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MVF Library Series- Simon's Sinek's book "Start With Why"

This is the first review of the "Books in our MVF Library" series, Jules Hopkinson discusses Simon's Sinek's book "Start With Why".

The basic premise of the book- having a deep understanding of WHY an organisation exists makes a big difference to its ability to thrive.

I am going to cut to the chase, I found the first third of the book highly irritating because the examples Sinek uses are biased towards The Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King, America the country and John F Kennedy. They all have very obvious deep and meaningful whys that would clearly inspire people. I found myself constantly wondering “But what about your more typical company”? The likes of your soft drinks company, your ad agency, your software company…

There are a few corporate examples, but by far and away the biggest emphasis is on Apple. It’s almost a book about why Apple is so successful. The irony being that Apple’s “WHY” - We challenge the Status Quo – seems to me to be a bit vacuous; it begs the question “Why do you challenge the Status Quo?”

He asks us to compare two statements (which he used in his TED talk as his “big reveal”):

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

2) “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?”

I just don’t get it! My genuine preference is the first (which is the wrong answer!). What’s so important about challenging the status quo? Thinking differently in itself might translate into counter-intuition.

In the second half of the book we learn actually what Jobs and Wozniak were attempting when they founded Apple was to provide computing power to the everyman enabling him/her to compete with the corporates. However, fast forward to now and we find HP and Dell with Windows have a much greater share of the personal computer market, so arguably been much more successful than Apple at achieving Apple’s original objective. Which Sinek concedes on page 194.

Despite these annoying contradictions, I warmed to the book greatly and by the end I had some interesting takeaways and certain stories resonated with me, such as:-

- WHY can be a much more powerful motivator than bonuses, threats etc. Imagine being a keen environmentalist and working for Tesla who are trying to “build sustainable transport”.

- WHY is closely connected to culture and values (see page 93). Find people who fit your values. Part of Southwest’s genius was working out why some people were such a good fit and then developing systems to find more of them. (An example for Southwest was ex Cheerleaders and majorettes – who are by their nature optimistic and cheer people on!)

- The Cathedral story which was about two men doing the same thing – laying bricks. One is laying bricks, the other is building a Cathedral. The latter is likely to be more innovative and productive.

- Wal-Mart under founder Sam Walton flourished because he believed the company existed to “Serve People”. The more Wal-Mart gave to its customers, employees and communities, the more they would give to Wal-Mart. This is a cautionary tale as this all fell down when he died because the WHY was dropped and they focused on cost-cutting and which has drastically affected their brand reputation.

- As our companies become more successful, it’s easy to lose sight of WHY and drift into HOW’s and WHAT’s which ultimately lead to failure.

- Microsoft set out early their WHY – if you give people the right tools, and make them more productive, then everyone, no matter what their lot in life, will have an opportunity to realise their real potential.

- Costco - Wall Street analysts criticised Costco’s strategy of investing so much in its people instead of cutting costs and increasing share value. Fortunately the CEO followed his gut: “Wall street is in the business of making money between now and next Tuesday. We’re in the business of building an organisation that we hope will be here in 50 years’ time. And paying good wages and keeping people working with you is very good business.”

- Consider the question:“why should I do business with you?” All businesses should strive to be able to say “because the work we’re doing now is better than the work we were doing 6 months ago. And the work we’ll be doing in 6 months’ time will be better than the work we’re doing today. Because we wake up with a sense of WHY we come to work. If you believe in what we believe, and you believe what we do can help you then let’s do business. We’re looking for customers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with in pursuit of the same goal.”

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