Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Start With Why summary

Start With Why is about a naturally occurring pattern, a way of thinking, acting, and communicating that gives some leaders the ability to inspire those around them. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit. Those who are inspired are willing to pay a premium or endure inconvenience, even personal suffering.

Start With Why notes & quotes

Here are my notes and quotes on Start With Why by Simon Sinek. My notes are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas, and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.


  • Inspiring people gives them a sense of purpose or belonging with little relation to external incentives or benefits.
  • Inspired people are willing to pay a premium, endure inconvenience, and even suffer. (This is one of the reasons Steve Jobs was able to get people to work so hard.)

Part 1: A World That Doesn’t Start With Why

1: Assume You Know

  • “We make decisions based on what we think we know.”
  • Our decisions are made by factors beyond our rational, analytical, information-hungry brains.
  • The play between the gut and rational decision-making is how we conduct business and live.
  • Though the outcome may be the same, tremendous leaders understand the value in the things we cannot see.

2: Carrots and Sticks

  • Types of manipulation: price, promotions, fear, aspirations, peer pressure, novelty.
  • Human behavior can be influenced in two ways: manipulation or inspiration.
  • Companies without a clear sense of why customers buy rely disproportionately on manipulations to drive sales. Manipulations work.
  • “Fear, real or perceived, is arguably the most powerful manipulation of the lot.”
  • Aspirational messages tend to be most effective with those who lack discipline or are fearful or insecure (which, at various times for various reasons, is everyone.)
  • It is usually not the system that fails but the inability to maintain them.
  • Manipulations fail to promote loyalty and produce long-term results.
  • “Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”
  • “Manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty.”
  • For one-time transactions, carrots and sticks work best.

Part 2: An Alternative perspective

3: The Golden Circle

  • There is more order in nature than we think, including the symmetry of leaves and the geometric perfection of snowflakes.
  • Every company knows WHAT they do.
  • Some companies know HOW they do what they do.
  • Very few people or companies can articulate WHY they do what they do.
  • Most organizations communicate from the outside in, from what to why.
  • Inspiring leaders communicate from the inside out.
  • “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
  • Apple is perceived as authentic because everything it does communicates its why, challenging the status quo.
  • Loyalty is inspired by the cause the company, brand, or product champions.

4: This Is Not Opinion, This Is Biology

  • People are willing to pay more to be part of a group.
  • “Our need to belong is not rational, but it is a constant that exists across all people in all cultures. It is a feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs.
  • When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe.”
  • We trust those who are perceived to share common values and beliefs.
Organizations that effectively communicate what they believe draw us in.
  • “Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”
  • Why and How are related to the limbic brain responsible for all feelings, such as trust and loyalty, as well as all behavior, decision-making, and language.
  • “Why is it that things are not a balance of science and art, but always art before science?”
  • Great leaders trust their gut and understand that art comes before science.
  • Employees work for companies like Apple because they love being a part of something bigger than themselves.

5: Clarity, Discipline and Consistency

  • Inspiration fosters loyalty.
  • “Only when the why is clear and when people believe what you believe can a true loyal relationship develop.”
  • Aligning your company or product to people's views of themselves elicits a powerful emotional bond.
  • Inspiration causes decisions to be more about who we are and less about the company or product we buy.
  • We get good and bad feelings about companies, just as good and bad feelings about people.
  • Putting Why into words provides the emotional context for decisions.

Part 3: Leaders Need a Following

6: The Emergence of Trust

  • Trust develops when we sense another person or organization is motivated by things other than self-gain.
  • Trust is earned by communicating and demonstrating that you share the same values and beliefs.
  • “Most healthy people live their life to win. The only variation is the score we use. For some, it’s money, for others it’s fame or rewards. For some, it’s power, love, a family, or spiritual fulfillment.”
  • Cultures, or groups of people who come together around a common set of values and beliefs, have helped us succeed as a species.
  • Culture binds a company, not its products or services.
  • “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” - Herb Kelleher
  • “The goal is to hire those who are passionate for your Why, your purpose, cause or belief, and who have the attitude that fits your culture.”
  • Give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, or they will seek new employment.
  • A great leader doesn’t come up with all the great ideas. Instead, they create an environment in which great ideas can happen.
“Great organizations become great because people inside the organization feel protected.”
  • The opinions of others matter, and the views of those we trust matter most.

7: How a Tipping Point Tips

  • “Each of us assigns different values to different things and our behaviors follow accordingly.”
  • This is why it is nearly impossible to “convince” someone to buy your product based on rational arguments and tangible benefits alone.
  • The system tips when enough people share your values and beliefs, not when they get excited about the quality of your products.
  • Your task is to be clear about the purpose, cause, or belief you champion and demonstrate how your products and services help advance that cause.
  • “More than anything else, what Martin Luther King Jr. gave us was clarity, a way to explain how he felt.”

Part 4: How to Rally Those Who Believe

8: Start With Why, But Know How

  • “Without someone inspired by their vision and the knowledge to make it a reality, most Why-types end up as starving visionaries, people with all the answers but never accomplishing much themselves.
  • “The best How-types generally do not want to be out front preaching the vision; they prefer to work behind the scenes to build the systems that can make the vision a reality.”

9: Know Why. Know How. Then What?

  • Apple exists to empower the individual spirit, and we know what they believe because they tell us.
  • The How-types need to understand the Why, develop the systems, and hire the people who will bring the Why to life.
  • “The Why exists in the part of the brain that controls feelings and decision-making but not language. What exists in the part of the brain that controls rational thought and language.”
  • A leader inspires what we do and represents the limbic brain.
  • “What the company says and does represents the rational thought and language of the neocortex.”

10: Communication Is Not About Speaking, It’s About Listening

  • Symbols have meaning because we invest them with meaning; meaning lives in the mind, not in the item.
  • While most companies have logos, few have succeeded in converting them into meaningful symbols because they aren’t communicating what they believe.
  • “Apple says and does only the things they believe.”
  • Starting with Why helps you make the right decisions that align with your beliefs and avoid the wrong ones that don’t.

Part 5: The Biggest Challenge Is Success

11: Whey Why Goes Fuzzy

  • “The false assumption we often make is that if we simply achieve more, the feeling of success will follow. But it rarely does.”
  • For most of us, somewhere along the journey, we forget our Why. The split is the separation between tangible and intangible.

12: Split Happens

  • The Why and What are usually aligned for small organizations, but larger companies forget the Why.

Part 6: Discover Why

13: The Origins of a Why

  • “Finding Why is a process of discovery, not invention.”
  • The Why for every individual or organization derives from their life experiences.
  • Every individual and organization has a Why.
  • “Gaining clarity of Why, ironically, is not the hard part. It is the discipline to trust one’s gut, to stay true to one’s purpose, cause or beliefs. Remaining completely in balance and authentic is the most difficult part.”
  • “There is a difference between running with all your heart with your eyes close and running with all your heart with your eyes wide open.”

14: The New Competition

  • “When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone want to help you.”
  • Forgetting Why causes us to show up to every race trying to outdo someone else instead of outdoing ourselves.
  • “Our goal is to find customers who believe what we believe and work together so that we can all succeed.”

Afterword: Be A Part of this Movement, Share Your Vision Of the World

  • Leadership is about people.
  • Assuming leadership, a responsibility that is given, not taken, requires thinking, acting, and speaking in a way that inspires followers.
  • Leaders must have two qualities: a vision for the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.
  • “Our visions are the world we imagine, the tangible results of what the world would look like if we spent every day in pursuit of our Why.”
  • “Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with Why we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.”

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts, and concepts mentioned in Start With Why, which might be helpful for further learning.


Ron Bruder

Books and Publications

  • America Mania: When More is Not Enough by Peter Whybrow
  • The Naked Brain by Richard Restak
  • From Worst to First by Gordon Bethune
  • Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers
  • Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
  • The Starfish and the Spider by Sri Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
  • First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  • The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
  • The Tipping Point and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Chaos by James Gleick
  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  • Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
  • Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson, M.D.
  • The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • FISH! By Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen, and Ken Blanchard
  • The Naked Brain by Richard Restack
  • Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • The Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl