The Golden Circle: Simon Sinek's TED Talk about how great leaders inspire action

I recently watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on how great leaders inspire action.

It’s a very interesting concept that uses examples ranging from Apple to the Wright Brothers to brain biology.

I was wondering what people’s thoughts were on the talk and whether they agreed with Simon’s conclusion.

Can you summarize the argument?

Basically, he argues that most people/companies/groups market/sell something a certain way, but the truly transformational and inspirational leaders and companies act the exact opposite.

The idea centers on what, how, and **why **a company does what it does.

What - The product or service a company/person provides
How - The process (unique value proposition, differentiated skill set or process, etc.)
Why - The motivation (why the company/person believes in it, what makes them get out of bed in the morning)
Note: The “Why” is not to make a profit. Profit is a result, not a motivation (at least in his examples)

Everyone knows what, a lot of people know how, few know/understand why.

The conventional path is What --> How --> Why

Apple’s message if it used the conventional path:

We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, user friendly and easy to use. Wanna buy one?


The inspirational path is Why --> How --> What

Apple’s inspirational message:

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, user friendly and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?

By simply reversing the order of the argument, the message radically changes and helps develop interest and loyalty with the consumer.

Sinek goes on to apply the same model to the Wright brothers and MLK.

Simon Sinek seems like a likeable guy doing an insightful talk on an interesting topic. My initial gut instict was to agree with him without much argument. In fact, if I was going to start my own business, I would find this talk very inspiring and motivational. Who doesn’t want to be passionate about why they are pursuing and working at realizing an idea?

Here’s the thing though… it all seems a little post hoc ergo procter hoc.

Jobs, Wright Brothers, MLK were undoubtedly driven by their ideas and ideals. Their accomplishments were inspiring and lead to change. But I’m having trouble seeing how the DVR company (his example of a failed idea) was any less idealistic or visionary. Plenty of companies fail and it’s not because they put the “what-how-why” out of order. There’s more at play here than Sinec suggests.

But I do believe that if you want to get an idea off the ground, knowing and telling the story of why you’re doing it is just as important as the how and what. Appealing to your potential customer base on an emotional level is just good marketing.