Simon Sinek Is a Marketer, Not a Motivational Guru

His real lesson: “How” matters more than “What”

Asmita Karanje
Aug 24 · 4 min read
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At first glance, Simon Sinek comes across as an intellectual speaker who seems to have the answer to all your problems. But upon closer look, you find out he is more of a marketing guru. In fact, he began his career at New York ad agencies such as Ogilvy and Mather.

His YouTube video on millennials has brought him more flak than fame. His observations aren’t well researched (neither does he quote any research.) He uses jargon so you can’t get the fluff out of his story. His storytelling though is top-notch. You’re mesmerized into believing every word he says.

I am nobody to judge him critically, but his stories didn’t resonate with me. And I thoroughly believe there’s a lot to learn from him, just not about life-lessons and philosophy.

On Millennials

“Millennials have grown to failed parenting strategies. You have generations growing on lower self-esteem, don’t have the coping mechanism to deal with stress, and add to that impatience, they have grown up in a world of instant gratification.”

Source: David Crossman on Youtube.

I watched this video two years back, and to be honest, I found it to be very insightful. But when I watched it again, his arguments seemed superficial and flawed. First, he generalizes his observation to an entire generation based on certain typecasts: don’t understand true love, are impatient, can’t deal with stress, etc.

These stereotypes exist in every generation. We are only more aware of these problems due to technology. Second, there is apparent bias and subjectivity towards Gen Y. He starts on the note that there is something wrong with this entire generation. It is like God manufactured a faulty batch of humans. If so, how are so many young millennials making breakthrough progress in various fields, including startups, digital, and technology? He often ignores their achievements and progress when studying them.

Without sounding boastful, I earn more than both my parents. I have traveled more in the last five years than they did in their entire lives. I am physically fitter than them and have a much happier relationship with my husband.

This isn’t a comparison to prove Gen Y is better than Gen X. But it is a natural progression of human lives. Our kids will earn more than we do, be more tech-savvy than we are, and overall lead a better life than we did.

His last argument is that due to growing stress, lower self-esteem, and bad parenting, Gen Y makes bad decisions compared to Gen X. I strongly disagree. With more information being easily accessible to us, we are better equipped to make mindful decisions. If we make poor decisions, it’s merely on us rather than attributing it as characteristic about our generation.

On Businesses

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”

This is the central theme of his book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He introduces a simple concept called the Golden Circle and illustrates why certain companies do well, they understand their purpose, cause, and beliefs better than their competitors.

He uses Apple as an example to explain how Apple “challenges the status quo,” and why people believe in the company. I beg to differ. People don’t buy an iPhone based on what Apple believes. People buy Apple because it delivers a great product, minimalist design, brilliant performance, and excellent customer service. There’s also a herd mentality, but that discussion is for another day. The bottom line, he says, is that a customer will buy any product that Apple makes because they believe in what Apple believes.

He then states how Dell and Gateway, who ventured into different product segments, failed to achieve the same goal. Companies fail all the time. Google+ as a social media platform failed in the market. Windows phones fell flat too, not because consumers didn’t trust in Microsoft, they just didn’t like the Windows OS on their phones.

Most companies have a core set of values and principles. These values are like veins that run through the organizational system, it dictates the direction that the leaders will take. Values are just one of many factors that could determine a company’s success. By attributing success to values alone, Simon Sinek overgeneralizes his theory as to why certain companies thrive and others don’t.

“How” Is More Important Than “What”

Both his videos have more than 24 million views on YouTube, and his Ted Talks have more than 40 million views. And it isn’t because of what he says. It is how he delivers his speech. He uses simple words, analogies, and humor to make his point. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except it is all about the story-telling, the emphasis, and presentation. Replace his charismatic style with someone who is less bold than he is. And I can bet you won’t be as impressed.

His concepts won’t make as much impact. His “Start-with-why” video proves this point. Replace Apple with another brand and suddenly that concept is no longer as luring. Similarly, replace millennials with Gen Z or even Gen X and it still seems valid. It has less to do with an entire generation, their upbringing, or their decision-making. Rather, it is the challenges put forth by technology and social media that we are not ready to deal with as human beings.

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Thanks to Niklas Göke

Asmita Karanje

Written by

Writer | Reader | Traveller | Coffee snob |Climate change Advocate | Hate hypocrites, Love modesty

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

Asmita Karanje

Written by

Writer | Reader | Traveller | Coffee snob |Climate change Advocate | Hate hypocrites, Love modesty

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

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