ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



February 2014



Start With Why

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

During a training on equity and social justice, the leader showed a bit of Simon Sinek’s talk on “Starting with Why”. She only showed a couple of minutes, but I was intrigued enough to buy his book.

The Good
The underlying concept is interesting and I think pretty useful. While the book is focused on success in the business world, I think the concept is sound when applied in other sectors and even one’s personal life. The theory is this: most companies can say what they do (build computers), and most can communicate how they do it (using great technology, sturdy resources, intelligent staff), but the truly successful companies can say WHY they do what they do. ‘Starting with Why’ means looking beyond the traditional ‘I do it to make money’ concept to pinpoint what your real reasons are for doing something. Once that’s been identified, you should make choices that align with your ‘Why.’ The big examples he uses to illustrate this are Southwest Airlines, Apple, and Wal-Mart (before the founder died). As far as concepts go, it’s not bad.

The Bad
But the bad is so bad. On my e-reader version, the book is 246 pages long. It wasn’t until page 108 that a woman appeared. All of Mr. Sinek’s examples were of cis men who started businesses or were leaders; the vast majority of them were also white men. Martin Luther King Jr. does get discussed, but other than him? It’s like a nightmare – a bunch of white dudes talking about how awesome they are.

The first mention of a woman is a woman in the military, too. So he didn’t find a woman who had started a company that fit his theory; he had to look in the military. Hmmm. His second reference to a woman comes another fifty pages later, and it’s not even a reference to an actual human. You know how sometimes authors alternate the generic pronouns they use when illustrating a point? “If someone wants to do x, he should…” or “If someone wants to do y, she should…”? Well, only once did I catch Mr. Sinek using a female pronoun … and it was in a situation describing being emotional. REALLY?! Dude. It’s like satire at this point. Very few women mentioned, and when mentioned it’s focused on non-business work or on emotion.

There are also some fairly white-savior moments, like when he was describing an organization founded to ‘help’ kids in the Middle East ‘realize they can do more.’ Um, hmmm. Perhaps that organization was different than described, but in reality it sounds like a pet project a rich white kid decided to do without really looking at what the community needed. Not exactly something to shout about. He also uses such demonstrably false phrases as “Working hard leads to winning.” Sometimes is does lead to winning, but sometimes (many times, depending on where you start in life) it does not.

As I said, the concepts aren’t bad, and I actually plan to apply them to my working life. But I definitely do not recommend the book. Watch the Ted talk. Maybe see if he has an article out there you could read. But save yourself the headache of plowing through an unintentionally whitewashed, male-centric version of history as told by Mr. Sinek.

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