Why You Should Be Asking Why

Kevin Roberts, a Self-Described 'How' and 'What' Guy, Reviews 'Start With Why'

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The best piece of business advice I ever received was "Start with the answer and work back." I'm a ready, fire, aim guy, so "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action," the title of Simon Sinek's book, did not instantly resonate. For any would-be leader, you'd think the question "Why?" would be blindingly obvious, and yet Mr. Sinek shows us that , for most, it is not.

With the exception of his Apple exemplar and a bevy of popular and personal why-sters that inspire others to act, we learn how most leaders neglect to ask why, leading to manipulation not inspiration, transactions not loyalty, and the erosion of trust and value. Mr. Sinek's theory is a cosmic creation called the "Golden Circle," the rings of which must always be in balance. The epicenter is the why, or belief. The second ring is the how, or actions to realize the belief. And the third ring is the what, or results of the actions.

Whether leading, partnering, marketing, dating or whatever, we learn how missing or losing the "why" inevitably leads to grief. This learning is backed up by truths about the emotional nature of decision making, a colorful spread of examples and some good -- if drawn out -- storytelling.

Mr. Sinek makes many key points and observations, among them: leaders' and their audiences' "whys" must correspond and "why"-types and "how"-types must co-exist. He also highlights the necessity of hiring believers, selling why, not what, distinguishing vision and mission, and focusing on early adopters in order to diffuse innovation. It all rings true.

That said, the book feels like a solid article overextended to book length. It would be more of a must-read if there were less repetition and more exploration. At one point, however, it does touch on what happens when inspiration catches fire. Mr. Sinek writes, "When people describe the value they perceive with visceral, excited words like 'love,' that is a sure sign that a clear sense of 'why' exists."

It's not fatal that this is left unexplored, because the book is about being purpose-inspired. In other words, the "what to dos" as opposed to the "how to dos." As we read at the outset, the book's goal is : "not to give you a course of action. Its goal is to offer you the cause of action." As such, I would have liked more depth on the ways individuals inspire and how this plays out in the organization.

There are, unfortunately, some mind-numbing (and annoyingly capitalized) WHAT-WHY-HOW contortions that had me cross-eyed and doing back flips down the C-suite. Indeed, some of the whys start to go fuzzy and do the splits when they get too far away from their whats.

For those not on a deadline, this book is worth a look. For top flight marketing and advertising pros, however, Mr. Sinek's book will lead you down a path of asking "How many whats have a why?" And I seriously question the merits of doing this. Personally, I spend about 10 minutes every year on asking why. For me, the inroads to winning lie deep in the field of action, some distance from the plaintiff cry of "why? why? why?" Making magic happens in the trenches, not in the heavens, and if this marks me out as a how and a what guy, then I'll take the mantle.

Kevin Roberts is the author of "Lovemarks" and the worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.
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