Why are some people and businesses more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?

People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why. It was their natural ability to start with why that enabled them to inspire those around them and to achieve remarkable things.

In studying the leaders who have had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which businesses can be built, movements can be lead, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

According to Simon Sinek, the fundamental difference between the “Apples” of the world and everyone else is that they start with “why.”

What does that even mean? To explain this concept, Sinek has developed what he calls the “Golden Circle,” image pictured right. The golden circle has three layers:

  1. Why – This is the core belief of the business. It’s why the business exists.
  2. How – This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
  3. What – This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.

Sounds simple, but what Sinek found is that most companies do their marketing backwards. They start with their “what” and then move to “how” they do it. Most of these companies neglect to even mention why they do what they do. More alarmingly, many of them don’t even know why they do what they do!

Not Apple. Apple starts with “why.” It is the core of their marketing and the driving force behind their business operations. To help illustrate this point, imagine if Apple also started backwards by creating a marketing message that started with “what.”

“We make great computers. They are user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

While these facts are true, I’m not sold. We instead want to know why they are great and user friendly. Turns out Apple has figured this out over the years and knows better. Here’s what a real marketing message from Apple might actually look like:

“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

See how different that feels? Because Apple starts with “why” when defining their company, they are able to attract customers who share their fundamental beliefs. As Sinek puts it,

“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

Starting with “why” makes Apple more than just a computer company selling features, and that’s why their products have flourished while their competitors’ products with similar technology and capabilities have often flopped.

When a company forgets their why to focus on the what, they often fail. Volkswagon has been the automotive equivalent of peace and love since the VW van ruled the 1960s. They put a vase for flowers on their Beetle’s dashboard! So when they introduced the Phaeton, a high-end luxury car, it failed. Volkswagon’s engineering is legendary and the critics loved the Phaeton, but it did not represent the “why” of Volkswagon which has attracted so many people.

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