Start with why - book review - customer experience

Why You Should Start With Why- A Book Review

Written by on March 8, 2019

In our CX Book Review series, we review books about great customer experiences, and the leadership and culture that create them. What books are you looking to read? Would you like us to add them to our list? Let us know!

In our last post, which you can read here, we looked at Zappos, and why they were considered to be the pinnacle of customer support and why this contributed to their success. I was curious to see if there was a larger formula for a company to be able to succeed at what they were doing. One of the books which seemed to have an answer to this was Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

He wanted to create a book filled with examples of leadership, some psychology, and how these combined to make for a company’s success. And at the core, his solution was to ‘start with why.’

Here is a quick video review of the book:

For a longer version, keep reading our review.

When a company describes their product or talks about what they aim to achieve, they often end up focusing on how and what they do, as opposed to why. All three of these are indeed integral to a company but this eventually leads to a company losing sight of what they set out to do and takes a toll on it.

A good example was the case comparison of Apple and Microsoft. Apple has always considered itself an innovation-driven company, and thus, when they launched their iconic iPods and iTunes service, these were an immediate hit. Apple’s why, according to the author, was always clear – they aimed to break new frontiers with everything they did and this was only the latest in a line of inspiring products. Microsoft, soon after, launched Zune, a similar device, and its own music streaming service as well. This, in contrast, was a failure – a mere couple years after launch, the Zune was discontinued, even as the iPod thrived. Why?

The answer lies in the public’s perception of the company, according to the author. Apple was always considered to be an innovator, and thus, people were willing to try new things made by them. Apple had ideas, not computers. In contrast, Microsoft branded itself by its software, and therefore, when it tried to do something new, it was looked on skeptically. Software and hardware-wise, both the Zune and the iPod had their flaws and positives. However, thanks to the company that sold the product, their successes and failures were inevitable. The point of this example was to ensure that you always remember why you do something, and drive yourself and your achievements in line with it. To quote him,

“Leadership requires two things: A vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.”

Simon Sinek elaborates on this in his Golden Circle theory. The why of your company is your belief and justification for its existence. Your how’s are the actions you take to achieve this why, and your what’s are the things you might do and say as a result of these. This could be the people you hire, your company’s products or services, or even your culture. When it comes to being a great leader and keeping your company’s employees and customers happy, you need to make them share your beliefs. It is this unifying feeling of belonging that makes the difference between survival and greatness for a company. The author points out the psychology behind the human need to belong as well in the book. You trust people who you feel a sense of belonging with. However, you need to make sure you integrate your why with your company, so that it embodies your vision for it. Otherwise, you risk it losing its purpose and changing into something else.

Another lovely point which the author brings up is regarding the intrinsic difference between inspiration and manipulation. He illustrates this with a few examples as well. What you can conclude from these is that if you are looking at one single customer interaction, you can use bonuses or discounts to make a sale, and maybe even a profit. But, you might fail to gain their loyalty. However, if you inspire them instead, while your initial gains might be lower, your rewards over time will definitely be much higher. Simon Sinek points out that if your business is driven by such one-time transactions, manipulations might be a worthy business strategy, but if you want loyalty, inspiration is the way.

To quote him: 

“Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers often don’t even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won.”

These manipulations are of quite a few types. Here are the key ones:

  1. Offering bargains or discounts that make a customer feel like they’re winning. This often included adding fine print that made it difficult for a customer to claim their rebate or discount. While this helps for selling a product once or maybe even a few times, it overall leads to a cycle of negativity, as either the company has to continue selling at a cheaper price or risk fostering displeasure in their customers if they increase the price.
  2. Fear. For instance, implying one’s family might be left destitute if one did not have insurance. Again, while it might make the sale, it would not lead to loyalty.
  3. Peer pressure. By saying that a large number of people or an expert prefers one item over another, you can sell products. But again, swaying people can be a difficult act, and may not inspire loyalty.
  4. Novelty. The example for this was Motorola. They came up with the Razr, a slim and elegant mobile phone that sold very well when it came out. However, once other phones with similar or better features appeared, Motorola failed to keep their customers.

You can see that in the long term, these manipulations fail. In contrast, if you look at inspiration as a way of charming your customers, your chances are much better.

This also applies when you are hiring people. If you try and attract people with profits or other benefits, you might not find the right fit for your company. Instead, attempt to find people who have the same beliefs and values as you. When Ernest Shackleton, a famous explorer of the Arctic, needed a crew to sail with him on an unprecedented crossing, he didn’t advertise offering high pay and rewards. He instead highlighted the difficulties and risks of the trip, ensuring that only those who shared his passion for the task were a part of his team, as opposed to someone who was in it for financial gain or fame. This proved to save the lives of him and his crew when they were stranded on the ice for months – there was no rebellion or death – simply because Shackleton had the right team.

Whether you are the CEO of a company, or a VP, or a manager, or even an individual contributor, here’s what you can learn from this book:

  • Understand why you do something. Then figure out how to articulate this belief. Your belief in what you do is what will inspire others to help your business or ideas succeed.
  • When you are building something, plan everything out. It is better to have your ideas and processes clear as opposed to fixing issues as they come up with short-term workarounds.
  • Always try to inspire, as opposed to manipulating.
  • Make sure you integrate your why with your company, so that it embodies your vision for it.
  • Trust and loyalty cannot be bought or manipulated. It takes belief and perseverance. When you are trying to sell something, talk about your why first, then your how and what. The former is a justification of your belief, while the latter provides a rationalization for it.


The book concludes with an example of a runner suffering from cerebral palsy participating in a race, even though he has no hope of winning against the others. But he runs to better himself, not to beat others, and that is what makes him achieve.

If you don’t have enough time to read the book, I recommend watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leadership.

Let me know what you thought about this book in the comments below.

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