(besides Rich Dad Poor Dad, no other book has had as profound an influence on my journey as Start with Why - so please excuse me if I slip into waxing poetic while I review the concepts and my thoughts therein.)

overview

Sinek first outlined his “Golden Circle” idea and provided an awesome overview to the concepts later developed in Start with Why in a now famous TEDxTalk titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. In that talk, and in his book, Sinek explains how he came across the concept of the Golden Circle and how he believes it correlates with human neuroanatomy. Basically, Sinek says that the primitive part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making is also responsible for feelings, but has no capacity for language.

He coined the phrase “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” The products/services (“what”) simply serve as an example for an organization's purpose, cause or beliefs (“why”).

Sinek illustrates with examples from business (Apple), social justice (MLK Jr), and history (Wright brothers). He described the Law of Diffusion of Innovation from Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book, The Tipping Point, to demonstrate the early commercial failure of “what-focused” TiVo, as a counter-example to the successful movement inspired by “why-focused” MLK Jr.

While TiVo was a “leader” in innovative technology, MLK was “one who led” - and we follow those who lead not because of what they say, but because of how they make us feel. It is only leaders who Start with Why that can inspire people around them.

notes

Start with Why is written in a conversational tone and is easily digestible. Major concepts are illustrated and supported through recurring examples that run throughout the entire book without getting stale. Subtopics are likewise illustrated with one-off examples that serve to demonstrate without distracting.

I’m not a neuro-scientist, but I do know just enough to be slightly off-put by extreme simplifications of anything brain-related. In other words, my only problem with this book is that it oversimplifies brain function (which, to be fair, is probably necessary for broad appeal and to not distract from the major concepts - after all this is NOT a neuroscience textbook).

That being said, Sinek’s concept that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” is reiterated many times throughout the book and in countless examples - including the following couple not mentioned in the talk above: 

Southwest Airlines was started as a low-cost way to bring air travel to the masses. Everything Southwest does, from simplified pricing to unassigned seating serve to illustrate its purpose of making air travel accessible beyond just the suit-and-tie crowd. Southwest saw itself not as competing with Delta or American, but with Greyhound and cars. Southwest has been so successful at illustrating its “why" for decades, that it has never had an unprofitable year - including the nightmarish period for airlines after 9/11.

Harley Davidson is a company that embodies a belief system of freedom and adventure. This American institution has so deeply instilled their “why” that generations of loyal customers buy millions of dollars in branded apparel every year and tattoo Harley logos on their bodies because of the lifestyle it has come to represent.  They do it, not for the company, obviously, but for how it makes them feel and what displaying that logo says to the outside world about themselves.

The products and services a company offers are the tangible proof of a company’s "why". For example, Apple can obviously sell computers and software, but also personal electronics and even music, because its "why" has been consistently defined as challenging the status quo (first in computers, then music and cell phones). When consumers point to features and benefits, what they’re doing is using the neocortex (language and logic center) of the brain to explain a purchase that likely was made by the limbic (feelings, emotions, decision-making) system. Quality, therefore, is the price a company pays in order to give the neocortex what it needs to justify a decision the limbic system has made.

Conclusion

I would love to expand and describe every example Sinek draws on in Start with Why and even to take a deep dive into his personal cause - “to inspire people to do the things that inspire them” and probably I will someday. But for now, I want this to be a synopsis and to wet your appetite for the actual amazing book, not a full summary. In short - in order to realize amazing success in life and business, seek to discover yours, and then always Start with Why.