Review: “Start with Why”

Book Review
Book: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
I am so thankful I finally read this book. I had heard dozens of people talk about Start with Why, but I prioritized reading other books because I thought 
Simon Sinek’s TED talk (see link at the bottom of this post) likely captured all I needed to know about the book. I was wrong. This book is definitely worth a thoughtful read, and I will likely re-read it several times in the coming years. Sinek cuts to the core of why certain companies and leaders are successful. It all comes down to their ability to define the WHY behind their actions and align all marketing efforts and communication with that WHY. This is an incredible book for marketers, leaders, and anyone looker for a deeper sense of purpose in their work.

Takeaways from the Book

Manipulation Does Not Create Loyalty

  • “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
  • “Typical manipulations include: dropping the price; running a promotion; using fear, peer pressure or aspirational messages; and promising innovation to influence behavior–be it a purchase, a vote or support.”
  • “Selling based on price is like heroin. The short-term gain is fantastic, but the more you do it, the harder it becomes to kick the habit.”
  • “I cannot dispute that manipulations work…But there are trade-offs. Not a single one of them breeds loyalty. Over the course of time, they cost more and more. The gains are only short-term.”
  • “Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”

The Golden Circle (WHY -> HOW -> WHAT)

  • “The Golden Circle shows how these leaders were able to inspire action instead of manipulating people to act…When you start with WHY, those who believe what you believe are drawn to you for very personal reasons.”
  • “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money–that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”
  • “It’s not WHAT Apple does that distinguishes them. It is WHY they do it. Their products give life to their cause…Apple’s WHY, to challenge the status quo and to empower the individual, is a pattern in that it repeats in all they say and do.”
  • “What authenticity means is that your Golden Circle is in balance. It means that everything you say and everything you do you actually believe.”
  • “It is a false assumption that differentiation happens in HOW and WHAT you do…Differentiation happens in WHY and HOW you do it.”
  • “Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services help advance that cause. Absent a WHY, new ideas and technologies quickly find themselves playing the price-and-feature game–a sure sign of an absence of WHY and a slide into commodity status.”
  • “With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making.”
  • “[Marketing is] just one of the things I’ve done–it’s not my passion and it’s not how I define my life. My cause–to inspire people to do the things that inspire them–is WHY I get out of bed every day. The excitement is trying to find new ways, different WHATs to bring my cause to life, of which this book is one. Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY–our driving purpose, cause or belief–never changes. If our Golden Circle is in balance, WHAT we do is simply the tangible way we find to breathe life into that cause.”

Charisma and Finding Your Why

  • “Charisma is hard to define, near impossible to measure and too elusive to copy. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of WHY; an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.”
  • “Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. Energy, in contrast, comes from a good night’s sleep or lots of caffeine. Energy can excite. But only charisma can inspire. Charisma commands loyalty. Energy does not.”
  • “Most organizations today use very clear metrics to track the progress and growth of WHAT they do–usually it’s money. Unfortunately, we have very poor measurements to ensure that a WHY stays clear.”

Logos vs. Symbols

  • “Most companies have logos, but few have been able to convert those logos into meaningful symbols. Because most companies are bad at communicating what they believe, so it follows that most logos are devoid of any meaning. At best they serve as icons to identify a company and its products. A symbol cannot have any deep meaning until we know WHY it exists in terms bigger than simply to identify the company. Without clarity of WHY, a logo is just a logo.”
  • “For a logo to become a symbol, people must be inspired to use that logo to say something about who they are.”
  • “Symbols are any tangible representation of a clear set of values and beliefs.”


  • “Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them. This results in reciprocal behavior. Individual decisions, efforts and behaviors that support, benefit and protect the long-term interest of the organization as a whole.”
  • “All leaders must have two things: they must have a vision of the world that does not exist and they must have the ability to communicate it.”
  • “Leaders achieve very little by themselves; they inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Find Your Why by Simon Sinek
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the author:
Find Your Why
Leaders Eat Last
Together is Better

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk – “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

Review: “Made to Stick”

Book Review
Book: Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
This is arguably the best business book I’ve ever read. Chip and Dan Heath provide powerful stories, relevant examples, and instructional workshops that teach how to craft better messages for your audience. It’s one of the best books out there for marketers, teachers, and just about anyone who wants to get an idea into the minds of others. 

Takeaways from the Book


  • “If you have to tell someone the same thing ten times, the idea probably wasn’t very well designed. No urban legend has to be repeated ten times.”
  • “A successful defense lawyer says, ‘If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.’ To strip down an idea to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize…Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.”
  • “When you say three things, you say nothing. When your remote control has fifty buttons, you can’t change the channel anymore.”
  • “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • “People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more.”
  • “Analogies make it possible to understand a compact message because they invoke concepts that you already know.”



  • “We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically ‘opening gaps’ in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.”
  • “Mysteries are powerful because they create a need for closure.”
  • “If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.”
  • Gap Theory = “The goal is not to summarize; it’s to make you care about knowing something, and then to tell you what you want to know.”


  • “Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images…because our brains are wired to remember concrete data.”
  • “Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways.”
  • “Concreteness is a way of mobilizing and focusing your brain.” (Example: Name as many white things as possible in 15 seconds. Okay, great. How big is your list? Now try the test again, but name as many white things as possible that are located in a refrigerator. Easier, right? That concreteness helps your brain narrow in on a smaller, more manageable assignment.)


  • “The takeaway is that it can be the honesty and trustworthiness of our sources, not their status, that allows them to act as authorities. Sometimes antiauthorities are even better than authorities.” (Example: A lifelong smoker with emphysema can be a powerful “antiauthority” for a non-smoking campaign.)
  • “The use of vivid details is one way to create internal credibility—to weave sources of credibility into the idea itself. Another way is to use statistics…Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.”


  • “Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are hired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”
  • “The goal of making messages ‘emotional’ is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.”
  • “[John] Caples says companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits. ‘The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!).’


  • “Mental practice alone—sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish—improves performance significantly…Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.”
  • Three basic plots compose the majority of amazing stories: 1) The Challenge Plot 2) The Connection Plot 3) The Creativity Plot
  • “The problem is that when you hit listeners between the eyes they respond by fighting back. The way you deliver a message to them is a cue to how they should react. If you make an argument, you’re implicitly asking them to evaluate your argument—judge it, debate it, criticize it—and then argue back, at least in their minds. But with a story, Denning argues, you engage the audience—you are involving people with the idea, asking them to participate with you.”
  • “Stories focus people on potential solutions. Telling stories with visible goals and barriers shifts the audience into a problem-solving mode.”


The Enemy: The “Curse of Knowledge”

  • “Once you know something, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it. And that, in turn, makes it harder for you to communicate clearly to a novice.”
  • “One of the worst things about knowing a lot, or having access to a lot of information, is that we’re tempted to share it all.”
  • “When a CEO urges her team to ‘unlock shareholder value,’ that challenge means something vivid to her. As in the Tappers and Listeners game, there’s a song playing in her head that the employees can’t hear. What does ‘unlocking shareholder value’ mean for how I treat this particular customer? What does being the ‘highest-quality producer’ mean for my negotiation with this difficult vendor?”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Contagious by Jonah Berger
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the authors:
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Review: “Contagious”

Book Review
Book: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
When I first heard about this book, I immediately thought of the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Made to Stick is one of my favorite business books of all time. After I began reading Contagious, I discovered that author Jonah Berger was actually mentored by Chip Heath in grad school, hence the similarity in book topics. Berger differentiates his work as follows: “Although the Heaths’ book focuses on making ideas ‘stick’—getting people to remember them—it says less about how to make products and ideas spread, or getting people to pass them on.” Contagious is the by-product of years of research on why/how ideas spread. Berger’s real-world examples and research provide rich insight into how to craft products and ideas that generate word of mouth advertising.

Takeaways from the Book

Six Ingredients for Contagion

  1. Social Currency: Craft messages that others will want to share
  2. Triggers: Link products and ideas to prevalent cues
  3. Emotion: Focus on feelings over function
  4. Public: Make things more observable (it makes them easier to imitate)
  5. Practical Value: Highlight the incredible, distinctive value you offer
  6. Stories: Realize that information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter

Contagious Ingredients

Human Psychology

  • “To get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way.”
  • “People often imitate those around them…People are more likely to vote if their spouse votes, more likely to quit smoking if their friends quit, and more likely to get fat if their friends become obese…Television shows use canned laugh tracks for this reason: people are more likely to laugh when they hear others laughing.”
  • “Observability has a huge impact on whether products and ideas catch on.” This is a large reason why certain shirts and shoes become fads, but socks often do not cause social trends.
  • “If you want to get people not to do something, don’t tell them that lots of their peers are doing it.”
  • In regard to store discounts, “researchers find that whether a discount seems larger as money ($5 or $50 off) or percentage (5 percent or 50 percent off) depends on the original price. For low-priced products, like books or groceries, price reductions seem more significant when they are framed in percentage terms. Twenty percent off that $25 shirt seems like a better deal than $5 off. For high-priced products, however, the opposite is true…A simple way to figure out which discount frame seems larger is by using something called the Rule of 100. If the product’s price is less than $100, the Rule of 100 says that percentage discounts will seem larger.”
  • “People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”
  • “Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.”

Mental Triggers

  • “Sights, smells, and sounds can trigger related thoughts and ideas, making them more top of mind…Triggers are like little environmental reminders for related concepts and ideas.”
  • In mid-1997, the national news media frequently reported on NASA’s Pathfinder mission to Mars. The candy company Mars noticed a pleasant uptick in sales, despite the fact that they hadn’t changed their marketing, pricing, or promotions. “The media attention the planet received acted as a trigger that reminded people of the candy and increased sales.”
  • Similarly, stores selling wine have found they can increase the sale of French wine by playing French music, German wine by playing German music, etc.
  • “Products and ideas also have habitats, or sets of triggers that cause people to think about them. Take hot dogs. Barbecues, summertime, baseball games, and even wiener dogs (dachshunds) are just a few of the triggers that make up the habitat for hot dogs…Most products or ideas have a number of natural triggers…But it’s also possible to grow an idea’s habitat by creating new links to stimuli in the environment.”
  • Marketers often use triggers to make consumers think of other products or ideas. Take this famous example used by an anti-smoking campaign to target Marlboro users…

Bob, I've Got Emphysema

Game Mechanics

  • “Game mechanics are the elements of a game, application, or program—including rules and feedback loops—that make them fun and compelling…Good game mechanics keep people engaged, motivated, and always wanting more.”
  • “People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others…And this is how game mechanics boosts word of mouth. People are talking because they want to show off their achievements, but along the way they talk about the brands or domains where they achieved.”
  • “But if a product or idea doesn’t automatically do that, it needs to be ‘gamified.’ Metrics need to be created or recorded that let people see where they stand.” Foursquare does this incredibly well by tracking checkins and awarding “Mayor” status for the most checkins at a given location.

Questions to Ask Yourself About the Six Ingredients

  • Social Currency: “Does talking about your product or idea make people look good? Can you find the inner remark ability? Leverage game mechanics? Make people feel like insiders?”
  • Triggers: “Consider the context. What cues make people think about your product or idea? How can you grow the habitat and make it come to mind more often?”
  • Emotion: “Focus on feelings. Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion? How can you kindle the fire?”
  • Public: “Does your product or idea advertise itself? Can people see when others are using it? If not, how can you make the private public? Can you create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people use it?”
  • Practical Value: “Does talking about your product or idea help people help others? How can you highlight incredible value, packaging your knowledge and expertise into useful information others will want to disseminate?”
  • Stories: “What is your Trojan Horse? Is your product or idea embedded in a broader narrative that people want to share? Is the story not only viral, but also valuable?”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Other notable books by the author: