Start with Why

There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. – Simon Sinek

The concepts behind Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, have influenced how we do things since before we started Nordegg Adventures. The idea that people are motivated to join an adventure by more than price, novelty or exclusivity has always made sense to us. Taking the time to define your purpose gives clear direction when building new tours or products and makes finding your ideal guests much easier.

The book itself isn’t a masterpiece. It feels like it could have been condensed a lot more, examples tend to ramble on and repeat themselves, and while he mentions the importance of a disciplined “how” that section of the book seems unfocused. That being said, it’s still one of the books we recommend the most to those looking at offering authentic experiences and going beyond the retail manipulations associated with the retail approach to experience development.

His 2009 TEDx talk covered most of the topics and examples included in the book for those looking for the highlights.

Key Ideas

The ideas shared in Start with Why give a nice alternative to the more traditional retail approach of The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore. As Sinek mentions, this is not a case where other approaches don’t work. Fear of missing out, aspirational goals and novelty all create great results in the short term. This is about long-term positive growth, something we believe is a better approach to experience development.

Here are a few ideas from the book applied to tourism and experience development.

Manipulative Approaches

Manipulations aren’t necessarily negative but they typically lead to commodification. These approaches are common in retail and include selling based on price, promotions, fear, aspiration, peer pressure and novelty. These tactics are often used in experience development – how often do we hear that we need to build something unique, exclusive and novel that will create a fear of missing out in the visitor?

Novelty is simply shiny objects that get people excited until the next shiny object comes along. Today’s exclusive behind-the-scenes access will be expected tomorrow. While it has the same positive impact as discounts on generating demand, the need to constantly add features leads to a downward spiral toward commodification.

Manipulation tactics can influence behaviours and can help a company become quite successful, at least in the short term. Those approaches require deep pockets however since we need to continually develop new experiences. This increases stress for both visitors and experience providers as well as being unsustainable for the destination in the longer term.

Lifelong Guests

Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.

For transactions that happen only once or twice, a manipulative approach combined with a good customer experience will often deliver great results. This works well for experience providers in “once-in-a-lifetime” destinations that are focused on a steady stream of new visitors. Operators in lesser-known destinations tend to rely on locals and returning guests, making a longer-term approach a better option.

Starting With Why

If we were all rational, there would be no small business, there would be no expression, there would be very little innovation and there would be no great leaders to inspire all those things. It’s the undying belief in something bigger and better that drives that kind of behaviour.

Explaining “why” is hard. That’s the reason people focus on what they like when asked in market studies rather than on why they like it. Purpose, the reason why we exist as a business, is defined by what we believe in and the contribution we want to make to those around us.

Starting with Why means being focused on our purpose first, then having a strong process to deliver on that promise which is visible through the products we create. Watch his TEDx talk to find out more about the Golden Circle and how it changes the approach to creating a more authentic offering.


Authenticity means that everything you say and do reflects what you actually believe. You can’t be truly authentic without a clear purpose. It is often more noticeable in how we feel when we see something that doesn’t belong, something that doesn’t match the purpose. Balancing why, how and what leads to authenticity.

Connecting With Your Ideal Guests

It’s not about selling a lifestyle, it’s about attracting guests that share a similar lifestyle and values with us. It’s hard to make someone see that your product is important to their lives based on external rational factors you’ve chosen. Decisions are made based on emotions and when our purposes align it create tangible value.

Why also works as a filter. It attracts people with similar beliefs and repels people who don’t share your beliefs. This helps create situations where the guests are well matched to the experience offered.

To reach mass-market success first requires 15-18% market penetration. The early majority won’t typically try something new until someone else tried it first. Finding the ideal guest is about connecting with people who believe what you believe. Focus on early adopters to get the early majority on board by sharing a clear purpose. Why spend time trying to attract people who will do business with you anyway if you meet their basic needs (usually price, features, convenience) but will never be loyal customers?

Going From What to Why

When there isn’t a clear why, customers buy based on what you do. When that happens, manipulations that rely on price, features, device or quality become the primary differentiation.

We often see operators move from what to how, trying to differentiate themselves by using tools like unique selling propositions. A unique selling proposition only explains how something is better or different, not the purpose.

It’s a false assumption that differentiation happens in how and what you do.

Differentiation is about why and how you do it. Rather than looking at best practices – they are by default about what and how – focus on creating a strong how that is aligned with your purpose. To do that we need to articulate our values as verbs, making them actionable. It’s not integrity, it’s always doing the right thing. Look at the problem from a different angle instead of innovation.

When you start with why the first-mover advantage becomes irrelevant. So are manipulations and the constant race to the bottom they bring along. Even if others have similar why, how or what, it’s the combination of all 3 that is unique and hard to duplicate.

Companies have the time and money to hire consultants to do the same thing over and over again but can’t afford to do it right the first time. Instead we should be designing for the outcome we want, starting with purpose.

Find Your Why

In 2017 Simon Sinek, David Mead and Peter Docker released a companion book to Start with Why focused on the implementation of the concepts. It is a worthwhile read if you are considering implementing this approach.

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it And what you do simply proves what you believe. – Simon Sinek

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