still create updates and come out with new features, but it is simply novelty. There is no larger WHY and so they have become just another company with a glorious past.




1 Comment

Helen Lim · April 16, 2019 at 11:13 am

Hi Erin, these four points are great. Have you seen his TED talk? Those four points are ones that he highlights with a lot of repetition.

When you wrote this post, did you clearly know who it is for? I ask because I feel more depth can be added to cater to that audience. If your reader needs motivation, how would you write your experience as an example rather than give the Microsoft example?

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