‘Start with Why,’ by Simon Sinek – Book Review

How do great leaders inspire action? They start with why.

This book will help you to clearly define why you do what you do, and communicate that clearly. Seat belts on – this is going to be a bumpy ride. So, who is Simon Sinek then?

Who is Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is a leadership speaker, a professor at Columbia University, and author of five books on the power of leadership.

His Ted talk ‘Start with Why,’ is the third most viewed Ted talk of all time with 48 million views. Quite impressive.

So what is this book about?

The central idea is the golden Circle.

What – the product or service an individual or company sells, or the job function they have within that system.

How – How’s are often given to explain how something is different or better. 

Why – the purpose, cause or belief. Why does your company exist? Why should anyone care?

What Simon Sinek explains is that companies and individuals that have a disproportionate amount of influence in whatever market they’re in start with why.

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

Throughout the book, Simon Sinek illustrates this using various case studies such as the Wright brothers, Martin Luther King and Apple.

My 3 biggest take aways from this book

 1) Manipulation vs Inspiration

Simon Sinek explains that there are 2 ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.

Manipulation= in business terms, it means running a promotion, dropping prices, using fear.

Inspiration= The process of being mentally stimulated or emotionally triggered to do or feel something.

Manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty. Manipulation tactics are perfectly valid strategies to drive transactions. However, it will likely lead to one off transactions.

In the context of graphic design, drop your prices low enough and people will buy from you. Cutting margins. Short term gain. You get more work. Great right? No.

Once you do it, the harder it is to kick the habit.

Customers expect low paying work with the same quality you’re providing.

You need to get more clients than you would otherwise to earn the same amount of money than if you charged reasonable prices.  

Low-fee paying clients means that you will attract other low fee paying clients.

In addition, low fee paying clients will not value you’re work. Why. Because if you don’t value your work highly which is indicated by the price you value it at, they won’t either. So, you will a lot of difficult clients, overworked and underpaid.

Value your work, and you will attract clients that value your work too.


Side note – In my first video, I spoke about doing work for free. If you’re helping out a friend who has no money, sure. Be compassionate. Help others out with your skillset. That’s what graphic design is all about. However, there is an important difference to be made doing work for little or no money out of compassion, and when people are simply taking advantage of you. Be wary, and value your work accordingly. 

So, don’t manipulate. Don’t compete on price. Instead. Inspire your customers to buy from you.

In other words, you need to explain your why (core purpose, cause, or belief) to create loyal customers.

As a freelance designer, you might say something like:

Eg. I do graphic design because I want to build brands with purpose. I firmly believe that every business idea can thrive with a strong brand identity that makes your brand stand out in a competitive market place. To do that, I first help you to clarify your business objectives, and then I design a cohesive identity which extends to all assets of your business whether that is business cards, social media or your website. Let’s build your brand today.

Why is this important?

Because we are inspiring the customer with our why. People buy not what we do but why we do it. When it feels right, the customer will be willing to pay a premium for that feeling, and this will differentiate you from the competition.

Try it for yourself. Start with Why.

2) Lead with Why.

Perhaps the most compelling example of the golden circle theory is with Apple though. Simon Sinek argues that Apple’s products give life to their cause, or their why. ‘Think Different.’ Everything they do challenges the status quo.’ Their products are simply proof of their why. They give life to their cause. In their marketing, they lead with their why.

Think Different.

Now, yes. Of course, the products matter. However, Simon argues that all the big computer companies have the same resources and access the talent etc. Some companies even provide superior products to Apple. Macs are at least 25% more expensive than a comparable PC. There is less software available for their operating systems. The machines are not always as fast as other comparable laptops in the market. If people bought products from looking at pricing and features alone, no one would buy a mac.

However, while Dell, HP, Toshiba – all these companies provide similar products to Apple in terms of ability, they don’t have a clear cause or why in the same way Apple does. They define themselves on the products or services they provide, but they don’t command the same sense of brand loyalty that Apple does. 

The differentiating factor is that apple has created a cult like following by starting with why. This has also given them incredible flexibility in the market place.

To use an example that might be more relevant to the reader, Simon Sinek uses the example of companies on Linked-In targeting people for jobs.

‘Companies message on Linked-In that say things like ‘we are a fortune 500 marketing company with 300 million turn-over every year. We have over 1000 employees working on all 5 different continents and we have competitive salaries. We offer a great training scheme. We offer free breakfasts. A banana and a coffee. On Fridays. One Friday every year. Come work with us.’

Even though these facts on paper, may seem like this is a good company to work for, these are simply the what the company does. It doesn’t make me want to work for the company because it doesn’t explain the Why. Why should I care about this company? What is the core purpose, cause or belief of the company?

To use another example, if you go on a date with someone and that person says ‘I live in a mansion. I earn a lot of money and I own a yacht. I pull in about 3 million every year. I go on holiday a lot. I have got a few houses in Spain.’

Would you want to marry a person like that? Is that a person that you want to go out with long term? It may work for a single transaction. You may go on holiday once. But put simply, that does not create loyalty. What’s don’t drive decision making. These are simply commodities. Without a why (a purpose, cause or belief), you are not attracted to this person. Not exactly a trusting relationship.

If price, quality, service and features are the primary currency to motivate decision making, it doesn’t inspire. Manipulation does not create loyalty.

3)  Limbic Brain vs Neocortex

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

Simon Sinek argues that his golden circle concept is ‘firmly grounded in the tenets of biology.’

The what part is controlled by the neocortex. This area is responsible for analytical thought and language. It controls vast amount of complex information, like facts and figures, but it does not drive behaviour.

However, the why part is controlled by the limbic brain. This area is responsible for feelings such as trust and loyalty.

When we start with why, we are talking to directly the part of the brain that controls decision making.

The limbic brain is responsible for gut decision making. It is a powerful part of why we make decisions often despite analytical evidence to suggest it is a bad decision. When a decision “just feels right”, and “we trust our gut,” this decision making happens in the limbic brain. It is an emotionally charged purchase decision.

Absent a why then, decisions are harder to make. To give an example, comparing all the different specifications of a computer before buying one is hard and companies will often manipulate the customer to motivate a purchase decision – a cut price deal, a free laptop case etc. In contrast, many Mac customers don’t need to ask anyone’s opinion about which brand to buy from before they buy. They already know they are buying a mac – the question then is which model. This extends to phones, audio devices etc.

Apple have won the hearts and minds. They have created a brand loyalty because they started with why. Companies must win hearts and minds to create brand loyalty. It is easy to win minds – manipulate the customer. Much harder to win hearts. By starting with why, you are connecting with the emotional decision-making part of the brain. Don’t make the customer think!

Who is this book for?

This book is fascinating. As Simon’s background is in marketing and cultural anthropology, he explains why we make the decisions we make, and how to make better ones with incredible perception of the human species.

I would recommend this book to any graphic designer that wants to develop their ability to communicate with customers better. You don’t just need the technical ability to be a graphic designer with software etc, but someone who deeply understands people and how to communicate clearly and effectively. This book improves these skills.


I’ve read criticisms online saying that the idea of the golden circle being rooted in scientific evidence is questionable, and Simon Sinek’s theories are full of hot air. I personally feel strongly that regardless of whether Simon Sinek’s theories are rightfully or wrongly rooted in scientific theory, this book has a powerful message that can help anyone who needs to communicate more clearly by starting with why.

Below is a link to buy the book.


Awesome links:

📒 Notes and Resources 📒

1) Simon Sinek TEDx talk. ✅ A must watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJ…

2) Top 10 most iconic Apple marketing campaigns ✅ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilarN…

Hope this is helpful!

Posted in: Books

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