Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Starting With Why

So I just finished reading a book written by Simon Sinek called Start With Why (2009). I think I remember hearing one of my favourite internet people, Mike Falzone recommending people read it in one of his podcasts (alongside another book called The Creative Curve, still on the lookout for that one), so when an office-mate of mine shared that they had the book in their possession, I asked to borrow it for a while (leel crocodile), and I managed to get through it in two weeks and a half (hooray).

I don't often write about the book I've read immediately after reading it, or at all, as the archives of this blog can attest. But I ended up having jumbled thoughts after reading Start With Why, so I turn to this blog to figure my thoughts out.

Basically the whole book can be summed up in a TedTalk he did around the same time jugak. If you've watched the TedTalk, you've basically read like 80% of the book. Simon argues that successful businesses are successful because they start with and continue sticking with why they exist in the first place. Simon elaborates it better and I have no desire to regurgitate what he has already spoken about at length, so if you're really interested, go ahead and watch the video.

I like the idea. The idea that you go in to any venture or endeavour with a core belief, a foundational philosophy. It sounds nice. It reminds me of when I first learned about pholosophies of education back in teacher training and how important it was to have not only a national philosophy of education but also a personal one, and how having one immediately empowers a teacher in their efforts within the classroom and school. It provides teachers focus about why they're doing what they're doing. It enables teachers to be clear about their role in the bigger scheme of things.

A lecturer of mine (Madam Mariah) helped me and my fellow TESL classmates come up with our own individual philosophies of education, and I treasure that exercise very much. Unfortunately the only copy I ever made of it was sent in to Madam Mar and has been in her possession since, so I haven't been able to revisit it.

But Simon Sinek was talking mostly about business, and why business-people and entrepreneurs needed to start with why in order to be successful at what they do. Maybe that's my first dislike about the book. I am such a non-business-person (or at least that's how I perceive myself to be). I do desire a comfortable life that is free from financial turmoil, but I have no desire to be a millionaire. I do not want to be a CEO of anything, I do not want to be a boss, I don't like the idea of being "at the top of the food chain". I like making stuff, I like telling stories and I like making people happy. So this book is already not a great fit for me, since I have no admiration for successful businesses and how they got that way. 

The book talks at length about how great Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Herb Kelleher and the like are, in a way that rubs me the wrong way. It read to me like Simon was trying to say: hey, here's why these people are billionaires and you aren't. He didn't put it in those words, but that's what it felt like. And I have zero love for billionaires, so it's very easy for me to dislike any person who tries to espouse messages that sound like "billionaires are good". I am of course not denying that their contributions to modernity are great. And on the surface, how Simon argues that they got there sounds alright, but he of course only talks about part of the picture, parts of the picture that support his thesis statement, as you are wont to do in a book that tries to argue for something. It doesn't take into account or even address the positions of privilege these people had in their lives to be able to do what they did. It didn't elaborate on how these people were/are problematic in their ways. It all sounds too "from zero to hero-y" for me to be able to take it without a bunch of salt.

But at the end of the day, it is a self-help book, not an academic book, so it has no imperative to be more critical than it has to be in order to make its arguments sound sound. Its main aim is to inspire, not inform, so whatever information that doesn't help with the inspiring bit would be edited out of the book, I'm sure.

Which was why I was surprised by the bit that tried to sound academic when it tried to draw parallels between brain anatomy and his argument of start with why. He talked about how his golden circle was similar to how the brain is built, how the why was the limbic part of the brain and how the hows and whats were the neo-cortex. That part sounded so psuedo-sciencey to me, it was hard for me to take it very seriously at all. And he tried to argue that parallel by himself essentially, not even bothering to quote any actual scientist or brain researcher person for the argument to try to carry any weight.

And I guess the part that disappointed me the most after reading the book was that it never laid out any real instructions or road-maps for his readers to be able to figure out their own WHYs. There wasn't a list of questions, or a set of steps or anything in that vein that would allow a reader to gain clarity of how to figure out their own why. He did vaguely talk about how he came across his own why, but I never really felt like he helped guide me around that question. What was my why? By the time I finished reading the book, I didn't come closer to it than when I started. I knew that I had to find it out. I just didn't know how. And I really thought the book would tell me. But it didn't. And I'm disappointed. Now I have to do all this hard work in figuring it out for myself, and I'm fundamentally a very lazy person, so I will most probably end up just not figuring it out sampai ke sudah. I wanted my hand to be held through the process, tapi dia takmaw pegang my tangan, and I'm sad.

Maybe the omission allows him to sell his seminars. "How To Find Your Why by Simon Sinek". Thousands of dollars for two hours. Boleh kaya oo. 

Maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe the book was good at bringing out my cynicism. Maybe I've just turned into a cynic at one point and refuse to take active steps towards self-improvement by pointing out how everything else is wrong and how I cannot take steps towards self-improvement until everything is perfect, which will never happen because perfection doesn't exist.

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