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Simon Sinek Is a Selfish Jerk

Updated: Feb 9

Full disclosure (although you probably got this from the title of this article): I am not a member of the Simon Sinek Fan Club. I think he's a bit too slick, and I find the material he presents to be either overproduced smug delivery of common sense concepts or just plain self-serving rah-rah speech.

What sent me over the edge was his "5 Rules to Follow as You Find Your Spark" video. A co-worker suggested I watch it for one of the stories he tells (and again, full disclosure: That particular story called out to me was the only thing I agreed with in the entire video), but the first point Simon made actually got me angry about how wrong he was and how his actions completely contradicted his lesson.

"You can't get in the way of someone else getting what they want."


The story goes: Simon and a friend ran in a New York Roadrunners Association event one weekend, and after the event, they came upon the table where the runners get free stuff; that week's free stuff was bagels. His friend said he didn't want to wait in the long line of people who were waiting for their bagel, but Simon wanted that free bagel. So, Simon cut between two people at the front of the line, plucked a pair of bagels out of the boxes on the table and went on his merry way.


My first (minor) issue here is that Simon claimed no one got mad at him. Buddy, I was born in New York to 2 native New Yorkers, I grew up in the Northeast, and I don't believe for one hot second that no one got mad at you for "leaning in" and casually cutting the line. New Yorkers are honest people who believe in the social norms of waiting in lines, and they will call you out if you disrupt things and act like a selfish jerk by cutting the line.


My main disagreement is that Simon's only take on the situation was that there are 2 kinds of people in the world: people who see the thing they want, and people who see the thing that prevents them from getting the thing they want. I disagree. This is not a binary issue.


Time and effort are the currency by which we make all of our decisions.


With almost every situation we face as humans in modern society, our decisions are based on ROI and cost-benefit analysis. It's definitely not: Do I want a free bagel? vs. Is this line standing the way of me getting a free bagel? The decision is: Is this free bagel worth my time waiting in line to get it? There could be dozens of factors that go into that cost-benefit analysis, such as what kind of bagels are they, how long do I think it'll take to get one, are they good bagels from a real New York bagel bakery or are they lousy mass-produced bagels from some chain place, will I be late doing everything I want to accomplish today if I wait, and so on. It's like that for any decision we make, whether it's as big as changing careers or going back to school or as small as waiting in a line for something.


The point is time and effort are the currency by which we make all of our decisions. It's not a one-or-the-other matter of whether you only see the shiny object and go after it or you only see the obstacle standing in the way of that shiny object. It's possible to see both, size up the situation and then make a decision based on whether it's worth it for you to expend the time and effort to get around that obstacle so you score the shiny object. A lot of times, it might be worth the time and effort, and the payoff might even be better than you anticipated. Other times, they might only have day-old cinnamon raisin bagels to give away, and you judge your time better spent doing something else than waiting for leftovers.


It's just common sense and doing what's right for you.


And Simon? He's a hypocrite. His entire story boiled down to the lesson that (and this is a direct quote) "you don't have to wait in line, you can break the rules, you just can't get in the way of someone else getting what they want." But I wonder whether Simon breaking the rules by cutting the line and getting his bagels meant that someone else at the end of the line didn't get their bagel because they ran out before the line-waiter got to the front.


Yes, Simon was right about advising people to go after the things they want. It's better to have tried and failed than wonder for the rest of your life what could have been. But not at the expense of others and not at the expense of everything. At the end of the day, it's just common sense and doing what's right for you, not what's right for Simon Sinek.

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