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25 Things I Learned From Simon Sinek


Simon Sinek is a consultant and speaker whose book “Start With Why” has become an international bestseller. We read the book so you don’t have to, and pulled out the 25 most salient points.

  1. Business success can be described as a Golden Circle made up of WHAT, HOW and WHY. (Sinek likes to capitalize those terms.)
  2. Companies know WHAT they do: they make cars or drinks or computers. (Especially computers. Apple is the standard case study to which Sinek refers throughout the book. By the time you’ve finished reading Start With Why, you’ll know as much about Apple as you will about the Golden Circle.)
  3. Some companies know HOW they do WHAT they do. Sinek defines the HOW as a “proprietary process” or a “unique selling proposition.” (Sinek doesn’t dig too deeply into the HOW which is a shame because it sounds important.)
  4. It’s the WHY that determines whether a company succeeds or fails. The WHY is the company’s driving force, its brand identity. In Apple’s case, for Sinek, it’s a determination to upset the status quo.
  5. People don’t buy WHAT a company does; they buy WHY the company does it. (So people who want to buck the status quo buy Apple. Although Apple is now the status quo and when it was only making Macs and being all rebellious, it was barely able to stay in business, an issue that Sinek doesn’t really address.)
  6. The Golden Circle places the WHY at the center of the decision-making process, surrounded in turns by HOW and WHAT.
  7. The pattern of the Golden Circle matches the structure of the brain, with the central limbic region an area governed by instinct not rational thought. (A lucky break that. If Sinek had drawn his diagram differently he would have needed a different rationale for the importance of WHY.)
  8. When people understand a company’s WHY, and if that WHY matches their own personal identity, they’ll have an overwhelming desire to be associated with the company and to buy its products.
  9. Most companies, Sinek, says, have no idea why their customers are their customers. When they talk about their products’ superior quality features or service, they’re talking about the WHAT and the HOW but not the WHY that underpins the company’s success.
  10. Figuring out a company’s WHY isn’t easy. It’s not something you can find hidden in data reports or given out at conferences. (Which is a shame because one of the most frequent comments made in response to Sinek’s is “How do I find my company’s WHY?”)
  11. When a company doesn’t communicate its sense of WHY, customers buy based on empirical data rather than instinctive desire. They compare features and specifications, quality and service. (Although you’d think that they’d also do this even when the WHY clicks, and Sinek does concede that the quality of Apple’s products is important in its success.)
  12. When a WHY “goes fuzzy” companies struggle to maintain the growth, loyalty and inspiration that created the original success. (It’s not too clear what would make a WHY go fuzzy but Sinek describes how Japanese carmakers put cupholders in cars made for the American market. That happened around the same time that GM were losing the American market.)
  13.  In the absence of a clear WHY, companies turn to “manipulations” to win sales. Those manipulations are: price; promotions; fear; peer pressure; aspiration; and novelty. All are dangerous and can only create success in the short term.
  14.  Price drops become addictive. Customers expect the price to continue falling, forcing companies to continue cutting profits. They buy sales now but at a cost of losing future business.
  15.  Promotions can be deceptive and easily missed. “Breakage” is the term created by marketers to describe the percentage of customers who miss the promotion and pay the full price.
  16.  Slippage” is the term used by marketers to describe the percentage of people who fail to earn the rebate promised in a promotion. (Sinek gives a fascinating account of a court case in which Samsung limited rebates to one per household… then defined an apartment block as a household.)
  17.  Typical percentage of customers who qualify as “slippage”: 40 percent. (Sinek describes that loss a tax on the disorganized. We’ve been warned!)
  18.  Marketers frighten people into buying their products by warning them that something terrible will happen if they don’t buy it. Insurance and drug companies love this manipulation.
  19.  Aspiration is what pushes up gym membership by 12 percent at the beginning of each year. Reality is what causes so few of them to still be using that membership at the end of the year.
  20.  Peer pressure doesn’t just come from our peers. It also comes when advertisers tell audiences that cats prefer Whiskas and dentists prefer Trident. (Sinek doesn’t say this but it may also now be what helps to drive Apple’s success. If all your friends have iPhones, you might want one too. Unless, of course, you want to buck the status quo.)
  21.  Novelty can drive sales but it won’t keep them. Eventually, a competitor will produce a product with a better feature or a thinner handset. True lasting innovation on the level of a light bulb or the personal computer is rare.
  22.  Those innovations will bring loyalty as well as sales. At least until someone comes up with an even better innovation.
  23.  The book ends with a personal story that tells how Sinek overcame his initial business failure and discovered the importance of WHY. That tale of despair to reinvention is one that every entrepreneur can identify with. It’s the most interesting part of the book.
  24.  Personal stories can form someone’s WHY. (Sinek seems to miss his own WHY. That personal story adds a huge amount of credibility to his theory.)
  25.  You can get the gist of his book by watching his TED talk. (The video is a tight eighteen minutes. The book is a rambling 250-odd pages.)


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