Book Review: Start With Why

Have you ever looked around and wondered how many small businesses go out of business? Or perhaps a better question would be: why do so many small businesses fail? According to the Small Business Association (SBA) approximately 30% of new businesses fail within the first two years of being open, 50% fail during the first five years, and 66% fail during the first ten years. This means that only 37% of businesses make it longer than a decade, but not even necessarily long after that will they survive. 

Now, it is not fair, nor accurate, to attribute this to a single cause or source. Yes, many go under due to a whole slew of reasons, such as lack of planning, leadership failure, customer need disconnect, poor financial management, unsustainable expansion, etc. However, one factor unifying all failures is businesses either not sharing, or simply not possessing, a ‘Why’ with customers. In his 2009 book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek states that there are essentially three questions all businesses have the opportunity to answer, and these are ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’. He positions these three words into a visual diagram called ‘The Golden Circle’ in which there are three circles that fit into one another. The largest circle is the ‘what’ that companies possess, such as their product or service. The middle circle is the ‘how’ of the business, entailing such things as production methods, proprietary process, or unique selling point (USP). Finally, the smallest circle in the center is the ‘why’ of the organization, which not many executives, let alone employees, know or understand. A ‘why’ is a cause or belief serving as the bedrock upon which to build your organization, set of ideals, or community of relationships. As Sinek puts, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” 

So, the question is, why can few individuals and organizations continue to be more innovative, valuable, and significant while others are unable to repeat successes again and again? 

People such as the Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King Jr. all espoused different ideals and practices, however, they all shared one unifying idea of communication strategy. In their respective times, Jobs faced technologically equivalent competition, King Jr. was not the only influential orator, and the Wright Brothers were underdogs in the flight race. These individuals triumphed, and more importantly, their ideas live beyond themselves, because of their ability to successfully communicate and transmit what values and ideals they champion to others.  

A particularly revealing example Sinek gives in the book to contextualize the value of beginning with ‘why’ is through that of Martin Luther King Jr. King was not the single powerful speaker of the 1960s, and not the entirety of his ideas were sound. So, how did he manage to gather over 250,000 people of all color to attend the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963? His call for civil and economic rights and elimination of racism in the United States resonated so deeply with folks because of his diction and vernacular habits. The way he communicated with people made them believe in a changed America, they came not for him but for his ideas of belief about tomorrow. It’s called the ‘I Have Dream Speech’ not the ‘I have a Plan Speech’. Remember, people don’t buy what you do, or even how you do it, but instead why you do it.  

Percipio Consulting Group, Inc.