In this book, Sinek argues that what a business does, is less important than why that is the case. He does this by outlining his paradigm of the golden circle, which starts with Why, then moves to How, before outlining what. Therefore the mindset for an entrepreneur or executive should be:
- Why do we do what we do?
- How do we do it?
- What does that then look like for the customer?
Indeed, at the heart of every business is culture. Culture forms an integral part of the day to day, where Sinek argues that only by outlining the why from the outset and leading by example, will everyone buy into the vision, which then reinforces the culture positively. A business that loses the why loses the ability to connect with its customers and its employees.
Along with that, the transparency required to outline the why and respond to the questions that inevitably come in taking this approach handled openly leads to much greater trust between the business and the people around it. Other businesses which take a more transactional approach don’t get any emotional buy-in because they don’t make the effort to connect. Out of the various case studies he gives, there are three that spring to mind.
The first is the Airline South-Western from 1973. Running out of money and forced to sell one of their only four aircraft, the management outlined to everyone in the business the critical problem they were facing, where in order to be successful, the only way it would be possible would be to enable a ten-minute turn around from landing to departure. What to others seemed impossible, they made happen, through starting with the why, so everyone in the business bought in and united to make it happen. Indeed it is estimated that the methodologies developed during this period, now maintained as the business has scaled up, save the business approx $10 Billion per year.
Another case study he references is TIVO, which launched in the late 90s. It had all the right elements in place, the technology worked, it had extensive private equity funding, yet when it came to the big launch, it failed and take up was limited. Sinek argues the reason for this is the founders focused too much on what it is TIVO did (recorded live TV and enabled users to skip through adverts) and not on why they would want this. TV on demand, with them in control, no longer a prisoner to scheduling. It was only when they pivoted to why did sales take off. However, he also points out that the why on its own is not enough and the how and what need to be implemented effectively, for the true potential to be achieved.
He concludes though by reinforcing the importance of why and argues that every person should make asking this question at the heart of what they do, and by doing so they will naturally innovate more, build better products and teams, and over time outperform competitors. Well worth the read.