Simon Sinek Is Wrong!

November 26, 2012

I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s concept, Start with Why.  I even shared his TEDx presentation on this blog.  However, I feel as though it’s time to get something off my chest – Sinek is wrong.



Instead, start with “who.”

The most powerful question every business executive can ask, every day, is “Who do we want to be a hero to?”

The companies that obsess about this question, and orient their actions to that answer, experience disproportionate rewards.  Think about all the great companies in history.   IBM, Apple, Starbucks, FedEx, P&G, Patagonia, Four Seasons, The Grateful Dead all had powerful “why’s,” but they all started with a maniacal focus on who they wanted to attract.

In my experience, the biggest mistake made by businesses and salespeople is they approach their market too broadly.  In an effort to be opportunistic, we actually reduce the impact of our message and our efforts.

Think of it this way.  If you were to go bowling, how many pins would you aim at in your effort to get a strike?  The answer is 1½.  You’d focus on the headpin and the outer portion of either the 2 or 3 pin.  Your ability to hit the headpin directly allows momentum to knock the other pins down.

Defining your “who” is the same idea.  Describe your headpin market.  Here are the three most important things to know when defining your headpin:

  • Describe the types of companies/customers that you most want to do business with.
  • What types of problems do these companies/customers have that you can help them solve?
  • What are the consequences of these problems?  What additional problems occur because of this problem and what opportunities are missed?

The more clearly you answer these questions, the easier it will be to stand out and access the decision makers you desire.

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10 Responses to “Simon Sinek Is Wrong!”

  1. todd says:

    Not wrong, using the analogy… why are you bowling in the first place?

    • Todd,
      Not sure what you’re asking. The bowling alley analogy is about selecting your “who.” If you’re asking why am I bowling then it proves my point. The why for me is quite different that the why for others. The bowling alley that clearly describes their who first, will then be able to communicate and connect with a powerful why. If the bowling alley doesn’t clearly articulate their who, they’ll only be left to connect with the what.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Rod says:

    Doug, interesting comments. I love the Simon Sinek Youtube video that turned viral. And since that date in time, it seems like everyone has been riding the “why” wave. More importantly, almost everyone I’ve ever met can’t really identify their “why.” They will have why statments thought up, yet in reality they’re really what and how statements in disguise. Which has been bugging me for some time. So I give you kudos for being the first person I know that has put the “why” to test. That’s not saying that “why” is not important, it’s just not at the center of the universe as Sinek would make us believe. In fact I would bet that if you really dug deep, we would find that 95% of successful companies can’t identify their why. However, I would bet that 95% of successful companies could answer their “who” question.

    Thanks again for your insight and willingness to pursue the tough issues.

  3. Brad Bauer says:

    I’m convinced that your “Who” concept is nothing more than another ring in Sinek’s circle that still has “Why” at the center… Why -> Who -> How -> What. At the heart of “Who” is people that should have a shared “Why” or beliefs of the same.

    I could say that me, as a person, is interested in being friends with those “Who” are generous and selfless people. But actually, I’m looking for people who share the same beliefs, which is my “Why”. So in essence my “Why” attracts by default those “Who” believe the same as me.

    I guess as long as your Who and Why mesh, then this works. But once a company goes after a demographic (Who) that ultimately doesn’t share the same passions or beliefs for purely profit (the result), then the potential for failure is brewing.

    • Brad,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that so long as the the who and the why are aligned and meshed it will work. An important distinction though – defining your who far, far more than merely demographics. It is defining what they think, feel, see, do, say, desire and worry about. The Why is about what you bring to them.

      All the best,

  4. bob says:

    Just another marketing marketing vodoo guru.
    Taking bits and pieces of science to fit their model. lol

  5. Ryan says:

    Your WHO is in Sinek’s Golden Circle. The WHO is “to do business with people who believe what you believe.” Then you enter the curve from the left. Focusing on the majority falls flat because the majority has to get their influence from the early adopters and they get it from the innovators. Sinek omits WHO in the circle only visually, however the whole concept is cloaked in WHO. People who believe what you believe.


  6. Gary Xavier says:

    Doug, not sure I understand the “effortless growth” part of your model. It seems like an oxymoron. How is that possible? To have effortless growth?


  7. Paul says:

    We would kindly request your attention for our new animation about Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’. This popular management theory has been a great inspiration for a lot of people and organizations in the past few years, as it has been to us. Enough reason to make an ‘explanimation’ about it. In less than two minutes, the animation clearly explains the concept behind the “Golden circle” theory.
    The purpose of this video is inspirational; please feel free to share this video within and outside of your organization. We hope this video will enable more people to think and act starting with their why!

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