Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a lot of fans for this book, and I had seen Simon Sinek on YouTube and liked his TED talk. However, this landed at a 3-star for me in a weird way: sincere 2 star disappointment with some occasional 4 star tidbits.

Disappointment - he's an unabashed Apple fanboy, and it's so over the top that it undermines his premise. He would do better to use examples of other people connecting with brands to let him maintain some distance from the examples. Second, his theory doesn't account for macro economics. You can have all of the "why" and social good you want, but if you're in an unprofitable, declining industry, you better start thinking about a new why and a new social injustice to solve in some other industry. As I was listening to this, I started to feel confused about Sinek himself. What was his angle? His data choices were obviously biased in many cases, which I was strangely ok with,
but I just didn't understand where he was coming from. Then he explained his marketing background (and his why) and it clicked. He's a marketer, and he stumbled across a good idea he could articulate, and he was marketing it. Marketing it really well, in fact. And like most marketers, his job is to sell the positive benefits of his idea, and he would struggle to share both sides of the coin. I've noticed that great marketers lack objectivity, and if there is ever a description of Sinek, this is it. When did he address the downside of getting driven by a "why"? There are two sides to every coin, just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, yet he presents and defends one way, and one way only, to achieve success. And lucky for us, it has no downsides.

I started reading this as a pre-built fan of the "why" idea, eager to get more details, and instead left the book a skeptic. It's easy to get caught up in the hype and the emotion of his examples, but at the end of the day how deep is this theory? Is success, however you define it, predicated by this concept?

An example of the 4-star tidbits I encountered: Sinek is a great marketer, and I love a good marketing insight. One of my favorites was about the need for people to join groups. I see this as a key observation, that when applied could account for as much, or more of, the positive results he cites than his why theory.