The Secret to the Success of Apple, MLK and the Wright Brothers

start with why
Written by Paul Steinbrueck

How do you explain when some people achieve things that seem to defy all the assumptions?

For example…

Earlier this week Apple reported record revenue and profit. How could Apple do this when so many other computer and electronics companies are struggling and in a recession no less?

How is it that Martin Luther King Jr successfully led the civil rights movement? There were lots of other people talking about civil rights for decades before he came along.

How did the Wright Brothers become the first people to achieve powered flight when there were other better educated, better funded groups pursuing the same goal?

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek asserts:

All the great and inspiring leaders and organizations in the world all think act and communicate in the exact same way and it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.

The Golden Circle

start with whyAlmost every organization starts by telling you what they do – the feature of their product or service. Some then explain how they do it – their differentiating value proposition. Very few communicate (or even know) why they do what they do – their purpose or cause.

But the inspired leaders and organizations do just the opposite. They start with why, explain how and then communicate what.

This may seem like a trivial distinction or just a matter of process, but the difference is monumental. I’ll explain why in just a moment, but consider this example from Sinek:

If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. What to buy one?” That’s how most of us communicate. But it’s uninspiring.

Here’s how Apple actually communicates, “Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. What to buy one?”

This reveals a critical insight:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.


Actually, in most cases people do buy what an organization does. Shop for a car and you’ll probably buy the one that gives you the features you want at the best price. Same goes for a camera, a restaurant or a contractor to put a new roof on your house.

It’s also true for churches. What’s the preaching like? What style is their worship? When are the services? How strong is the children’s and youth ministries? (And schools too.)

People buy the what in the absence of a compelling why.

The problem is when people buy your “what,” it’s purely a transactional relationship. If someone buys your product, joins your church or sends their child to your school because of its features, as soon as something newer with more features or more convenience comes along, they’ll jump ship.

But when people join you because of your “why” – your cause – there’s a deeper connection that goes beyond price and features.

  • People pay more for Apple products because they believe in Apple’s cause of challenging the status quo.
  • People pay more to eat at Chic-Fil-A because their commitment to family values resonates with them.
  • People pay more for TOMS Shoes because TOMS exists to put shoes on the feet of poor kids and gives away a pair of shoes for each pair it sells.
  • People will walk 60 miles over 3 days because they believe in what the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s cause to fight breast cancer.
  • People will do without sports programs and fancy smart boards because they believe in a school’s vision of partnering with parents to give children a Christian educational foundation.
  • People will sacrifice, serve and give to a church that doesn’t have gifted orator of a pastor or a rockstar band when they believe in that church’s mission to bring the gospel to the lost and serve its community.

I’ve tried to explain here in a few hundred words a monumental concept that Simon Sinek wrote an entire book on, but do you see how significant this is?

Start with what and you will always be competing on price and features to hold on to your customers/students/members. Start with why and you will inspire loyalty and commitment to your cause.

If you’d like to go deeper on this topic, I’ll be blogging about it over the next several days.  You can also get Start with Why on Amazon or watch this excellent 18 minute TED Talk Simon Sinek.

As a communicator, which are you starting with in your conversations, your website, your emails?

Other posts in this series:

About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.


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