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Start with Why

by Simon Sinek

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it!”. This is the phrase repeated by Simon Sinek throughout his TED talk and book. It summarises a theory he developed, based on the biology of the brain, that people’s decision making is driven by emotions rather than rationale. This is not a new theory, but he does have a new spin on how it is presented.

Great communicators, both individual and corporate, always present their ideas differently to the rest of us. Most people start with ‘what’ they do, transition through ‘how’ they do it, and end up at ‘why’. Sinek’s view is that the most successful communicators work the opposite way round. Start with why.

Take Apple as an example. If they communicated they same way as any other computer company they would say. “We make computers. They are beautiful to look at, easy to use, and user friendly. Wanna buy one?” Hardly inspiring. However, Apple communicate in exactly the opposite way. They say “Everything we do challenges the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. They way we challenge the status quo is by making products that are beautiful to look at, easy to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” Much more inspiring!

Not only this, by defocusing the products (the ‘what’) Apple can easily move into phones, MP3 players, TV etc etc. Apple is no longer just another computer company. It is a company that develops great products by thinking differently. Other computer companies have tried to do other products without success because they focus on the ‘what’, and not the ‘why’.

Sinek describes why this approach works based on the way the human brain works. The outer part of the brain – the neocortex – is all about logic, rationale and language. It can understand the ‘what’ very easily. It can interpret features and benefits, analyse comparison data etc etc. But it doesn’t drive decision-making. This is left to the older limbic brain. This part of the brain has no language but is concerned with emotions. It links to our values and what we believe. And it does drive our decision-making. So communication that focuses on this part of the brain is going to be far more effective. How often have you analysed the facts when making a decision but still thought “this doesn’t feel right”.

Therefore, the goal of marketing is to sell to people who believe what you believe. In order to reach the early and late majorities of buyers, you must first convince the innovators and early adopters to buy. And they buy based on belief, not logic. They buy because what they do proves (shows to others) what they believe. People who stand for five hours waiting for the new iPhone are proving to those around them that they also think differently and want to be seen as challengers to the status quo.

And this strategy is not just for products and marketing, but works for anyone who is trying to lead an organisation. ‘Leaders’ are simply those in positions of power or authority. ‘Those who lead’, inspire others to follow them. And they follow not because they must, but because they want to. Martin Luther King said “I have a dream” not “I have a plan”. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Given that incubation practitioners are continually assessing business plans and ideas and the people behind them, this book offers a new facet to the decision-making process. A must-read for anyone involved in the incubation / innovation / entrepreneurship space.

About the author

Simon Sinek is best known for making a mark with his concept of The Golden Circle. He has worked for the Rand Corporation where he advised on military innovation. His first TEDx talk - How great leaders inspire - is the 7th most popular video on TED. He has commented for several well-known publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and he is known for being active in the non-profit space. He works with Count Me In, an organisation that is helps one-million women-owned businesses make a million dollars by 2012. 


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View the TED Talk here:
Published on 16-10-2012 05:51 by David Tee. 855 page views

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