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Sinek’s approach to business is far from cynical.  His concept “Start with the WHY” permeates the business environment and has direct application in leadership,  marketing, customer acquisition, hiring, retention, inspiration, customer service, et cetera.  I initially encountered his 20 minute Ted talk below, which intrigued me to read his book Start with the Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone.  If you are particularly drawn in by the video, you can reference my ‘Key Concepts’ from the book after the jump.


1. People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Typical Marketing

3) We make great computers. (What)

2) They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. (How)

4) Wanna buy one? (Action)


Revised Marketing

1) Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. (Why)

2) We make our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. (How)

3) And we happen to make great computers. (What)

4) Wanna buy one? (Action)


2. The Golden Circle. WHY -> HOW -> WHAT

1) Core is WHY: deep beliefs & core values ->

2) Secondary ring is HOW: verbs and actions to realize your beliefs ->

3) External ring is WHAT: the result of your actions

“A WHY is a belief. That’s all it is. HOWs are the actions you take to realize that belief. And WHATs are the results of those actions – everything you say or do: your products, services, marketing, pr, culture and whom you hire.”

Focus on the Clarity of Why, Discipline of How, and Consistency of What.


3. The Golden Circle Parallels our Brain Composition.

Core near brain stem is Limbic Brain: trust, loyalty, “gut feeling” ->

Outer ring of brain is Neocortex: language, facts, figures

Why —————-> How -> What

Limbic Brain —-> Neocortex

Heart ————–> Mind

Art ——————> Science


4. The Three Levels of Certainty:

1)    I THINK it’s right (Neocortex) – Logical

2) + I FEEL it’s right (Limbic) – Gut & Emotion

3) = I KNOW it’s right (Complete) – Comfortable


5. The WHAT Dilemma: Products, Customers & Employees

“If you ask most businesses why their customers are their customers, most will tell you it’s because of superior quality, features, price or service. In other words, most companies have no clue why their customers are their customers. This is a fascinating realization. If companies don’t know why their customers are their customers, odds are good that they don’t know why their employees are their employees either.

If most companies don’t really know why their customers are their customers or why their employees are their employees, then how do they know how to attract more employees and encourage loyalty among those they already have?  The reality is, most businesses today are making decisions based on a set of incomplete or, worse, completely flawed assumptions about what’s driving their business.”


6. Customer Acquisition: Two ways to influence human behavior: Manipulation vs. Inspiration

Manipulations: For transactions that occur an average of once, carrots and sticks are the best way to elicit the desired behavior (Carrots & Sticks). ex: Price, Promotions, Fear, Aspirations, Peer Pressure, Novelty (Innovation)


Inspiration:  “The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus in the people who believe what you believe. When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our why, trust (and authenticity) emerges.”  Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. because they believe in what you believe and want to support your business and greater cause.


7. Employees: Align believe, inspire, and foster trust.

Hiring – Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire motivated people and inspire them… Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.

Inspiring – Average companies give their people something to work on. In contrast, the most innovative organizations give their people something to work toward. “I’m laying bricks” vs. “I’m building a cathedral”

Maintaining – Southwest will not tolerate customers who abuse their staff. They would rather those customers fly on a different airline. It’s a subtle irony that one do the best customer service companies in the country focuses on its employees before its customers.


8. Leadership: Leading is not the same as being the leader. Being the leader means you hold the highest rank, either by earning it, good fortune or navigating internal politics. Leading, however, means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.

Through Trust – Earning the trust of an organization doesn’t come from setting out to impress everyone, it comes from setting out to serve those who serve her. It is the invisible trust that gives a leader the following they need to get things done.

Through Charisma – Energy motivates but charisma inspires. Energy is easy to see, easy to measure and east to copy.  Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity  of WHY. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than  oneself. Energy, in contrast, comes from a good night’s sleep or lots  of caffeine. Energy can excite. But only charisma can inspire.Charisma commands loyalty. Energy does not.

Through Personal Connection – Great leaders are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with external incentives or benefit to be gained.  For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal.


9. Mission vs Vision: The vision is a public statement of the founder’s intent, WHY the company exists. It is literally the vision of a future that does not yet exist. The mission statement is a description of the route, the guiding principles – HOW the company intends to create that future.

In Leadership – Need a leadership combination of a WHY (Jobs) and a HOW (Woz) WHY-types are the visionaries, the ones with the overactive imaginations. They tend to be optimists who believe all the things they imagine can be accomplished. HOW-types live more in the here and now. They are the realists and have a clearer sense of all things practical.

Passion & Structure – The reason so many small businesses fail, however, is because passion alone can’t cut it.  For passion to survive, it needs structure.  A WHY without the HOWs, passion without structure, has a very high probability of failure…Passion may need structure to survive, but for structure to grow, it needs passion.


10. Competitive Approach:

Compete versus Yourself – Now think about how we do business.  We’re always competing against someone else.  We’re always trying to be better than someone else.  Better quality. More features.  Better service.  We’re always comparing ourselves to others.  And no one wants to help us.  What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves?  What if the goal was to do better work this week than we did the week before?… For no other reason than because we want to leave the organization in a better state than we found it?

A Matter of Fit – Are we better than our competition?  If you believe what we believe and you believe that the things we do can help you, then we’re better.  If you don’t believe… then we’re not better. We’re looking for people (employees and customers) to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in pursuit of the same goal.  We’re not interested in sitting across the table from each other in pursuit of a sweeter deal.



Thanks for reading,

Tyler Elick

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