I’ve been a fan of Simon Sinek since watching his TED talk, “ Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
This is actually the 3rd most viewed TED talk of all time, and rightfully so, it’s a phenomenally insightful concept that changed my perspective on life and why I wanted to do the things I want to do. To make things even better, he went and turned that talk into a whole book, titled aptly, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.”
Length: 228 Pages
Difficulty of Read: ⅖
Value of Content: ⅘ (⅗ if you’re familiar with the TED Talk)
Who Should Read: Leaders, employees who want to work somewhere they’ll make a difference, (ethical) salespeople, fans of the talk, people who like Malcolm Gladwell books.
The premise of the book rests on Sinek’s simple yet brilliant creation, the Golden Circle. No, not the Kingsmen sequel or that movie with Nicole Kidman and the talking polar bear. The Golden Circle is a visual representation of the factors that influence trust in the mind.
Simon’s thesis for the book is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” and he makes a compelling case for that with various anecdotes in a style that reminds one of a Malcolm Gladwell book (which is a great compliment.) It’s an entertaining read, although if you’re familiar with the TED talk, it may seem a bit repetitive at times. Despite that, I still think it’s worth the read, as the book consistently moves quickly and isn’t terribly complex.
The major takeaway of this book is something that seems fairly self-evident, but, looking at the state of the world, is evidently not: Why we do what we do matters, and if what you do does not align with why you do it, you will not be trusted. This is so simple, yet so few people seem to get this. How many companies (or people, for that matter) can you think of that are actually out to make the world a better place? The prevailing ideologies in the world seem to tend towards simply seeking profit, fame, or recognition.
The irony of that worldview, as explained by this book, is that we have a built-in sensor for this kind of misalignment- the limbic system in the brain. It’s where gut feelings of trust or anxiety come from, and it’s those feelings that separate those who start with why from those who do not. When you get a gut feeling that someone who is trying to sell you something doesn’t believe in their product, that’s your limbic system in action.
On the contrary, the people who start with why are the ones who inspire us and lead revolutions, socially or industrially. Steve Jobs, MLK, and the Wright Bros. are all people who cared more about why they were doing what they did than their competition, and we have their legacies to show for it. It’s also (in my opinion) why Apple is going downhill under the leadership of Tim Cook, someone who is much more concerned with making the company money than he is about “Thinking Different.” The lack of a why in our world today is the reason that so many in my generation are disillusioned and caught in feelings of purposelessness and nihilism. We, as a culture, are losing our why.
This book and the concept within it have made a major impact in how I see MasterSelf. Before reading this, I had the vague idea, “Hey, let’s make a self-improvement site because there’s not a good resource for this sort of thing that isn’t vague positivity, platitudes, and bromides.” That’s all well and good, but it was hard to keep organized, and it was difficult to explain to my team. Having read this book, however, has changed both my focus and the focus of the site from what we were doing to why we are doing this.
That’s why our new slogan is “Save the World, Master your Self.” I believe that, given the state of things, the greatest likelihood of us avoiding (or, worst case, surviving) a dystopian future is going to be if each of us, as individuals, take responsibility for the ignorance and negligence of the generations that have come before us. (The “sins of the father,” if you will.) We are rapidly running out of time before the misguided philosophies of years past take their toll on us, and the misery that lingers over the world is evidence of that.
Even if you can’t see it, I know you’ve felt it. The quiet dread, the fear in the eyes of people around you- these are signs of a coming storm. This is our inevitable fate if we do not take up the burden that our ancestors shrugged off- the burden of saving our world and fighting for a better future. Unfortunately, as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, this is not something we can do alone. We must stand united, as individuals with the drive to improve and the will to create our future- because whether or not we accept it, we are still responsible for what is to come.
In conclusion, read the book. It may help you, as it helped me, to focus yourself and get your priorities straight. It may help you to discover what your personal why is. Either way, it’s an excellent read and definitely worth your time- go read Start With Why!
I also encourage you to check out his site here: