Book Notes: Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action By Simon Sinek

Reading Time: 31 minutes

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, by Simon Sinek

Publisher : Portfolio (2009)

ISBN-13 :978-1591842804


Quick Thoughts

Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” (2009) makes one primary argument: great leadership begins by starting with WHY. Great leadership requires that you communicate your values and beliefs as clearly as possible, and ensure that your actions are in alignment with those higher causes or beliefs. “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” is repeated throughout the book.

One issue I have is that Sinek repeatedly uses the same companies as examples of organizations with clear WHY’s, e.g. Apple and Southwest Airlines. Today, I’d probably cite companies like Tesla and SpaceX as companies with clear WHYs and cult-like followings. But, I wish he’d dug deeper and found additional companies to invoke.

I recommend this book to individuals and organizations that want to enhance their personal and organizational leadership skills.

The Book in 3 Sentences

  • A WHY is a belief or cause, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief, and WHATs are the results of those actions. Knowing your WHY is essential to building loyalty, achieving long-lasting success, and being able to be flexible and innovative.
  • All great leaders and organizations communicate the same way, from the inside out: they start with WHY. Your WHY is your purpose, your cause, or your belief. It is not WHAT you do, but WHY you do it. It is your animating belief or higher purpose. People and organizations that are able to clearly communicate their WHY will instil loyalty and inspiration in others.
  • The Golden Circle is a concept that reminds us to start everything we do by first asking why we do what we do. It requires us to communicate from the inside out: by asking the reason why we do what we do. It requires a person or organization be aware of their original purpose, cause, or belief, and to be able to communicate that to others through their actions, products, services, and processes

Key Takeaways

  • a WHY is just a belief, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief, and WHATs are the results of those actions.
  • Finding your WHY is a process of discovery. It involves looking into the past to understand and discover your passions, interests, values, goals, and life experiences, and using those to help you find a problem to solve or a cause. Every individual or organization has a WHY.
  • People want work that provides them with a higher cause or purpose. They don’t just want to clock in and out of their jobs. They want to be able to find meaning and purpose in their jobs, a sense that they are contributing to a mission that is larger than themselves. Having a higher sense of purpose elevates any job; allows people to find dignity and purpose in their work, inspires loyalty and passion, and enables employees to go above and beyond mere duty, even in the face of challenges and defeat.
  • The challenge is to remain true to one’s WHY, especially in the face of success. Successfully pursuing a WHY results in some kind of individual or organizational growth. This makes things more complicated and the struggle is to ensure that one always follows a path that is in alignment with one’s purpose or cause without being swayed by external distractions.
  • Leadership is not about power or authority. It’s about people. Leadership requires only one thing: followers. A follower is someone who volunteers to go where you are going. For them to do this, they need to trust you and believe in your vision. You must have a vision, a dream of what we would like the world to look like if you were able to pursue your WHY. You need to become a leader who people would be willing to follow, not because they’re required to, but because they want to. Thus, leadership is about being able to provide inspiration.
  • The Law of Diffusion of Innovations can be used to explain the spread of new ideas or technology throughout society. A bell curve illustrates the percentage of the market who adopt an idea (or a product or technology). The population is broken into five segments that fall across a bell curve: the Innovators (2.5%), followed by Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%) and the Laggards (16%).
    • The first two categories are the ones to target when it comes to introducing a new idea, product, or service, or any kind of change.

Top Quotes

  • Great leaders, in contrast, are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired. For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal. They are less likely to be swayed by incentives. Those who are inspired are willing to pay a premium or endure inconvenience, even personal suffering. Those who are able to inspire will create a following of people—supporters, voters, customers, workers—who act for the good of the whole not because they have to, but because they want to. (11)
  • People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. (40)
  • When people can point to a company and clearly articulate what the company believes and use words unrelated to price, quality, service and features, that is proof the company has successfully navigated the split. When people describe the value they perceive with visceral, excited words like “love,” that is a sure sign that a clear sense of WHY exists. pg. 173
  • Everything you say and everything you do has to prove what you believe. A WHY is just a belief. That’s all it is. HOWs are the actions you take to realize that belief. And WHATs are the results of those actions—everything you say and do: your products, services, marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire. (62)
  • It’s the cause we come to work for. We don’t want to come to work to build a wall, we want to come to work to build a cathedral. (122)


  • Some leaders have a natural ability to think, act, and communicate that inspires others around them. This ability can be studied and learned. We can learn to lead.
  • Orville and Wilbur Wright started with why: they were passionate about flying.
  • Samuel Pierpont Langley thought being the first man to pilot an airplane was the best way to achieve his main goal of being rich and famous. Despite being better funded, better connected, and with the best team, his flight failed, and he lost out to the Wright brothers.
  • Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs (Apple Inc co-founders) saw the personal computer as a way to level the playing field; for the little man to take on big corporations.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. also had the ability to inspire others with his message of equality and change.
  • Leadership is not a title; it is a quality possessed to inspire others to act for some reason or another; this ability can be studied and taught.


In a world that doesn’t start with why, manipulations and stress are the norm. Organizations manipulate their customers and employees using prices, fear, etc in order to get them to try their product or service. Costs are high, and transactions are stressful for both the buyer and seller.


  • We make decisions based on incomplete or false information, on assumptions about what we believe to be the truth. We make decisions based on what we think we know.
  • The world is complex, and most of the time, we will never have the full picture, and be able to make the perfect decision with the perfect amount of facts, data, and logic.
  • Although we have access to facts and data, much of the time, we often go with our gut instinct, with our intuition, with an assist from facts and logic.
  • We need to create a system that helps us balance this dance between facts and emotion; a system that produces desirable and repeatable results that are in line with our values and beliefs.
  • This dance between gut and rational decision-making pretty much covers how we conduct business and even live our lives. (15)
  • Every instruction we give, every course of action we set, every result we desire, starts with the same thing: a decision. (16)


  • Two ways to influence human behavior:
    • Manipulation
    • Inspiration

Kinds of Manipulations

  • Price
    • If you drop your prices, people will buy from you.
  • Promotions
    • Provide something extra for free, to reduce the risk and provide incentive for someone to try your product or service.
    • e.g. “Buy one, get one free”, cash-back incentives
  • Fear
    • Something bad could happen to you if you don’t buy the product or service
      • E.g. life insurance, political campaigns
    • A powerful manipulation; an emotion that’s not easily dissuaded by facts or logic.
  • Aspiration
    • Offer a product or service that makes someone’s desires or dreams more achievable
    • Often, they are a short-term fix to long-term desires
      • E.g. easy weight-loss plans, or get rich schemes
  • Peer Pressure
    • Declare that experts or a majority of people prefer a product over another.
    • Appeals to status or authority, because we fear that our own opinions or judgment may be wrong.
    • E.g. celebrity or expert endorsements
  • Novelty (a.k.a Innovation)
    • There’s a difference between innovation and novelty
      • Real innovation changes an industry or even society
      • Novelties do not reinvent; they merely try to differentiate
        • Novelty usually doesn’t provide long-lasting value or long-term impact
        • e.g. over 30 different types of Colgate toothpaste
  • Manipulations are effective, but
    • Do not generate long-term loyalty.
    • Over time, they cost more and more.
    • The gains are usually short-term.
    • Create stress for both buyers & sellers
  • Manipulations are a valid strategy in one-off transactions; when there is little need or desire for recurring or repeat business.
  • But, if you want to create a long-lasting, loyal relationship, manipulations will not help. Manipulations do not lead to loyalty.
  • Loyal employees & customers reduce costs and create peace of mind. They will be there when you need them the most in tough times.


  • There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. (29)


There is a different, better way to influence human behavior; a way that is rooted in biology and is more sustainable. A world that starts with why at the heart of the actions of people and organizations. The Golden Circle provides the tools to be able to inspire loyalty, trust, and inspiration.


  • The Golden Circle:
    • helps us understand why we do what we do.
    • Reminds us to start everything we do by first asking why


  • What
    • Every company or organization knows WHAT they do
    • It’s the products they sell or the services they offer
  • How
    • Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do
    • The “how” is their process or system of production.
    • Their value proposition, or proprietary process, or trademark
    • Explains how something is different or better
  • Why
    • Very few companies or people can clearly explain WHY they do WHAT they do.
    • What is your purpose, cause or belief? Why does your business exist?Why do you get out of bed every morning?


  • Most people or companies think, act, or communicate from the outside in, from the WHAT to the WHY
    • We say WHAT we do. We sometimes talk about HOW we do it. But we rarely talk about WHY we do what we do.
  • We need to reverse that order, and communicate from the inside out: from the WHY to the WHAT.
    • We need to start with why we do what we do; we need to communicate our WHY.
    • The WHY (cause or belief) is the reason people buy from us, and the WHAT (products, services) is offered as tangible proof of our beliefs
    • There must be a match between why a product exists and why someone wants it
  • e.g Apple Inc’s why is to challenge the status quo, to think differently.
    • Their products serve as tangible proof of their beliefs (e.g. the iPod/iTunes disrupted the music industry, while the iPhone has disrupted multiple industries)
    • People buy their products because they share that belief or want to be associated with that cause.
    • Apple can enter multiple different industries because it doesn’t define itself by WHAT it makes or produces. It defines itself by WHY it does things: to disrupt the status quo.
    • Apple is a company with a cause and a clear sense of WHY it exists.
  • Knowing your WHY is essential to building loyalty, achieving long-lasting success, and being able to be flexible and innovative.
  • When you are narrowly defined by WHAT you do (e.g. we print newspapers, or we sell CDs, etc), your sight becomes narrow, and it is difficult to break out of these narrow confines and seize new and valuable market opportunities (e.g we deliver information).
  • It makes it hard to be flexible and adapt when you are narrowly defined by what you do.


  • People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. (40)
  • It is the cause that is represented by the company, brand, product or person that inspires loyalty. (47)
  • In all cases, going back to the original purpose, cause or belief will help these industries adapt. Instead of asking, “WHAT should we do to compete?” the questions must be asked, “WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life considering all the technologies and market opportunities available today?” (48)


  • We are biologically wired to want to belong. We feel safe and connected when we feel a sense of belonging.
  • We tend to trust and feel a strong sense of community with people who we think share our beliefs and values. Similarly, we like to support the products or services of companies who we perceive to share our beliefs and values.

The Brain

  • Neocortex:
    • responsible for rational and analytical thought and language.
  • Limbic brain:
    • responsible for all of our feelings, such as love, fear, disgust, trust & loyalty.
    • Also responsible for all human behavior and all our decision-making.
    • Has no capacity for language.
  • Essentially, the part of the brain that controls our feelings (limbic brain) has no capacity for language (neocortex).
  • The decisions we make, and our ability to fully explain those decisions exist in different parts of the brain. This disconnect makes it difficult to fully explain or verbalize our feelings.
    • For instance, it’s hard for us to fully explain exactly why we love our spouses. It’s an emotional decision controlled by our limbic brain. So we struggle to verbalize it with language, which is controlled by the neocortex.
  • In decision-making, e.g. to try a new product, or choose a romantic partner, it’s what you can’t see that matters. There are often gut instincts, emotions, and feelings that drive us in our decision-making. We then make post-facto verbalizations that are simplifications of these invisible factors.


  • Those decisions started with WHY—the emotional component of the decision—and then the rational components allowed the buyer to verbalize or rationalize the reasons for their decision. (55)
  • Because our biology complicates our ability to verbalize the real reasons why we make the decisions we do, we rationalize based on more tangible factors, like the design or the service or the brand. (56)
  • It is not logic or facts but our hopes and dreams, our hearts and our guts, that drive us to try new things. (58)
  • Products with a clear sense of WHY give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe. (60)


  • For the Golden Circle to work, there must be balance and harmony among its three components; there needs to be clarity of why, discipline of how, and consistency in what.
  • In order to inspire loyalty and trust, a leader must be able to clearly articulate why the organization exists; to provide a higher cause or belief merely beyond its products and services.
  • How things are done must also be congruent with an organizations higher cause, belief, or “why”; the systems, processes, and culture must all be in harmony with the why.
  • The “what” – your output or your results – must reflect and prove your why. Everything you do and say must prove what you actually believe. That’s what being authentic means: your Golden Circle is in balance.
  • The sequencing of components is important: the WHY must come first. It provides the context for the HOW and the HOW. Having a reason or belief or cause is what inspires people to act.
  • Loyalty comes from the ability to inspire people. If you provide a clear sense of WHY, loyalty will develop among people who share in your beliefs.
  • Doing business is like dating: you hope to say enough of the right things to close the deal. That means you need to build trust in order to grow the relationship, and provide the buyer with a reason why they should trust you.
  • If you’re able to clearly state your WHY, you’re better able to make decisions that are congruent with your WHY; you’re better able to articulate and rationalize those decisions, and provide a clear context and framework for why that decision was made.


  • The WHATs are important—they provide the tangible proof of the WHY—but WHY must come first. The WHY provides the context for everything else. pg. (65)
  • Only when the WHY is clear and when people believe what you believe can a true loyal relationship develop. (68)
  • When we are inspired, the decisions we make have more to do with who we are and less to do with the companies or the products we’re buying. (69)
  • People are people and the biology of decision-making is the same no matter whether it is a personal decision or a business decision.(72)
  • If you can verbalize the feeling that drove the gut decision, if you can clearly state your WHY, you’ll provide a clear context for those around you to understand why that decision was made. (74)


Being a leader requires people willing to follow. People will only follow you if they trust you and share your beliefs and values. They will follow you if they feel safe and protected, and sense that you care about them beyond your own self-interest.


  • Leading is not the same as being a leader. Just because you possess a title doesn’t mean you’re displaying true leadership. Leadership requires people willing to follow, not because they’re required to, but because they want to; because they share in your values and beliefs. Leadership must be earned through trust.
  • Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience. It develops when we believe that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-interest.
  • A leader earns trust by communicating and demonstrating that you share the same values and beliefs. It’s this invisible trust that makes others willing to follow and to help accomplish the leader’s vision.
  • An organization is a culture, a group of people who share a common set of values and beliefs. Organizations with employees who share common values and beliefs will generate loyalty and trust that will enable them to achieve long-lasting success.
  • Organizations with a strong sense of culture fosters a sense of belonging, and makes employees feel safe and protected. This sense of safety encourages loyalty and helps employees to take considered risks and innovations in the service of the organization’s higher goal or purpose.

You need to give them a Cathedral:

  • You need to provide employees with a goal or higher purpose, something bigger than their job, that inspires and elevates them, even when times get tough.
  • You need to articulate why a job is more than a job, and provide employees with a higher goal to work toward. You must give them something to be passionate about.
  • This is easier to do easier when people’s motivations (or values and beliefs) align with the motivations, beliefs, or cause of the organization they work for.
  • Sharing a sense of WHY with the organization makes an employee more inspired, more productive, and more loyal. It creates a sense of passion. This shared bond creates a sense of belonging and trust, which leads to success.
  • Employees with a clear sense of WHY are less likely to give up after a few failures. They will persist, and go above and beyond because they understand the higher cause.
  • e.g. Orville and Wilbur Wright were able to inspire their team to success due to their belief in the world-changing power of manned flight. Samuel Pierpont Langley failed in the same goal because his primary motivation was to be rich and famous, and the airplane was his means of achieving wealth and fame.
  • e.g. Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance in their quest to be the first to cross the South Pole.
    • When assembling his crew, Schackleton placed a newspaper ad that appealed to a very specific type of person: people who were survivors and willing to face extreme danger and uncertainty.
    • The ad said, “Men wanted for Hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
    • As a result of this type of recruiting, all of Schackleton’s team was able to survive the perilous journey, even when things didn’t work out as planned. They survived because they shared the same values and beliefs.


  • Those who lead are able to do so because those who follow trust that the decisions made at the top have the best interest of the group at heart….In turn, those who trust work hard because they feel like they are working for something bigger than themselves. (77)
  • When employees belong, they will guarantee your success. And they won’t be working hard and looking for innovative solutions for you, they will be doing it for themselves. (84)
  • The goal is to hire those who are passionate for your WHY, your purpose, cause or belief, and who have the attitude that fits your culture. Once that is established, only then should their skill set and experience be evaluated. (85)
  • Trust is a remarkable thing. Trust allows us to rely on others. If there were no trust, then no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of the society as a whole…only when individuals can trust the culture or organization will they take personal risks in order to advance that culture or organization as a whole. For no other reason than, in the end, it’s good for their own personal health and survival. (95-96)
  • A company, indeed any organization, must work actively to remind everyone WHY the company exists. WHY it was founded in the first place. What it believes. They need to hold everyone in the company accountable to the values and guiding principles. (102)


The Law of Diffusion of Innovations


  • In Diffusion of Innovations (1962), Everett M. Rogers describes how innovations spread through society over time.
  • The Law of Diffusion of Innovations also explains the spread of ideas. It illustrates the bell curve of the adoption of a new idea (or technology, or product) throughout society.
  • The bell curve describes the percentage of the market who adopt an idea (or a product or technology). The population is broken into five segments that fall across a bell curve: the Innovators (2.5%), followed by Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%) and the Laggards (16%).


  • Innovators pursue new products or ideas aggressively.
  • They are intrigued by any fundamental advance; being first to anything is a major part of their lives. They want to be the first to try new things.
  • They are early to recognize the value of new ideas and are willing to take risks or put up with flaws because they can see the potential.

Early Adopters

  • Early adopters are not idea generators like the innovators.
  • They rely heavily on their intuition. They trust their gut, and are comfortable with adopting new ideas.
  • They’re often in leadership roles, and tend to embrace change.

Early Majority

  • More practical-minded. Rational factors (price, safety, practicality, etc) matter more
  • Slightly more comfortable with new ideas or technologies than the average person.
  • They tend to need to see evidence that an innovation works and has been tested by others before they themselves adopt it.

Late Majority

  • More practical-minded. Rational factors (price, safety, practicality, etc) matter more
  • Not as comfortable with new ideas or technologies;
  • They also need to see evidence that an innovation works, and will only adopt it after it has been successfully tried out by the majority.


  • Not at all comfortable with new ideas or technologies; very skeptical of change.
  • They are typically very traditional, and prefer to stick to tried and tested old technologies
  • Will only adopt new technologies (or ideas) when the old technologies they prefer are no longer being produced.


  • In order to hit a tipping point (the point at which a fad gains staying power and tips over into the mainstream) and create mass market acceptance, you first need to target or appeal to the early adopters (the left side of the bell curve).
  • The Early (and Late) Majority will only try someone once someone else (the Innovators & Early Adopters) have tried and tested it out first. Only once they receive the tried and tested personal recommendations from trusted early adopters will they feel comfortable adopting a new idea, product, or service.
  • According to the Law of Diffusion, mass-market success can only be achieved after you penetrate between 15 to 18 % of the market.
    • The tipping point from fad to mainstream acceptance lies between 15 to 18% of the population, i.e., it lies in getting the recommendations of innovators and early adopters to tip over into the early and late majority of the population.
    • You cannot have mass adoption of an idea or a product until you cross the “chasm”: the tipping point between 15 and 18% market penetration. Once you cross the chasm, the idea or product will accelerate in its adoption.
  • To cross this chasm and get access to the early majority, you need to find the innovators and the early adopters.
  • That initial 15-18% of the population should comprise the true believers: people who share your beliefs, and want to incorporate them into their lifestyles, and serve as product/service evangelists or influencers to the larger majority.
    • If you have the clarity of WHY, and are able to clearly communicate that belief through your WHAT, you will attract those who look to WHAT you do as a tangible element that demonstrates their own similar cause or belief or purpose to the outside world.
    • These early adopters will become passionate and loyal evangelists for your WHAT, and if you attract enough people on the left side of the curve, their passion and enthusiasm will spread the word and encourage the majority to follow.
  • If you cannot cross the chasm, then your idea or product will lose steam and fail to gain mass acceptance.
  • e.g. TiVo failed to consider the Law of Diffusion
    • They marketed their new technology directly to the middle of the bell curve. They started out by targeting the masses instead of early adopters.
    • They attempted to convince the masses with features and benefits, WHAT the product did.
    • Instead, they should have talked about why TiVo was invented – to offer consumers freedom – and focused on the innovators and early adopters who shared that belief.
  • e.g. The Civil Rights Movement successfully considered the Law of Diffusion
    • Martin Luther King Jr. provided clarity and inspiration to a small group of people who shared his ideas of a changed America. The passion, sacrifices, and endurance of this small group was then able to rally and change the nation.


  • The ability to get the system to tip is the point at which the growth of a business or the spreading of an idea starts to move at an extraordinary pace. It is also at this point that a product gains mass-market acceptance. (111)
  • The goal of business then should not be to simply sell to anyone who wants what you have—the majority—but rather to find people who believe what you believe, the left side of the bell curve. (111)
  • That 15 to 18 percent is not made up of people who are simply willing to buy the product. It is the percentage of people who share your beliefs and want to incorporate your ideas, your products and your services into their own lives as WHATs to their own WHYs. (111)
  • When you start with WHY, those who believe what you believe are drawn to you for very personal reasons. It is those who share your values and beliefs, not the quality of your products, that will cause the system to tip. Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services help advance that cause. (117)
  • More than anything else, what Martin Luther King Jr. gave us was clarity, a way to explain how we felt. He gave us the words that inspired us. He gave us something to believe in, something we could easily share with our friends. (120)


Part 4 is about communication and speaking. A leader or organization needs to be able to verbalize and articulate their WHY to the outside world. The leader needs to do this so that his or her vision can be translated into reality. The organization communicates its message to the marketplace through everything it says and does, through WHAT and HOW it does things. Consequently, it needs to be clear as to its values and beliefs, so it can clearly communicate it to the outside world.


Energy & Charisma

  • Charisma is elusive and hard to define. It’s difficult to measure or copy. Charisma is inspiring because it originates from possessing a clarity of WHY; having absolute faith in an ideal that’s bigger than oneself. Unlike energy, charisma commands loyalty.
  • Bill Gates is not the most energetic public speaker; he is shy and awkward. But Bill Gates is charismatic because of his underlying optimism that even the most complicated problems can be solved.
    • He believes that we can remove obstacles and ensure that everyone can live and work to their greatest potential.
      • Microsoft: providing everyone with access to a personal computer
      • Gates Foundation: providing people from developing countries with access to health care and opportunities.
  • Energy is exciting, easy to see, measure, and copy. It is motivating. But, by itself, energy does not inspire or command loyalty.

The Golden Circle & The Cone

  • The Golden Circle can be represented in three-dimensions, like the top-down view of a cone, to show how an organization is arranged according to its three components:

The Golden Circle + The Cone


  • the Leader (or CEO)
  • Provides the WHY or the higher cause or belief


  • Senior Executives
    • Draw inspiration from the leader
    • Know HOW to bring the leader’s vision to life
    • Build an infrastructure with systems and processes


  • Regular/Non-Management Employees
    • Build the actual tangible product or service

Visionaries & Builders

  • Every great visionary or leader needs someone, a HOW-type, who can translate their vision or dream into actual, tangible reality. Someone who knows HOW to get things done; how to make the cause actionable and real.
  • The leader provides the vision and charisma that attracts the innovators and early adopters. The HOW-type translates that vision into reality by building infrastructure, systems, and processes that will then attract the more practical-minded majority.
  • Most people in the world are HOW-types. They know how to do their jobs well, and can be quite successful. HOW-types are good at building processes and systems. But they rarely change the world, or build billion-dollar businesses.
  • WHY-types are rare. They’re usually dreamers and visionaries, but they require someone with know-how to translate their dreams into reality.
  • Building billion-dollar organizations, or changing the course of an industry, or growing a social transformative movement requires a special and rare partnership between a WHY-type (someone who knows WHY; the visionary), and a HOW-type (someone who knows HOW; the builder).
  • e.g. Dr Martin Luther King Jr was the leader of the civil rights movement. He was the symbol of the cause and provided the long-term vision. But it was Ralph Abernathy (secretary and treasurer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) who gave the dream structure; he provided the plan and the specific steps that people would need to take to achieve Dr. King’s dream.
  • e.g. Walt Disney was a WHY-type who was helped by his more sensible older brother, Roy Disney, a banker. It was Roy Disney who founded the Buena Vista Distribtuion Company to distribute Disney films. It was Roy Disney who created Disney’s character merchandising business. Roy Disney preferred to stay in the background and tend to the business and its finances, while Walt Disney took the imaginative and creative risks.
  • e.g. Bill Gates (visionary) and Paul Allen (built Microsoft)
  • e.g. Steve Jobs (visionary) and Steve Wozniak (programmer and engineer)

Rally Those Who Believe

  • If you want to gain mass acceptance, you first need to attract the innovators and early adopters. (You want to target the left side of the bell curve of the Law of Diffusion)
  • The way to gain loyalty is to attract those who share in your beliefs. Therefore, you need to have a clear purpose or belief, and a way to communicate that purpose or belief so that you become a lighthouse for the like minded.
  • If you want to rally people, you need two things:
      1. A clear, compelling message (a WHY)
      2. A way to amplify that message
  • Once you are able to rally people who believe what you believe, the vision becomes tangible and can be repeated, even long after the visionary or founder is gone. The organization becomes the means of making the WHY tangible, in everything it does.
  • If an organization has a clear sense of WHY, it can effectively become a megaphone, a vessel through which a leader with a clear sense of WHY (a clear purpose, cause, or belief) can speak to the outside world.
  • The leader inspires and rallies the movement, but it is those who share in the belief who will create the real change and keep the movement going, even after the visionary is gone.


  • It’s the cause we come to work for. We don’t want to come to work to build a wall, we want to come to work to build a cathedral. (122)
  • The leader imagines the destination and the HOW-types find the route to get there. (126)
  • WHY-types are the visionaries, the ones with the overactive imaginations. They tend to be optimists who believe that all the things they imagine can actually be accomplished. …HOW-types live more in the here and now. They are the realists and have a clearer sense of all things practical. pg. (127)
  • A leader with a cause, whether it be an individual or an organization, must have a megaphone through which to deliver his message. And it must be clear and loud to work. Clarity of purpose, cause or belief is important, but it is equally important that people hear you. For a WHY to have the power to move people it must not only be clear, it must be amplified to reach enough people to tip the scale. (134)
  • Higher standards are hard to maintain. It requires the discipline to constantly talk about and remind everyone WHY the organization exists in the first place. It requires that everyone in the organization be held accountable to HOW you do things—to your values and guiding principles. (135)


  • An organization is a system. It consists of a leader (the WHY), the senior management (the HOW), and the remainder of employees (the WHAT)
  • The Golden Circle looks like a 3-D cone when applied to an organization’s structure. Below the WHAT of the organizational cone is the marketplace (another system)

Source: Simon Sinek, Start with Why (2009)

  • The marketplace comprises:
    • Customers & potential customers
    • Press
    • Shareholders
    • Competition
    • Vendors and suppliers
    • Money
  • The marketplace interacts with the organization at the base of the cone, ie., through its outputs, at the WHAT level. It views the organization through the filter of WHAT the organization says and does.
  • The WHY exists in the part of the brain that controls feelings and decision-making, but not language. WHATs exist in the part of the brain that controls rational and analytical thought and language.
  • Because these parts of the brain are different, trying to translate a WHY into a WHAT is difficult, and becomes more complicated the larger an organization grows. Thus, organizations of any size will struggle to clearly communicate their WHY.
  • We resort to stories, symbols, metaphors, imagery, analogies, and tangible products or services to communicate our feelings and emotions to the external world.
  • Marketing, branding, products and services become a way for organizations to communicate their beliefs, causes, or values to the outside world.
  • e.g Apple has a clear sense of WHY; everything it does, its advertising, communications, its partnerships, packing, store design, products (it’s WHAT) serves as tangible proof of this clarity of purpose: to empower the individual by challenging the status quo.


  • a WHY never changes. WHAT you do can change with the times, but WHY you do it never does. pg. (141)
  • … the CEO’s job, the leader’s responsibility, is not to focus on the outside market—it’s to focus on the layer directly beneath: HOW. The leader must ensure that there are people on the team who believe what they believe and know HOW to build it. The HOW-TYPES are responsible for understanding WHY and must come to work every day to develop the systems and hire the people who are ultimately responsible for bringing the WHY to life. The general employees are responsible for demonstrating the WHY to the outside world in whatever the company says and does. (143)


  • Since the marketplace interacts with an organization at the level of WHAT, it becomes extremely important that WHAT an organization does is congruent with its WHY.
    • Your WHAT should match your WHY
  • What a company says and does are the means by which a company speaks. A product or service is one way, but not the only way, through which a company speaks. Products are WHAT’s that drive sales, but alone cannot create loyalty.
  • If a company has a clear cause or purpose, it shines through in everything it does. Its products and symbols reflect that cause or belief, and attracts like-minded believers. Over time, the company’s symbols and products become no longer about a company, but about the believers. It becomes akin to a cult
    • e.g. Tesla, Apple, Harley-Davidson (people get Harley-Davidson tattoos)
  • A symbol is a physical representation of a clear set of values and beliefs. It can be used as a way to tangibly reinforce and communicate a set of values, goals, and beliefs.

The Celery Test

  • It’s a decision-making filter to help people determine which actions and decisions are congruent with their WHY.
    • e.g. If your WHY is to live a healthy life, you will know you need to buy celery instead of Oreos at the grocery store.
    • Once you know your WHY, it becomes easy to figure out WHAT to do and HOW to do it. It becomes a decision-making filter. It becomes easy to know what the right thing to do is.
  • The more a company does that is more congruent with its WHY, the more trust and loyalty it earns. Over time, this consistency in value and beliefs earns an organization almost blind trust and loyalty, through good times and bad.
  • e.g. Disney earns trust because it passes the celery test. Everything it does is filtered through its why: to provide good, clean, family fun. Parents trust Disney so much they allow their children to be exposed to Disney products without necessarily having to vet it first.
  • e.g. Volkswagen, (the “people’s car”) (a car for the average person) violated the celery test when they introduced the Phaeton, a luxury model, to their lineup to compete with high-end luxury cars like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The luxury car did not match Volkwagen’s professed belief: to provide quality products the average person could afford.
    • Volkwagen had a clear WHY, but WHAT they produced (the Phaeton) was completely misaligned. They failed the celery test.
  • Toyota and Honda understand the celery test, and it’s the reason why they created separate luxury brands like Lexus and Acura to house their higher-end models.
  • If a company fails the celery test too many times (its WHAT and WHY are in misalignment), over time, its WHY becomes unclear and fuzzy. It begins to forget its initial cause or belief.
    • Even worse, that confusion and fuzziness translates to the outside world, and people begin to forget what the company used to originally stand for or believe. Their loyalty and trust will dissipate.


  • Symbols help us make tangible that which is intangible. And the only reason symbols have meaning is because we infuse them with meaning. That meaning lives in our minds, not in the item itself. Only when the purpose, cause or belief is clear can a symbol command great power. (145)
  • A symbol cannot have any deep meaning until we know WHY it exists in terms bigger than simply to identify the company. Without clarity of WHY, a logo is just a logo. (146)
  • Starting with WHY not only helps you know which is the right advice for you to follow, but also to know which decisions will put you out of balance. You can certainly make those decisions if you need to, but don’t make too many of them, otherwise over time, no one will know what you believe. (153)
  • As soon as I gave you the filter, as soon as I said the WHY, you knew exactly what decisions to make before I said so. (153)
  • With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making. (153)


Part 5 discusses the perils of success, and at what stage in an organization’s life cycle that misalignment may occur between an organization’s WHY and WHAT.


  • Success can become the biggest challenge for a business. As a business expands, and the employee headcount grows, the WHY must also be expanded and communicated in tandem with the business growth.
  • A founder’s cause or vision (the WHY) is clear. He or she knows WHY she started the business. But as the business grows successful and expands in size, the leader needs to be able to communicate and hand the message down throughout the company.
  • In addition, as more employees are hired, some of these people might not necessarily share values, goals, or metrics that are in alignment with the founder’s original WHY.
  • It’s important to create a succession plan, to communicate an organization’s WHY, and ensure that the people and metrics that are employed as the organization expands are in alignment with the founder’s original WHY.
  • If this doesn’t happen, over time, the original WHY will go fuzzy and be slowly forgotten. All that will remain are the HOW’s and the WHAT’s.
  • e.g. Wal-Mart’s WHY has gone fuzzy.
  • Sam Walton believed in service to others. He believed that if he looked after people, people would look after him. He founded Walmart to express that belief: to serve his fellow human beings: employees, customers, the community.
  • But he failed to communicate that cause clearly so that others could take it up after he died. So, upon his death, Wal-Mart slowly began to confuse WHY it existed – to serve people – with HOW it operated – by offering low prices.
  • Wal-Mart forgot Sam Walton’s WHY, and instead its chief motivation became to cut costs and offer cheap prices. Now, nearly every Wal-Mart scandal is centered around how poorly it treats their customers, vendors, and employees.
  • As a company becomes successful and grows larger in size, it needs to hold on to the original founding cause or belief. If a company doesn’t understand and hold on to its WHY, it will transition into the ordinary realm of WHAT’s and HOW’s. It will no longer be inspirational or command loyalty.


  • It is not destiny or some mystical business cycle that transforms successful companies into impersonal goliaths. It’s people. (160)
  • Those with the ability to never lose sight of WHY and also achieve the milestones that keep everyone focused in the right direction are the great leaders. For great leaders, The Golden Circle is in balance. They are in pursuit of WHY, they hold themselves accountable to HOW they do it and WHAT they do serves as the tangible proof of what they believe. (163)


  • The split usually occurs as a function of an organization’s success. As a company becomes successful and grows in size, it gets to a point when its WHY and WHAT are not aligned. The misalignment between tangible results and output, and less tangible vision and founding belief marks the split.
  • A small company relies on its founder for its vision; the founder relies on his instincts and guts to make the decisions that bring his or her vision to life. But, as the company expands, it becomes impossible for one person to make every single major decision in a company.
  • At that point, passion and vision are not enough. The founder’s vision needs structure to survive and expand. The founder’s gut instincts are insufficient for a growing company, and logic, facts, and empirical data become the significant filter for subsequent decisions.
  • As the company grows, profits, revenue, share price, market share, metrics, data, and other organizational goals take precedence over vision and passion. Many of the later employees lack the founding passion, and for most of them, their job becomes a mere job with little passion or inspiration. Talent is now motivated by salaries, bonuses, promotions, benefits, fear, and other manipulative incentives.
  • Inspiring leaders and organizations must make a strong effort to clarify, communicate, and perform their WHY, even in the face of success, and especially as a company expands.
  • The challenge is to find effective ways to keep the founding vision alive in perpetuity. A successful organization needs to extract and integrate the founder’s WHY into the culture of the company.
  • A strong succession plan will try to find a leader who is inspired by the founding vision, and is prepared to lead it into the next generation of the organization. There needs to be continuity of vision from one leader to the next.
  • e.g. America Online (AOL) is no longer the inspiring and exciting new tech company it used to be. It failed to successfully navigate the split. It’s WHY – to get people online – is long gone, and AOL has become a zombie company that’s shuffling along through sheer inertia.


  • The reason so many small businesses fail, however, is because passion alone can’t cut it. For passion to survive, it needs structure. A WHY without the HOWs, passion without structure, has a very high probability of failure. (164)
  • The single greatest challenge any organization will face is . . . success. pg. 165
  • The goal is to ensure that as the measurement of WHAT grows, the clarity of the WHY stays closely aligned. (166)
  • Money is a perfectly legitimate measurement of goods sold or services rendered. But it is no calculation of value. Just because somebody makes a lot of money does not mean that he necessarily provides a lot of value….Value is a feeling, not a calculation. It is perception. (172)
  • When people can point to a company and clearly articulate what the company believes and use words unrelated to price, quality, service and features, that is proof the company has successfully navigated the split. When people describe the value they perceive with visceral, excited words like “love,” that is a sure sign that a clear sense of WHY exists. (173)
  • When [people] are unclear about your WHY, WHAT you do has no context. Even though the things you do or decisions you make may be good, they won’t make sense to others without a clear understanding of WHY. pg. (186)


Part 6 is about how to discover a person or organization’s WHY.


  • Per the Law of Diffusion, only 2.5% of the population has an innovator mindset ; willing to trust their intuition and incur great risks. Most people don’t want to challenge the status quo.
  • You discover your WHY from looking into the past, discovering your passions, values, goals, and finding problems you’re interested in solving. Finding WHY is a process of reflection and discovery.
  • Having a WHY that is rooted in personal experience and passion provides an organization or individual with momentum and persistence. It is this WHY that pulls all actions forward, that makes it easier to take risks, pick up after failure and defeat, and inspire others to come along for the ride.
  • Finding a WHY also requires having the discipline to remain true to it, and not be swayed by other factors such as revenue, profit, and other success. It requires discipline to remain authentic and remain in alignment with one’s purpose, values, beliefs, or cause.


  • Before it can gain any power or achieve any impact, an arrow must be pulled backward, 180 degrees away from the target. And that’s also where a WHY derives its power. The WHY does not come from looking ahead at what you want to achieve and figuring out an appropriate strategy to get there. It is not born out of any market research. It does not come from extensive interviews with customers or even employees. It comes from looking in the completely opposite direction from where you are now. Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention. pg. (192)
  • …the WHY for every other individual or organization comes from the past. It is born out of the upbringing and life experience of an individual or small group. Every single person has a WHY and every single organization has one too. (192)


  • If you pursue your WHY, other people will follow you. You will become a lighthouse for like-minded people.
  • Seek to compete against yourself, and stop measuring yourself against others. Everyone has a different yardstick or WHY, so comparing yourself to others is a futile pursuit. In order to improve, seek to refine and improve your pursuit of WHY.
  • Your noncompetitive pursuit will inspire others to want to assist you. It becomes a Win-Win situation.


  • When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you. (200)
  • What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves? (200)
  • Those who forget WHY they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of to outdo themselves. The pursuit, for those who lose sight of WHY they are running the race, is for the medal or to beat someone else. (200)


  • Leadership is not about power or authority. It’s always about people.
  • A follower is someone who volunteers to go where you are going. For them to do this, they need to trust you and believe in your vision. You must have a vision, a dream of what we would like the world to look like if you were able to pursue your WHY.
  • You need to become a leader who people would be willing to follow, not because they’re required to, but because they want to. Leadership is about inspiration.


  • Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it. (204)
  • Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action. (204)



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