Critical review of Simon Sinek Start With Why book and concept

I stumbled upon his TEDx conference "start with why" (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action) during one of my field actuality searches and then I read his book which essentially repeats what he explained during his conference. Anyone who has seen it will admit that he is a very good speaker who knows how to convince. Moreover, the sales of his books are doing very well and this video, on the TED website, will soon exceed the 55,000,000 views mark.

1) The concept

This concept was initially developed for entrepreneurs or business leaders to help them inspire. Inspire their employees is important because we never work better than when we share the company's mission, but it is also question to inspire consumers. You might wonder why I'm interested in this subject since it doesn't have much to do with career choices, well think again, because he used this concept to create a method of orientation or at least a method that allows everyone to find their "Why".

For those who don't know the principle he describes, it's basically explaining that to inspire people, you have to be invested with a mission and not simply seek to make money. We're still on the subject of optimizing loyalty and sales. We will focus later on the underlying influence issue.

He breaks down the concept into three layers of three circles, at the center the "Why", then the "How" and finally the "What".
I am not going to paraphrase the author word for word, but rather give you a summary of the concept.
He explains that the majority of companies complain about not succeeding or not selling their product, because they fail to communicate to our deep emotional self, the part of our brain which guides the instinctive choices of most people. On this last point, it is proven by various psychological research that many of the choices we make are influenced by emotion.

To act on emotion, we must therefore, according to Sinek, start with the "Why", i.e. why I do what I do rather than the "What", i.e. look at my product it is great. Communicate on the "why" allows to ensure an emotional attachment to the cause, i.e., the desire in a human being to be part of a group, a group that is formed on the basis of common beliefs or goals in that case. What you need to do to inspire, to influence emotional choices and to sell your products is to start with why, why we do what we do. As opposed to all those who start with their product and explain why it is better than the others.

We could discuss this question when we know that many marketing and commercial studies show that the most important thing to sell is to communicate on the customer benefit, which Apple knows very well how to do, since when the iPod was released, the slogan was something like: more than 30,000 songs in your pocket. There are many other conferences on the subject, especially by Harvard professors...

So already, if you attacked the concept from that angle, you would start to shake it...

But for Sinek: "People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it! ".

2) Argument:

First, a question arises. Does the "Why" really act on emotion? What is the evidence for this? Using Apple as an example, what is the main reason that makes me personally choose an Apple product? Innovation, design, functions, brand image, what I think of myself when I buy it, or the why? I have not found any scientific studies or other type of research that remotely corroborate that the reason why companies were founded plays on emotion as suggested by the author. It seems true, it speaks to us, it makes sense, it even seems logical, but that does not mean it is true.

Let's move on to Sinek's argument, whose premise I recall is that money is just the bottom line and that it's why you do what you do that counts and sells.

He cites three examples, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, The Wright Brothers.

The boss of Apple, Steve Jobs, according to what Simon Sinek implies, would not have had as a primary motivation to make money when he started building his first computer in his garage. It would be necessary to do a research on the question that I simply don't want to do.
On the other hand, when you know Apple's economic history, you realize that there are certainly many other things that go into a company's success or turnaround than simply starting with why.

We can also spin things differently.
There are a lot of very successful companies on the planet. Can we explain these successes according to Sinek's concept? He didn't try to or even mentionned it...
Marketing experts know how to generate sales and even habits without the company having found its "Why", I think of the pork industry which, by surrounding itself with high-flying marketers, found the best way to influence the masses was using doctors to publicly sell a product so that the Americans' breakfast be composed of bacon and succeeded in making them believe that it was good for their health.

As for Martin Luther King, he just explains that to rally the spirits, he started with : "I have a dream" and so it speaks for itself. Ok.

The example of the Wright Brothers is quite astonishing because it is so fanciful, even flagrantly inaccurate historically. I encourage you to read this very well done collection of American sources on the subject: http://wright-brothers.wikidot.com/

Sinek explains that the best example of his theory is that of the Wright brothers who had no money or subsidies, were not helped by engineers or "brains" and that they were not attracted by money, but by something else and that's why they were the first to create a motorized plane and to fly. And he compares it to Samuel Langley who had all of that, but didn't get there and resigned when he heard that the Wrights had flown instead of contributing. He concludes that the Wrights got there because they were motivated by something deeper than money.

I'll let you do the research on this, but this is all completely false.
The Wright brothers were not the first to fly in a powered aircraft, they were just gliding for 50 to 100 meters in a glider propelled by some sort of slingshot from an overhanging sand mound. They were so attracted by money that they drew on the research of all the other manufacturers of the time, but did not communicate on their advances. They stopped wotking on their prototype and immediatly tried to sell their plane in Germany and France in particular, because the American government did not want it, but without making any demonstrations and finally by wasting time trying to monetize their invention, Louis Blériot crossed the channel.

In short, his concept is based on a rather thin argument, in my opinion, when you dig a little.

As an aside, this is the simple, but time-consuming work that needs to be done in relation to everything you are told to counteract the influence. That's what I try to help you do about career change pseudo truths and beliefs in my book for adults seeking change: Overcome Influence and Thrive, available on Amazon.

3) Limitations.

This is where you see the impact of the influence of a good speaker who seems passionate and convinced of what he or she is telling you. Your defenses are lowered and the message gets through. What he says then becomes embedded in you not as belief, but as knowledge, truth.

But is it really new knowledge on this issue? Is it a discovery?

Absolutely not, what he says has no basis, is not empirically tested nor scientifically proven and the argumentation on which this scaffolding is based is vague, unverifiable, even totally false.

I have a lot of respect for Simon Sinek and I would like to point out that he presents himself as a "leadership expert" and that many of his short videos on his YouTube channel are very interesting. Wanting to "inspire" business leaders and employees by making them question why they do what they do seems to me to be beneficial for everyone, but if we look closely at the theory behind this speech, it has a number of weaknesses when you break it down very quickly, notwithstanding all his fans.


It is important to note here that what is also interesting is that what he says makes sense to many. He has managed to convince many people. And personally, even if his arguments do not support his theory, the apparent logic and his conclusions appeal to me. Wouldn't we be at the border of sophistry.

I think the main reason is that it touches on the question of meaning. We are on the theme of the meaning of our lives, and of what we are going to leave to the future generations, which leaves nobody indifferent.

The search for meaning and why is fundamentally linked to the evolution of mankind, to the understanding of the world.

Anyway, it is a bit thin to try to adapt this to build a method of career guidance and terribly problematic. I will try to go deeper in a next article about Sinek's next book "Find you why", directly focused on the problematic of orientation / personal development.

Anyway, you will admit that you don't need to be a great thinker, or a researcher, to go deeper into someone's concept, theory, speech, examples and arguments, to highlight the different points of questioning and to uncover much of the influence inherent in it all.

Imprimer E-mail