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On the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Updated on June 19, 2017
B. Leekley profile image

Brian minored in philosophy in college. He has taken religion classes. He has practiced Transcendental Meditation since 1973.

Simon Sinek giving a talk about START WITH WHY

Why Start with Why?

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek is a thought-provoking and inspiring book. Sinek says that the companies and organizations that change the world and inspire enthused loyalty among employees / members and customers / supporters are those that put Why first and How and What second and third. By Why in this context, Sinek means the purpose for which an organization or company was founded and exists, the belief, the cause, the motivating idea or vision that inspires and is the litmus test of all decisions within it. A company or organization that focuses primarily or entirely on What it does and How it does it and that has a fuzzy, forgotten, or never embraced Why does not inspire love and loyalty.

Typically, a company's or organization's top leader is the foremost booster and living symbol of its Why. Others who also take to heart that Why gladly and loyally put themselves within the sphere of that company or organization as its customers, members, investors, supporters, officers, staffers, employees, or friends.

Positive and Negative Examples

Among the positive examples that Sinek uses are Steve Jobs at Apple, who infused that corporation's culture with the what-we-do attitude of challenging the status quo by thinking differently; Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, whose Why was to make airplanes an ordinary means of travel for common people, not just business executives--as easy and affordable to use as taking a train or a bus, and Martin Luther King, Jr. at Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who for decades for millions of people around the world, because he articulated the Why, represented the African-American Civil Rights Movement (and also to an extent the whole complex of social movements for civil and human freedoms from injustice and to participate known then as The Movement).

Sinek also discusses negative examples, companies that never had a clear Why and companies in which the Why became fuzzy or was forgotten, such as Wal-Mart, which lost its status as an inspiring, beloved company because the descendents of the founder abandoned his belief that if you do right by your employees, customers, and communities, they will do right by you, and AOL (America Online), which lost its focus on its Why--to put America online. Sinek thinks Microsoft is on its way to being just a software company, no longer inspired by the Why of its founders.

He gives Continental Airlines as an example of a company that went from worst to first because a new CEO, Gordon Bethune, put an appropriate Why first.

Golden Circle


The Brain and the Golden Circle

The limbic brain controls feelings and decision-making but has no capacity for language. This is where "gut decisions"--decisions that "just feel right"--come from. Reasoning and language happen in another part of the brain. Passionate loyalty to an organization or company happens because it has a clear Why, which is reflected in What it does and How it does it, and because that Why is appealing and inspiring to the limbic brains of those who also believe in that purpose.

Sinek compares the brain, with its limbic system at its center, with an organization or company organized as a "golden circle," with What participants do being How they actualize its Why or motivating purpose, which is kept the central focus. {Learn more here.}

The ideal company or organization, according to Sinek, has a top leader who makes the gut decisions and expresses via metaphor, analogy, stories, and such its core purpose. (How can one say why one loves a company and its purpose except in poetic language?) This leader typically has a partner or a lieutenant who knows How to manifest that Why in What the company or organization does. Martin Luther King had Ralph Abernathy; Walt Disney had Roy Disney; Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak; Bill Gates had Paul Allen, and so on.

Because the motivating purpose of an organization or company is hard to articulate, since it comes from the limbic brain where language and reasoning do not happen, it is easy to never have or to lose clarity as to its Why. But starting with Why and keeping Why foremost and in focus is worth it, because that is what inspires love and loyalty and leads to growth, as people share their enthusiasm with others who share belief in the Why.


Simon Sinek makes his argument for starting with Why very articulately and convincingly. I highly recommend his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Portfolio 2009. There is also (or was when I last looked) a Start With Why website, with a blog. What I want to do next in this article is share some of my reflections on the book.

Think Different--the main idea guiding Apple Inc.


Do you know your Why?

See results

Reflection One: Why Choose to Stay Alive Another Moment?

During the 1990s, a pathologist named Jack Kevorkian was in the news a lot for preaching and practicing the causes of euthanasia and assisted suicide and for his prison sentence. {Click here for the Wikipedia article.} Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, and the United States state of Oregon have legalized regulated physician assisted suicide, and the morality and legality of physician assisted suicide and of euthanasia are being argued around the world. {Learn more here.} Euthanasia and assisted suicide being sometimes in the news reminds those of us who are able-bodied that suicide for us is a daily option. Why, then, does each of us who is capable of suicide choose (with few exceptions) day by day and minute by minute to continue to live?

I considered suicide when I was 9 years old. I decided to keep living for as long as life remained minimally bearable and interesting. I have muddled along through life, following my nose wherever it goes, and now past age 70 I am wondering if I should have more to motivate and to guide me than mild curiosity and the vague hope that someday I will learn why I am and why anything is. After reading Start With Why , I want to choose to live each new day, each new minute, each new moment of my life not because I am a suicide procrastinator or because I have a lukewarm interest in seeing what comes next but rather because I have chosen or recognized, and am enthused about, my Why.

How do I choose or recognize it? I guess just go with my intuition and gut feeling. Reviewing my life, what experiences have just felt right to me?

I was 11 years old and in sixth grade when I started reading Viking Portable Library books in my father's library. I read Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, The Divine Comedy by Dante, and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. It was a fascinating revelation to me that writing could express inner feelings. I was already an avid book reader, and the shift from Hardy Boys mysteries to literature intensified my enthusiasm for reading. It was a small step to enthusiasm for writing, beginning in high school, encouraged by my sophomore English teacher, with verses and prose sketches, and continuing in college in the early 1960s, with a creative writing major.

After that there were years in which I got sidetracked and did little or no creative writing. In the mid 1970s I recognized that my trying to be a union and community organizer, however much I admired those who were superb at that work, was not a good fit for my aptitudes and personality and was resulting in much anxiety and escapism, and I realized that I had always preferred work involving words, writing, reading, editing, and/or books. I set my intention to seek such work, and I went on to do and love work as a typist, proofreader, copy editor, library staffer, antiquarian bookseller, and then freelance writer.

So part of my Why live is to show my gratitude for the many books, essays, poems, and so on that have moved, inspired, enlightened, and entertained me by my in turn writing worthy works for others to read. I need a few more lifetimes of effort before I can measure up to the authors I most admire, but I try my best.

A few years ago some mental images came to me and stayed with me and felt right--that there is a creative love force radiating everywhere from God (defined as the source of that force ); that the universe is these rays of God dancing (an image inspired by the last line of the poem "Among School Children" by Yeats, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?"), and that humans are living transformers with the function of receiving divine creative love energy and turning it into loving acts--simply doing what seems right, best, and appropriate in and to each moment. That gives my every moment a purpose--work at editing this article, write praise in a comment on a well expressed and thoughtful hub by another writer, deposit a pension check, scoop the cat litter pan, feed the cats, click wine glasses with my wife, eat with gratitude and pleasure a sandwich she made me, do data entry at the local Obama re-election campaign office, take a brisk walk in my neighborhood, sweep and wash the kitchen floor, read Miracle of Love by Ram Dass, etc.

How did I dream up such notions? A factor is that I was raised Catholic and another is the "On Work" teaching of Kahil Gibran in his 1923 book The Prophet.

Another way to express it is, "Do the right thing," as a character advises the hero in the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing . {Click here to see the Wikipedia article.}

For all of my adult life it has felt right to me to budget time for civic and community participation. My inclination has been, and is, to affirm and promote the social evolution of a world balanced between the sin of individualism taken to the extreme of neglecting and harming the common good and the sin of socialism taken to the extreme of neglecting and denying individual liberty. (I've heard the Norwegians have it about right. Do they?) The advice of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this matter makes sense to me. {See 2425 and 2792.} Such civic and community activity is an aspect of the human function of taking each moment as it comes and doing with love what seems appropriate.

And I am dedicated to affirming, promoting, and doing my best to live by the principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations {read them here} and the teachings and example of Jesus, because they "feel right" to me. They influence my moment to moment decisions.

Combine and blend those whys and that is why I get out of bed and greet each day with a happy and enthused, "Hurrah! Not dead yet!"

Reflection Two

If an organization by choice is non-hierarchical, with no high-muck-a-mucks, how does it get and stay inspired by a Why? Examples? Readers, this is a question to which I don't know the answer and wish I did. Have you had experience with this?

Does even a non-hierarchical organization require an individual to have the inspiration and gumption to express its from the heart (or limbic brain) Why before it can have one?

If no one else in the group is doing so, official leader or not, is it your / my / each member's responsibility to be the one to say, "Our Why, what we believe in and are about, to me is such and such"? What if many members see the need to articulate the group's Why but none can?

I am drafting this capsule in late October 2012, just after Hurricane Sandy. Yesterday I read a HubPages article calling upon hubbers to spread the word about the need for help for Sandy's victims and ways to help. That is an example of a Why coming first--let's we with resources help our neighbors without. The How and What and the nitty gritty of organizing them will come next. Ideas are being shared in the Comments and in linked hubs.

Reflection Three

Since the Why of a love, enthusiasm, and loyalty inspiring company or organization comes from the limbic brain of an inspired and inspiring top leader who draws others to hir cause by enthusiastically extolling it in words, illustrations, and deeds that appeal primarily to the limbic brains of recruits to the cause and only secondarily appeal to reason, then does it not follow that every organization and every company that lacks a leader who has the talent to articulate its Why needs to put a poet or storyteller in a high position? When the CEO of a company cannot articulate the cause for which it exists and is in danger of losing hir awareness of and focus upon that cause, would it not be the best idea to ask a creative writer to put into words what the CEO feels is right but cannot verbalize? Perhaps this position could be called Vice President of Why.


If you are or wish to be a hubber (writer who self-publishes for free at HubPages {click hereto join}, consider writing a 'hub' page extolling the Why of your life or the Why of a company or organization you admire or have yourself started. Keep the point on starting with Why, with your experience as an example, not on proselytising.

And comments on this essay are very welcome, whether to say what is right and commendable about it, or to say what changes might improve it, or to argue for or against its points, or to respond to its questions, or to express your own reflections.


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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA


    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 5 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Of course, if one is not sincere about the purpose or mission statement, it would be pointless to have one.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks, Marie. Yes, including a purpose statement in one's HubPages profile sounds like a good idea. I'll work on mine soon. About purpose statements in general, like the Bible says (paraphrasing), yeah that's good that you have it in writing, but is it written on your hearts? I've been in churches, for instance, that had mission, purpose, and vision statements that were not inspiring.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks very much, billybuc. The YouTube link at the top of my article to a video of Sinek giving a TED talk is a good introduction to his ideas in the book. The book focuses on companies and to a small extent organizations. I went beyond that and applied the golden circle concept at an individual, personal level. I think the book is insightful, and I recommend it to anyone running a company. The Why has to come with integrity and sincerity from the heart (or Sinek says from the limbic brain) and not be just an ad slogan given lip service.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 5 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Sinek's idea is not a new one. When setting up any organization, whether for business or some other acitvity, behaviorial psychologists highly recommend having a purpose statement, a sentence or short paragraph that defines the ideal values of that organization. As time goes by, the purpose statement should be read periodically by members, ideally at every meeting. Maybe I should try to focus on a purpose statement for myself in writing hubs--and then stick to it! Thank you for writing on this subject.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A fascinating read my friend...I'm sure the book is, but I'm referring to your essay here. I love that you gave personal reflections; obviously, I am all for opening ourselves up for scrutiny as a writer. It allows the reader to bond with us, and make a connection, and you have taken a huge step in that direction with this excellent work.

      As for the book, I love the premise of knowing your why. Thank you for the book recommendation; I might be picking that one up soon.