Simon Sinek, Start With Why, Those Who Know Why Need Those Who Know How

Those Who Know WHY Need Those Who Know HOW with simon sinek

There is not greater power than that of the collective and collaborative. Every vision statement needs a mission statement to bring the idea to life. Read on and you’ll find an excerpt from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why that speaks on the partnership between WHY and HOW.


The pessimists are usually right, to paraphrase Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, but it’s the optimists who change the world. Bill Gates imagined a world in which the computer could help us all reach our greatest potential. And it happened. Now he imagines a world in which malaria does not exist. And it will happen. The Wright brothers imagined a world in which we’d all take to the skies as easily as we catch the bus. And it happened. WHY- types have the power to change the course of industries or even the world… if only they knew HOW.

WHY-types are the visionaries, the ones with the overactive imaginations. They tend to be optimists who believe that all the things they imagine can actually be accomplished. HOW-types live more in the here and now. They are the realists and have a clearer sense of all things practical. WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at build- ing structures and processes and getting things done. One is not better than the other, they are just different ways people naturally see and experience the world. Gates is a WHY-type. So were the Wright brothers. And Steve Jobs. And Herb Kelleher. But they didn’t do it alone. They couldn’t. They needed those who knew HOW.

“If it hadn’t been for my big brother, I’d have been in jail several times for checks bouncing,” said Walt Disney, only half joking, to a Los Angeles audience in 1957. “I never knew what was in the bank. He kept me on the straight and narrow.” Walt Disney was a WHY- type, a dreamer whose dream came true thanks to the help of his more sensible older brother Roy, a HOW-type.

Walt Disney began his career creating cartoon drawings for advertisements, but moved quickly to making animated movies. It was 1923 and Hollywood was emerging as the heart of the movie business, and Walt wanted to be part of it. Roy, who was eight years older, had been working at a bank. Roy was always in awe of his brother’s talent and imagination, but he also knew that Walt was prone to taking risks and to neglecting business affairs. Like all WHY guys, Walt was busy thinking about what the future looked like and often forgot he was living in the present. “Walt Disney dreamed, drew and imagined, Roy stayed in the shadow, forming an empire,” wrote Bob Thomas, a Disney biographer. “A brilliant financier and businessman, Roy helped turn Walt Disney’s dreams into reality, building the company that bears his brother’s name.” It was Roy who founded the Buena Vista Distribution Company that made Disney films a central part of American childhood. It was Roy who created the merchandising business that transformed Disney characters into household names. And, like almost every HOW-type, Roy never wanted to be the front man; he preferred to stay in the background and focus on HOW to build his brother’s vision.

Most people in the world are HOW-types. Most people are quite functional in the real world and can do their jobs and do very well. Some may be very successful and even make millions of dollars, but they will never build billion-dollar businesses or change the world. HOW-types don’t need WHY-types to do well. But WHY-guys, for all their vision and imagination, often get the short end of the stick. Without someone inspired by their vision and the knowledge to make it a reality, most WHY-types end up as starving visionaries, people with all the answers but never accomplishing much themselves.

Although so many of them fancy themselves visionaries, in reality most successful entrepreneurs are HOW-types. Ask an entrepreneur what they love about being an entrepreneur and most will tell you they love to build things. That they talk about building is a sure clue that they know HOW to get things done. A business is a structure—systems and processes that need to be assembled. It is the HOW-types who are more adept at building those processes and systems. But most companies, no matter how well built, do not become billion-dollar businesses or change the course of industries. To reach the billion-dollar status, to alter the course of an industry, requires a very special and rare partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW.

In nearly every case of a person or an organization that has gone on to inspire people and do great things, there exists this special partnership between WHY and HOW. Bill Gates, for example, may have been the visionary who imagined a world with a PC on every desk, but Paul Allen built the company. Herb Kelleher was able to personify and preach the cause of freedom, but it was Rollin King who came up with the idea for Southwest Airlines. Steve Jobs was the rebel’s evangelist, but Steve Wozniak is the engineer who made the Apple work. Jobs had the vision, Woz had the goods. It is the partnership of a vision of the future and the talent to get it done that makes an organization great.

This relationship starts to clarify the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement in an organization. The vision is the public statement of the founder’s intent, WHY the company exists. It is literally the vision of a future that does not yet exist. The mission statement is a description of the route, the guiding principles—HOW the company intends to create that future. When both of those things are stated clearly, the WHY-type and the HOW-type are both certain about their roles in the partnership. Both are working together with clarity of purpose and a plan to get there. For it to work, however, it requires more than a set of skills, it requires trust.

As discussed at length in part 3, trusting relationships are invaluable for us to feel safe. Our ability to trust people or organizations allows us to take risks and feel supported in our efforts. And perhaps the most trusting relationship that exists is between the visionary and the builder, the WHY-guy and the HOW-guy. In organizations able to inspire, the best chief executives are WHY- types—people who wake up every day to lead a cause and not just run a company. In these organizations, the best chief financial officers and chief operating officers are high-performing HOW-types, those with the strength of ego to admit they are not visionaries themselves but are inspired by the leader’s vision and know how to build the structure that can bring it to life. The best HOW-types generally do not want to be out front preaching the vision; they prefer to work behind the scenes to build the systems that can make the vision a reality. It takes the combined skill and effort of both for great things to happen.

It’s not an accident that these unions of WHY and HOW so often come from families or old friendships. A shared upbringing and life experience increases the probability of a shared set of values and beliefs. In the case of family or childhood friends, upbringing and common experiences are nearly exactly the same. That’s not to say you can’t find a good partner somewhere else. It’s just that growing up with somebody and having a common life experience increases the likelihood of a shared common worldview.

Walt Disney and Roy Disney were brothers. Bill Gates and Paul Allen went to high school together in Seattle. Herb Kelleher was Rollin King’s divorce attorney and old friend. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy both preached in Birmingham, long before the civil rights movement took form. And Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were best friends in high school. The list goes on.


This is an excerpt from Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why; Part 4, Chapter 8 ‘Start With Why, But Know How’. 

Are you clear on your WHY? Why are you in business and why should consumers trust you? If you need help gaining brand clarity, download our Steps for Brand Clarity + Authenticity guide.

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