Start With Why, How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, was written by Simon Sinek in 2009. This is one of those books that come around once in a generation. It truly has the ability to point out a unique perspective on how to improve yourself or your business. Many books have been written on the subject, but Sinek is able to provide a twist on existing ideas throughout his book.
What drives your business – price, product or service?
Before getting into the book review, I’d like to tell you a little personal history. I have an undergraduate degree in history. Because history majors do not take business classes, I had to take several undergraduate business and accounting courses. These classes were required before I could begin working toward my Master’s in Accounting at NC State. While I worked on these classes, I worked as the store manager of the flagship location of a local sporting goods store called DSG Sports.
DSG Sports was a locally owned retail sporting goods chain with 8 locations within and east of the Raleigh – Durham area. While I worked there, management hired Ed. Ed was a consultant hired to help the store managers increase sales. Ed’s mantra was Price, Product, or Service. Every business, according to Ed, depended on one of these three differentiators to drive growth. For instance, Wal-Mart depends on price for growth. You go to Wal-Mart expecting the lowest prices, not excellent customer service.
Ed would use these three differentiators to show that most small businesses should compete on service. Excellent customer service was what should separate small businesses in America from the large corporate giants. Small businesses could not compete with corporate America on price, and could rarely compete on product. This made sense to me then, and I have tried to share this insight with many of my clients ever since. Until now.
Having a clear sense of WHY
In Start With Why, Sinek identifies four differentiators – quality, features, price, and service. Since quality and features are the two basic components of product, this ties directly into what Ed was telling me 20 years ago. But Sinek does not think that these differentiators truly drive business.
Sinek explains how most businesses without a clear sense of WHY will focus on quality, features, price, or service. Companies focusing on these differentiators ultimately commoditize them. Prices are driven lower and lower until profitability can no longer be sustained. Products are tweaked to appear innovative (how many different types of toothpaste are really necessary?). Service invariably falters without a clear sense of purpose. All of these differentiators increase transactions but not customer loyalty.
Instead, Sinek shows in Start With Why that most successful businesses such as Southwest Airlines and Apple are driven by their founder’s clear sense of WHY. The founder knows his or her personal WHY – their reason for living – and start a company to help accomplish their goals.
Sinek also explains that having a clear sense of WHY is not just for business owners. Successful individuals also have demonstrated a clear sense of WHY. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are just two examples that he gives of individuals with clear senses of WHY who inspired large groups of individuals to help accomplish one individual’s vision.
Don’t take my word for it, see the Ted Talk
Not convinced that this is a book for you? Prior to publishing Start With Why, Simon Sinek presented How great leaders inspire action at the TedxPugetSound event on September 16, 2009. The talk is a little over 18 minutes, and has been viewed over 30 million times. Even if you never plan on reading the book, I encourage all small business owners to watch this Ted Talk.