I just finished a book called Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.
At first I didn’t like it. When I read inspirational type nonfiction books, I unrealistically expect them all to write like Malcom Gladwell, who is my favorite. I love the way Gladwell tells stories, gives details, and really explains his point in a way that makes you think “oh my God, that makes so much sense.”
But Sinek is not Gladwell, so I was disappointed at first with the style of writing. Even after finishing the book, I’ll tell you that the style of writing is not my favorite. But the point he drives home is clear. His book was thought-provoking. His message was obvious. His argument, if you could call it an argument, makes total and utter sense.
He tells us that the most successful leaders and some of the most successful businesses start with WHY. They don’t just sell products, they sell a WHY. (And I’m capitalizing the WHY because that’s what he did in his book and it made me emphasize the word in my head every time I read it, which was likely the point).
Businesses sell their beliefs. They get people to believe what they believe and in turn those people buy their products. And this works not just for businesses and companies but for individuals too. Individuals need a WHY. We need a reason that we go to work every day. A reason to live our lives, to get up in the morning.
His most-used example was Apple. He tells us that Apple might not have the best products or the best technology. But they have a clear WHY. They challenge the status quo. They invite people who also challenge the status quo to come along for the ride. They aim to “think different.” If you also “think different” then you believe what they believe. And hence, you buy their products.
The leader of an organizations needs to stand for something. In order for the company to be successful, they can’t just rely on product features. Any company can come up with the same features. They have to believe in something and be able to articulate that.
Some other examples he uses is Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart (before the original CEO died), and Harley-Davidson.
I started to think about different products and companies. Dove comes to mind as a company that I think has a clear message. To me, they stand for women and empowerment. I can get behind that. TOMS shoes stands for helping children in need around the world by donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. That’s a WHY that people can understand. How about REI – they closed on Thanksgiving because they believe that people need to get outside, not be working on a holiday. That resonates with their audience. JetBlue believes in humanity, in helping people, through customer service and going above and beyond. Just watch any of their viral videos where they delight entire flights with gifts and surprises.
I love brands who have a mission. I love being able to say that I support a cause because I use their products. This is becoming a bigger phenomenon with millennials. We want the companies we buy products from to have a mission. We want the products we buy to support the causes that we support. We want our purchases to have meaning.
I just bought coffee from an awesome company called Grounds & Hounds because they will donate 20% of their proceeds to local animal shelters. This is a cause I support and I am happy to say that I buy their coffee.
They don’t all have to be donating things. Southwest stands for great customer service. I have, in fact, had exceptional service on every Southwest flight I’ve been on. Patagonia cares about the environment. Wal-Mart stands behind its low prices and its support of its employees (at least it did, but it’s been going through some not-so-great changes recently). Disney values wholesome, family fun.
If you believe what those companies believe, then they have already sold you.
The WHY is what makes great companies succeed. And it’s pretty clear that in a saturated, overloaded, over-exposed market, the competition is greater than ever. There are too many things that are all the same and the ability to market those things puts everyone on an equal playing field. Companies need their WHY to stand out.
The greatest leaders are able to articulate WHY they do what they do. They stand for something. They believe in something. And they are able to speak to everyone who believes what they believe. So although I didn’t absolutely love the way this book was written, this message really resonated with me, and it’s something I think I can incorporate into my career and my own life.
If you work in marketing or business management, I think this book is for you. I would recommend it if you are looking for a way to make your business or product stand out. Or even if you just want to be a better leader.