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Executive Summary: The Golden Circle with Simon Sinek

Written by: on  August 27, 2014

[updated by Filip Matous]

Chances are you’ve heard of / read some Simon Sinek in the last couple years. He’s been making waves for the past few years since his TED talk, challenging executives to examine the emotional core of what makes employees and customers buy into a company.

Recently this quote popped up on my LinkedIn feed and I decided it was a good time to make an executive summary, IMO, of the most important mindset switch company heads need to make: The Golden Circle. But first, here’s the common sense quote:


There are few leaders who choose to inspire rather than manipulate in order to motivate people. Whether individuals or organisations, all these inspiring leaders think, act and communicate in exactly the same way. And it’s the complete opposite of the rest of us. Consciously or not, how they do it is by following a naturally occurring pattern that Simon Sinek calls The Golden Circle.

His Golden Circle offers in interesting insight in to why some leaders and organisations have achieved such an exceptional degree of influence, and he uses Apple as an example of an organisation that’s able to innovate in so many diverse industries. The Golden Circle shows how some leaders are able to inspire action instead of manipulating people to act. Here is his explanation and how it starts from the inside out. It all starts with WHY.

  • WHAT: Every single company and organisation on the planet knows WHAT they do. This is true no matter how big or small, no matter what industry. Everyone is easily able to describe the products or services a company sells or the job function they have within the system. WHATs are easy to identify.
  • HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. Whether you call them a ‘’differentiating value proposition’’ or ‘’unique selling proposition,’’ HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Not as obvious as WHATs , and many think these are the differentiating or motivating factors in a decision. It would be false to assume that’s all that is required. There is one missing detail.
  • WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. This isn’t about making money  – that’s a result. WHY is all about your purpose, cause or belief. WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed in the morning? And WHY should anyone care?

When most organisations or people think, act or communicate they do so from the outside in, from WHAT to WHY. And for good reason – they go from the tangible to the intangible. We say WHAT we do, we sometimes say HOW we do it, but rarely say WHY we do WHAT we do.

But not the inspired leaders and companies. Every single one of them, regardless of their size or industry, thinks, acts and communicates from the inside out.

Simon uses this example of Apple and the way they communicate. Everything starts with the WHY (3 minute clip):

‘’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. 
And we happen to make great computers’’

When we’re selling from the inside out, the WHY is the reason we might buy and the WHATs serve as the tangible proof of that belief.

When an organisation articulates their WHY and we believe it, then we go above and beyond to include their offerings in our lives. We embrace their beliefs, not because they’re necessarily better, but because they represent values that are important to us. They make us feel like we belong and these organisations are the ones that create loyal fan bases, and brand ambassadors.


Having addressed the concept of the Golden Circle, Simon’s book then goes on to look at how this corresponds with the three major levels of the brain.

  • Neocortex: This is our newest area of the brain, our homo sapien brain, and this corresponds with the WHAT level of the Golden Circle.  This is responsible for all our rational and analytical thought and language. This allows us to look through vast amounts of facts and figures, but it doesn’t drive behaviour. This is why it’s so confusing when we go shopping for a specific type of product that’s offering a range of similar features and benefits.
  • Limbic Brain: The Limbic brain comprises of the middle two sections and is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. This area of the brain is responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making. It is where our emotional connection takes place, and it has no capacity for language.

It is this disconnection between these areas of the brain that makes it so difficult to articulate our feelings. Simon talks about how when you meet ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs Right’, how hard it is to put this feeling in to words. What is it that makes that bond so strong?

So your ‘gut decisions’ come from your Limbic brain.

Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with Why’ really gets you thinking about the importance of addressing WHY you do what you do, as well as giving some great examples of individuals and organisations that have shown HOW they did it.

The HOWs represent your values or principles that bring your WHY to life.

Golden Circle to organisational hierarchy as a 3D model.

Sitting at the top is the leader who is representing the WHY with his/ her vision. The next level down are the senior execs who are inspired by the leader’s vision and know HOW to bring this vision to life. The HOWs are the actions and the WHATs are the results of those actions.

The HOWs are what shape our systems, processes and organisational culture.

The challenges organisations have lie in how they create, communicate and measure the HOWs in order to attract, engage and retain talent. Because if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood, sweat and tears.


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