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Book review: “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek

April 29, 2011

Start with Why
Simon Sinek, (c)2010, Portfolio Press

Photo of Simon Sinek with the book.

Simon Sinek

When I first heard Simon talk about the idea which is the basis for this book, I was entertained but not very impressed. The idea seemed simplistic and obvious. But some part of my brain connected with it and couldn’t let go of it.

Over the course of the next few days I started seeing examples of the power in his idea, and I found myself using his ideas in various pieces of my life.

I changed my mind—yes, his idea is simple, but it is not simplistic. I ended up buying both the idea and his book. His insight is one I think you should know about—and that might mean reading the book.

The TED Video
First, independent of whether you buy the book or not, I highly recommend that you watch his talk which appears on TED.com (video player embedded below). If the player here doesn’t work for you, here’s the link.

Simon’s insight
Watching the video will show you Sinek’s core insight.  It won’t substitute for the video or the book, but here’s the key point Sinek is making:

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

What Simon’s saying that if you want to lead people, inspire people, create brand loyalty or just be successful in a presentation, you have to start with answering why they should they care. Why you are in business. Why you care about the cause you want them to sign up for. Leaders, individuals and companies get lost in explaining what they do or what they want you to do and the how to do it—mistakenly believing that will get the results they want. His insight derived from realizing that success across many domains had a common thread—a focus on Why and not what or how.

Regardless of your reaction right now to that idea or thought, if you haven’t watched the video please do so. After that, suspend judgment for a bit and let the ideas sink in for awhile.  Then, maybe, you’ll be like me and buy the book and the idea.

Why it matters to presenters.

I’ve already blogged a couple times mentioning the importance of the “what’s in it for them?” approach. Simon’s insight simply hammers this point even harder and explains the devastating impact of failing to explain to the audience why you care about the topic and why they should, too. His insight says that far more than the facts and figures, what inspires them to act is whether they buy into your answer to this: why should I care?

The book–bottom line

The book is good, well written, well documented and has a lot of material that expands on that insight. It’s not a difficult read and it may help you “get it,” but the idea is so simple that the 18 min TED video may be all you need. More importantly, the video will do a better job than any review with helping you decide if you need to read it. But I won’t be surprised if your reaction parallels mine with an initial ‘so what?’ followed later by ‘hmmmm’ and still later ‘this guy’s onto something interesting here’. When that happens, you know you want the book.

The book—what I liked

So, am I saying that Simon’s book is redundant after the video? Not really. His talk does an excellent job, however, of covering the heart of his idea so there’s a lot of overlap—in fact, parts of the book are used nearly word-for-word as a script. But the book takes his ideas and expands on them, showing just how it applies across a surprisingly wide spectrum of domains. He draws on some academic research for support and illustrates the concepts with well explained examples. But this isn’t a scholarly work, it’s an easy read and the concepts aren’t difficult—you may not agree with his point, but you’ll understand it. I particularly liked his discussion of how companies (and individuals) think they’re telling you why you should buy their product/idea/etc, but in reality they’ve confused ‘what’ and ‘how’ with ‘why’. Even if it works, that’s quite different from telling you why you should care about them or their product.

The book—what I didn’t like

I got the feeling that either Simon or his publisher decided this book needed to be thicker than the first draft turned out. Some of seemed ‘tacked on’ and sometimes there are more words than I needed to see his point. I also think he has an over reliance on Apple corporation as an example, though to his credit, Apple doesn’t get used 100% used as a positive example. But frankly, those points don’t seriously detract from a good book. Simon’s got something worthwhile to say and he says it well.

Recommended

Yes, this review is a little strange—it’s more about Simon’s idea than his book.  I will strongly recommend Sinek’s idea for your consideration.  The book’s good, but it’s the idea that’s important.

Watch the video, read the book or both.

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