Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is written by Simon Sinek and published in 2009 by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Books.

The book, spanning 264 pages and divided into 14 chapters, uses a simple language to explain the importance of having clarity of purpose.

The author talks about how successful organizations and individuals from different spheres of life have been able to inspire individuals and create lasting change.

It also proffers an alternative perspective to the manipulative tactics mostly used by leaders/companies/brands to get people to buy their idea or product.

This book is recommended for all but most especially for business owners, as it gives insight into having a thriving business.

Key ideas and learning points

The book began by establishing that there are two ways to influence people: manipulation or inspiration. Manipulation, as used in the book, is a negotiating tactic to get customers or people to do what you want by offering them something in return.

Manipulations can come in the form of price discounts, sales promotions, fear, peer pressure, aspiration etc.

Most organizations use these manipulative tactics, also referred to as ‘carrot-and-sticks method’ because they do not have an understanding of why people do what they do. This method never leads to lasting loyalty on the part of the people.

Inspiration, on the other hand, creates long-term loyalty and lasting impact. The singular way to do this is by having a deep understanding of, what the author calls, your WHY.Starting with WHY means that you understand your purpose and the reason you are doing what you do. Click To Tweet

Having this understanding helps you to differentiate in a market filled with stiff competition and lets your voice be heard effortlessly over the noises clamouring for the people’s attention.

This is in contrast to the assumption that differentiation happens with just the benefits you are able to offer.

The author expressly states that for an idea or a product to be accepted by people, it has to connect with people emotionally.

Essentially, an idea connects with people when it is able to appeal to their hearts (the limbic brain) instead of their minds (the neocortex) and this can only happen when the WHY is understood and communicated effectively.

The book explains that companies and social movements that have lasted are the ones that start with WHY; they have a deep understanding of their purpose and they succeed in communicating this purpose to other like-minded people.

The effective communication of WHY is what inspires like-minded people to take up the cause, formulate a HOW (plan) and generate a WHAT (goal/product/service).

Another thing discussed in the book is the loss of WHY. It is possible to lose the vision or for the vision to become obscure, and this is mostly caused when the HOW and WHAT is focused upon more than the WHY. Click To Tweet

The author gave the example of a popular retail giant, Walmart, that had lost its WHY after the death of its founder.

The book finally concludes by explaining that WHY originates from the past, rather than the present or future, as looking backwards will let you know what motivates you to do what you do.

Also, in order not to lose the WHY, one must compete against oneself instead of others. As the author says,

“When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you”. Click To Tweet


The book is full of practical insights primarily meant for companies, business owners and organisations. However, individuals can also apply the principles of this book to their personal life.

On the other hand, the book seems to be drawn out and overly repetitive.

Also, as much as the author tries to draw examples from organizations and people such as Southwest Airlines, Harley-Davidson, Martin Luther King and President Kennedy, it seemed to glorify Apple and its founders till one begins to wonder if Apple sponsored the book.

Action points

As an individual, the book should make you examine the reason behind your all your actions.

For the business owner, the book should encourage you to review the driving force of your company, whether you’ve been relying on manipulative tactics or truly inspiring your customers.


Damilola Fasina is a final year students of Communication and Language Arts (CLA) at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan. She currently interns with The Plenipotent Company Limited.