best business book for entrepreneurs
Photo by Sylvia Yang

I still remember the first time I came across Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” TED Talk. At just over 15 minutes, it’s a simple introduction into the mantra that I would find myself saying over and over to myself, my clients, and my students over the course of a decade. It was, in a nutshell, the only thing I needed to remember as a founder:

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

The Golden Circle

At the core of Sinek’s talk, and his book, is the theory that people respond (and buy) most frequently when a brand is aligned with their beliefs and values. Yet, most companies never communicate this. Instead, they tell you what they do, and perhaps how they do it, and hope that you’ll buy. The problem with this is we’re not wired to make decisions that way. 

In his TED Talk, Sinek does an incredible job outlining what he calls “The Golden Circle” to illustrate this. In a nutshell, the Golden Circle consists of three layers: 

What: In the very outside of the circle is “What”—this is what a business does. For example, at MP Co. we sell marketing, public relations, and strategy consulting to thought leaders at the top of their game. Burger King sells fast food. Sephora sells makeup. 

How: Then there is the “How”. This is what sets you apart. For MP Co. this is our wide-reaching network and partnerships of over a decade. For Burger King it’s their special sauce. For Sephora it’s their customer service and collaborations.  

Why: Then, at the very center of the circle, the piece that most companies will never even think to touch on is the “Why” Most companies don’t even know what their “why” is. (Making money doesn’t count. That’s a result, not a why.) Your why is your purpose, your beliefs, your cause, your mission. It’s the entire reason your company exists.

Start With Why

What Sinek suggests is that instead of doing what most companies do, which is starting at What and working your way into How and Why, that you go the opposite direction. That you instead “start with why”. This is how you differentiate yourself and inspire those around you. You start with those common beliefs and behaviors. You start with WHY.

And, if you’re someone who prefers real life examples like me, it helps to see the difference between the two approaches.

Here’s one example from the talk, with Apple as the example. The first sentence starts with “what”. This is how most companies approach their marketing. The second starts with “why”, which Sinek argues is the more compelling approach.

What: “We make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

Why: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

The Science of “Why”

As Sinek says in the talk, the best part is that this isn’t just his opinion. It’s backed by science. As humans, we respond best to messages that communicate with the part of our brain that controls  emotions, behavior, and decision making. That is, our limbic brain.

By starting with why, you appeal to the part of your brain that controls behavior and decision making which, Sinek says, is responsible for that “gut” feeling as well as brand loyalty. Compare this with starting with “What” which appeals to your neocortex, which is your rational and analytical thinking. 

When you’re considering buying something, which do you tend to go with more? Which will inspire you to act faster? Rationally weighing the pros and cons or having that knowing “gut” feeling that a purchase is right?

Is this book good for established entrepreneurs or just aspiring entrepreneurs?

In a word, both. At a quick 255 pages the book is a deep dive on the TED Talk and worth every moment spent reading it. It dives into example after example of companies who exhibit this behavior and the fascinating results.

I think it’s one that every entrepreneur, founder, and executive leader should read at least once in their career, if not a few times. It’s one of those books that as you and your career grow, so does the meaning and perspective in the book. It becomes pertinent to whatever is weighing on you in that moment, providing never before thought of perspectives and solutions. 

It’s for that reason, it’s the most valuable book for entrepreneurs and founders.