When it comes to understanding which businesses succeed and why, Start With Why clarifies so many important things. For example, why has Apple been so damn successful? I mean everyone wants to know the answer to that, right? How did they did they change everything?
This book compares Apple’s strategy and core beliefs with those of other companies. I found this interesting because there was a time in my life when I actively rebelled against all Apple products simply because I thought that, for sure, they had some sort of magic fairy dust that made everyone fall in love with them. Not wanting to be played for a fool, I refused to buy any of their products. However, as this book so eloquently points out, Apple wasn’t trying to trick people into believing they needed their products, they were just showing people why they needed them. Their purpose was genuine.
Meanwhile, other companies were selling us on the what their products were made of, not why it was relevant to our lives. These companies used jargon that made their products sound state-of-the-art, disappointing consumers with product names that weren’t representative of what those products could actually do. This left me searching for the next best thing. After some time as a strong advocate for Android, I eventually embraced Apple, though without fully understanding its pull on me. This book helped me to understand why they won me over as a consumer. It wasn’t because I had succumbed to the fairy dust, it was because I understood their purpose, what their products stood for, and I believed in these as much as they did. Simply put, Apple products make my life easier and more enjoyable. They compliment my work ethic and they understand me, even if Siri and I still don’t always get along.
Apple wasn’t looking at what everyone else was doing, they were looking at me and what I needed. They focused on what I was missing, even if I didn’t know it was missing until they offered it to me. Because they put the why at the forefront of everything they did, the world as we knew it changed. They changed the ways we communicate. They changed the ways we listen to music. They changed the ways we navigate. They even changed the ways we relate to one another. Apple changed the world because they started with the why.
Chapter 3 begins, “There are few leaders that choose to inspire rather than manipulate in order to motivate people.” This statement made me think of my children, now aged 15 and 10, and some of the tougher talks we’ve had over the years. My goal as a parent has always been to get them to understand why I tell them the things that I do and not just to enforce the rules. I want to equip them with the tools they need to make quick decisions when under pressure or the influence of others.
I remember a time when my son was very young. Like most 3-year-olds, he was fussy, rebellious, and bossy. I had had enough of his behavior and slapped his hand. I tapped him pretty hard and thought that he would start crying. I wanted him to know that I meant business and start listening. But he didn’t. In fact, he laughed. The harder I tried to hit his hand, the more he laughed. I knew then this tactic was never going to work. The phrase work smarter, not harder came to mind. I wanted to learn why he was behaving this way. I started looking for patterns in his behavior and eventually recognized that in transitional periods I would see more behavioral issues. I then tried to understand why transitions were difficult for him and how I could alleviate that stress as best I could. At the time, I was going through a divorce and he was being moved between two homes. I realized that it was my inconsistencies as a parent in providing a stable environment that were causing the unease that led to the negative behavior. I found the why and altered some things to make his life more consistent. Now that my children are older, I recognize how putting the purpose behind the rules and getting them to understand the why has eliminated the need for discipline and manipulation. Because they know why, they know how to decide for themselves. Another clarification this book offered, leadership is a lot like parenting.
Without clearly defining our whys within ourselves there is no understanding. If there is no clear understanding of self, then we may end up being misunderstood. How frustrating it is trying to figure out why we are so often misunderstood when there are so many variables beyond our control? The why we should be seeking is, “Why do I wish to be understood rather than understanding?” If I wanted to understand myself more than I wanted to be understood, perhaps there would be fewer mishaps. If everyone made this small shift in perspective, we would be entering into a world that operated with much more clarity and understanding. The more we understand ourselves, the more we can understand others.
My mother had a mirror on her wall with an angel etched in it and a quote that read, “Change your thoughts and you change the whole world.” It’s interesting to look passed it into my reflection. By centering our thoughts around the why, our whys, we are shifting to a world of understanding. It puts the power to change things in our hands.
I would recommend this book to anyone that sees themselves in a leadership position, anyone that is required to work in groups, or anyone who often feels misunderstood. Sure, this is a book about innovative leadership, but as it turns out, it applies to much more of our lives than we might think. Even if you don’t believe me, just read it.
It will change your mind.