Jesse Field's Reviews > Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Start with Why by Simon Sinek
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Aug 05, 10

bookshelves: essay
Read from July 30 to August 05, 2010

Stuart Sinek gave a really great TED Talk that summarizes the argument of this book: when we get caught up in the details of HOW and WHAT we are working on, it is very easy to forget WHY we are doing it.

For example, at the turn of the 20th century, the Wright brothers were trying to build something that would fly with no support and very little money of their own. Meanwhile, Samuel Pierpont Langley was given full government subsidy to solve the problem of flight. But the Wright brothers got their first and Langley didn't. How so? "They were pursuing the same goal, but only the Wright brothers were able to inspire those around them and truly lead their team to develop a technology that would change the world. Only the Wright brothers started with Why."

"Why" here means not the motivating factors, but the "passion" to succeed, directed at some measurable activity. As A. mentioned, this is an argument a serial killer would use to get the idea that he was doing the right thing by being the best serial killer he could be (and damn the world for doubting his passions!). It is an amoral, ethics-free system for thinking about enterprise.

Token mention of Martin Luther King aside, most examples in this book refer to the enterprise of coming up with products to sell: iPhones, TiVo, Harley-Davidson. It's as if all great tasks in life are things we sell each other, from motorcycles to social justice. That's a profound thought, and not one I can either accept or deny at the moment. Is spreading justice a matter of salesmanship? As a teacher I respond immediately with "yes," but as a researcher and a devoted reader I remember, out at the edge of my mind, that there is something to life besides sales. There's something else, a need to connect with others, a drive to help, to add to the world, that isn't covered here.

The style of the book is short, blockish sentences. Clearly it is written so that even people with short attention spans will be engrossed. This works better in speech than in print. Overall, I'd say the TED talk is a far more successful product than the book.
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Olaf Lewitz Fully agree. The talk is good, the first third of the book adds more detail. The rest... Let's just say Simon's idea of leadership is superficial and outdated.

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