Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

7 MinutesIn Book Reviews

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Time to Read –  A few weeks
Time to listen 7 hours, 12 minutes

£6.99 from


A simple idea for business leaders to embrace in understanding their purpose. Sinek has taken his concept of helping leaders consider what their business is about and making that the primary focus.

He hypothesizes that most businesses – and by extension their leaders and managers – are far too interested in what it is they do, and how it is done, rather than the purpose behind these.


By the extensive use of real world case studies of well-known businesses, Sinek seeks to evidence his hypothesis to demonstrate that the most successful businesses are able to articulate clearly and passionately why they exist.

There are dozens of good examples, of which Apple and Southwestern feature heavily. Not all examples of how good leaders think are from the industrial world either – Dr Martin Luther King Jr is used as a key example many times.

Using Apple as his bedrock go-to example, Sinek shows us how the innovative company rarely, if ever, bothers to tell us much about what it makes and how it works. In the world of computers, as the original Apple example, this is not the common approach – most manufacturers are very clear about what they do (make computers) and how they do it (lots of excited technical talk about RAM and drives and gigabytes). Apple barely mentions it makes computers – it tells us why it does what it does, which is all about empowering the individual. This is a much more powerful message. Making the computers is just its way of achieving this.

With Southwestern, Sinek again hits why over what. Most airline companies spend a lot of time telling us about their shiny aeroplanes and ticket prices (what and how) – Southwestern is more interested in giving its customers freedom as its why.

Sinek has good examples of firms that had got it right but later lost their way, usually after a founder moved on. WalMart comes in for his particular ire as a business founded on the why of helping the average person, the what being low prices, but after the death of founder Sam Walton, the business became stuck on the low prices – ironically often attracting huge amounts of bad publicity for hurting the average person, such as its employees, in its drive to keep prices low.

The book is not just example after example – Sinek also expands his hypothesis from mere observation of business behaviour to include extracts from neurobiology, where he has linked our individual behaviours and reactions to different parts of our brain’s thought processes, backed up with appropriate references. He throws in some behavioural psychology and anthropology for good measure.

Bringing his hypothesis to its conclusion, he recommends business leaders would be well served to step back from goals, spreadsheets and targets and remind themselves of why they are in business in the first place. Let the why govern the decision making process and allow what and how to be subservient tools in achieving the why.


The book is not a difficult read – the audio version is 7 hours 12 minutes but reading it is a little quicker.

It is easy to pick up and put down, with very self-contained chapters. Although the concept being expounded does develop and build with each passing section, the reader does not need extensive recall and rereading of earlier parts for the whole to come together.

Indeed, each part is written as a very independent chapter, to the extent that the big examples of Apple and Southwestern are introduced afresh each time – if you read the book in one sitting this gets frustrating and leaves a feeling of redundancy or stretching the material too far for the purpose of a pre-defined page count.

That said, it does not detract from the message of the book and many managers who consider themselves leaders would be well advised to take it on board and leave the spreadsheets behind.

His take on neurobiology as evidence for this theory is interesting and makes a solid addition to his hypothesis – though it would be interesting to gain the views of experts in the field on their reaction to his linking the topic to the why theory.

Some colleagues tasked with reading the book took a short cut and headed for Sinek’s popular Ted Talk on the book, and a couple who both did he reading and watched the talk concluded you could get what you need from the talk alone, so over to your own preference and learning style.


An interesting read that some people claim firmly has changed their perspective on leading their organisations.

Please note, this book review is available as a pdf on request.

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