Why we can’t believe every single thing Simon says

Simon Sinek’s viral TED talk, “Start with the Why” is, at first glance, very impressive. In ten minutes, he offers a very simplistic answer to a complex question which marketers have wrestled with for decades – why do consumers behave the way they do? Throughout the video, Sinek repeatedly insists that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” He asserts the reason is biological, and that different parts of our brains take over when making decisions, and that we tend to go with our gut reactions when deciding on a purchase. There are several problems with this theory. First off, there’s no scientific research to back up his claims. He doesn’t present brain scans showing the different parts of the brain that are activated throughout the purchase process.

He goes on to make more claims based on assumptions instead of concrete evidence. How could he know that the Wright brothers and Charles Langley were motivated by? There are no transcripts from interviews with any of the men (at least none that I could find). So, it’s a leap (and rather unfair) to say Langley was driven by the pursuit of riches and the Wright brothers by the desire to change the world. Perhaps the Wright Brothers were “first in flight” because they had put more hours into their invention? Records do show Orville and Wilbur had been tinkerers and experimenters since they were young boys.

Also, Sinek attributes Apple’s success to them finding their “why” and motivating consumers to “Think Different.” He says Gateway didn’t find their “why” and that’s why they couldn’t sell as many monitors as Apple. Truth be told, more people bought Apple monitors because they had earned a reputation for building quality computers and components. Gateway, on the other hand, lost status with many consumers when their products repeatedly underperformed Apple’s.

So, while I applaud Simon Sinek for his out-of-the-box thinking, I would like to see him back up his theories with scientific evidence and defend them less with popular conventional wisdom. Still, thank you, Simon, for making us think.

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