Start With Why Book Review

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Simon Sinek, the author of this book, states that there are only two ways to influence behavior: (1) manipulation; or (2) inspiration. Starting with “why” unlocks the inspiration option.

why though?

Emotions win over logic

“What” engages logic. “Why” engages emotion. “Why” is your purpose. Always communicate your “why” to others because emotions influence over reason. Others own an idea when that decision is based on “WHY.” You can tell others WHAT you do very quickly. “What” is your process. It is proof of “why.”  But WHY do you do it? For example, which of these people do you want to talk to at a party:

  • “I’m an accountant.” (the WHAT)
  • “I help people get financially free by saving money on their taxes.” (the WHY)

It’s clear that the second is more engaging and memorable.

The Golden Circle from Start with Why Hamilton Lindley Blog

Manipulation—the enemy of inspiration

When we sell the “WHAT” that our business provides, we are relying on manipulation. Those concentrating on the “what” end up competing on price, which does not build trust or loyalty. And it’s worse for the business in the long term. Focusing on the “why” creates trust, which drives loyalty.

Other business manipulations include: running a promotion, using fear, or peer pressure to influence behavior. Manipulations work, but none of them create loyalty. Over time, they cost more. Manipulations negatively impact profits.

Companies that become commodity producers are always differentiating themselves from others. Trying to match competitors feature-for-feature only deepens that “what” divide and decreases profit.

WalMart is an example. When Sam Walton was around, employee morale was high. Sam Walton started the company with the “why” of helping people and communities by providing products at low prices. When he died, the company focused on low prices only. WalMart became a cutthroat business towards its suppliers, employees, and communities. It racked up lawsuits and a bad reputation. Making money is not a “why.” It is not a good long-term focus for profitability.

Another example of failing at the “why” is TIVO. It has never been profitable despite producing an innovative product that is the best in its class. TIVO is focused on the “what” and the “how” instead of the “why.” 

Hamilton Lindley Blog Cat Business

Inspiration is the right choice

Henry Ford said that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”  Leaders must start by stating why they do something, followed with the how, and then revealing the what.

Our brains are wired to trust people that inspire us with their “why.” It is called the limbic brain. Therefore, you should train people on your “why” first instead of the “how” and “what.” It helps retention while boosting morale.

A company is more flexible when it stays true to its “why.” Look at Apple and Dell. Both make computers. But Dell is defined by its “what.” So consumers do not flock to Dell when it branches out to something like a smartphone or tablet.

Dell marketed its MP3 player as a “5GB mp3 player.” Dell described what it did. Apple marketed its iPod as “1,000 songs in your pocket.” The why is clear in Apple’s message. And it is also why nobody owns a Dell MP3 player.

When it comes to hiring, look for people who are already motivated so that you can inspire them. Don’t concentrate on experienced people to motivate.

The Tipping Point

There is a bell curve of product adoption. The curve shows the market that adopts your product. It starts with Innovators (2.5%), followed by Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%) and Laggards (16%).

Invest your time marketing to the left side of the below bell curve. The right side is not loyal and will not care about your message as profoundly as those on the left. Focus on the people who believe what you believe, and they will become your brand ambassadors. You will start converting those on the right side to get on the left. That is how you grow a brand.

Hamilton Lindley Blog The Law of Diffusion of Innovation Bell Curve

Match your “Why” with a “How”

Sinek explains that why cannot survive by itself. Behind every great leader with charisma who starts with why is a manager who envisions the “how.” Sinek explains that although a “how” type does not need a “why” person to succeed. Those who know the “why” without the how can become starving visionaries. The vision is the founder’s intent, “why” the company was founded. The mission is a description of “how” the company will create that future.

Looking for the Why

Finding your “why” is a process of discovery. It is not based on market research. The “why” is at your core. Once you find it, you must remain faithful to it. That is the hardest part. It is easy to fall into manipulations.

Set your key performance indicators to measure your “why” instead of “what.” It will make your customers and employees happier. Take Bridgepoint Financial. It is a collection agency. Instead of measuring its collection agents based on money, it is based on how many thank you cards the agent receives from debtors. This focus makes the debt collectors happier. And the shareholders are more satisfied too. The company has 300% higher collection rates than the industry average.

Competition creates manipulation

Do not be focused on external competition. Compare leads to despair. Instead, you should compete against yourself only. Be a better you each day. Those who forget their “why” usually do it when they are trying to beat someone else instead of themselves. They descend into manipulation. Be your own measuring stick.

Hammer Time

Starting with “why” is inspiring. It appeals to everyone because it is a higher purpose. But this book is repetitive. Start With Why could be more effective if it were shorter. I love the concept, however. So I give it four out of five hammers.

Four Hammers Hamilton Lindley


  1. Kiersten

    The origins of the Apple story are really interesting. Employing the contrast of the two marketing ideas is powerful. Imagine if Apple’s marketing was: “We make great computers. They’re user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?” I’m not sold on that. It doesn’t sound all that different than any other company. But on the other hand, if they said something like this, it would be a lot more powerful, “We make great computers. They’re user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?” That feels so different because now Apple is selling it’s “why” instead of its “what.”

    This was a lovely article. In my opinion, if all bloggers made excellent content as you do then the internet would be more helpful. Exceptionally well written!

  2. Francisca

    I really like what you are up to! This kind of clever work and coverage! Keep up the superb work. I’ve incorporated you to our blogroll. It is perfect time to make some plans for the long run and it is time to be happy. I have learned from your post. I wish to get your counsel about writing attention-grabbing headlines. Perhaps you can write subsequent articles regarding this material? I wish to read more about it! This article makes me think more about my buyer’s personas. People don’t buy what I do. They buy WHY I do it. What is it that drives my buyers to buy my products and remain loyal over a long period of time?

  3. Fred Avalerio

    I like how the idea of “why” explains the underlying value of what I’m promoting. Using why leads to a significantly higher click-through rate on email marketing. For example,

    “Check out our new ebook, 7 Ways to Generate Leads with Social Media. We’ll show you the seven most effective ways to use social media to generate leads for your business.”


    “In the past decade, social media has become a very powerful tool for businesses. More and more businesses are adopting social media strategies to fuel their lead generation. In our new ebook, we’ll show you the seven most effective ways to use social media for your business. Check out 7 Ways to Generate Leads with Social Media.”

    Communicating the value (aka the “why”) right off the bat (LIKE THE SECOND EXAMPLE) sparks the reader’s intrigue, at which point all you need to do is close the deal with the details (how and what).

    I’m gonna watch out for more! I will be grateful if you continue this in future. Numerous people will benefit from your writing.


  4. Leonardo McGehee

    Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks

  5. HiteshKumar Vaghasiya

    Start with Why is one of my all time favorite Ted Talks. This book is a longer version of the same concept. For the first few chapters, I did not feel that I was really getting any new information. However, the latter portion of the book went in to more specific examples of how great leaders have changed the face of their companies by focusing on Why.

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  7. Canlı Casino

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this summary of Simon Sinek’s book. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your next post thanks once again. I’ve encountered very few businesses that really know its why as described in this book. But it is so important! What I learned was:

    Why – This is the core belief of the business. It’s why the business exists.
    How – This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
    What – This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.

    Thanks again for sharing. It’s great to actually learn something.

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  10. Liz

    Ooh I also really like this concept — although if it really is repetitive, I’m thinking it’ll be more of a skim read if I add it to my list. I definitely like the idea of pursuing the “why” instead of the “what.” I’m really enjoying your reviews; thanks for putting in the effort!!

  11. Paul Griffith

    Hamilton, thanks for posting about Know Your Why. This is a great TED Talk and it seems like his book goes into greater detail than his talk, right? What did you learn from the book that was not in his TED Talk?

  12. Jon Marsh

    This was a particularly wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every part of it. I will use this information to make my stories stickier and easier to remember. I agree that it is the best way of presenting an idea in a way that is memorable.

  13. Joseph Mitchell

    This is such a good message. I enjoyed listening to Simon’s TED Talk. But it looks like the book is a lot more detailed. And I feel like a remember more when I read something instead of just watching it. People do get inspired by the “why” instead of the “what.” I never thought of those things that he mentions as manipulations. But I guess that they are. They seem like real short-term thinking. A race to the bottom. Doing the right thing, like catering to the “WHY” may take longer and not be as profitable in the short term. But it will prove to be more profitable (and more fulfilling) in the long term. Thanks for provoking a lot of good thoughts, Lindley.

  14. Thomas Nutter

    People buy WHY you do it, not WHAT you sell. This is a simple but true concept that helps clarify a lot of situations. Thanks for explaining this with photos and videos, Hamilton Lindley. I will checkout this book now.

  15. William Young

    Hamilton Lindley, thanks for presenting this book review about Starting With Why. I didn’t realize this stuff until I read it here and kept saying to myself “That makes sense.” I love it when that happens. Keep on doing your thing. It’s a fun read.

  16. Hal Harris

    You have done an excellent job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m confident they’ll benefit from this website. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

  17. Dolores Garcia

    This book helps me work. It inspires me and employs stories of leaders that communicate how I can adapt their mindset to inspire others and myself. I am glad that I read it after reading this summary.

  18. Jeanine Parton

    I learned why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?

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