Simon Sinek’s Start With Why TEDx talk is the most watched TED talk of all time.

Leaders and organizations around the world tell us it’s been both useful and perplexing: some know exactly what their purpose is; others aren’t so clear and feel they should be. Since the talk went viral, we’ve included it in work with thousands of leaders as we support them and their teams to articulate and align behind a central mission or their Why.

The client engagement outlined in this case study helped us see that there are numerous ways leaders and organizations derive and express their Why. We call this unique framework Streams of Purpose™.

Do we have a Purpose? How do we find it?

I was excited when a young, successful digital agency in Zürich asked how to discover and articulate their purpose. After a few years in business, the 4-man millennial leadership team was questioning everything: the kind of work they do, the clients they take on, their raison d’être. One of its founders contacted me saying they were “re-organizing and re-positioning the company” and “looking for its purpose.”

When we met, they shared that they wanted:

  • to go from project shop to long-term partners using technology to solve significant strategic client challenges,
  • to articulate the next phase of their company,
  • to work with clients who share and reflect their values, and
  • an outside, neutral “committed listener” to facilitate these conversations.

It became clear immediately we were not having a conversation about Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, Why –> How –> What model. They were familiar with it, spent significant time thinking it through, and were stuck. They didn’t have one giant, altruistic goal, the elusive Why. They thought they should be able to say it in a phrase or sentence by now. They wanted to do more meaningful work that contributed to the greater good. It was causing them stress.

They wanted both to be able to say, “We use technology to X” and keep the company running with projects and clients devoted to that single statement. So far combining purpose and revenue wasn’t working. They had automotive clients, luxury goods clients, public sector clients, and more. How to combine them all in one vision? Should they only take one type of client? Were their products and services serving the greater good? How would they benchmark or measure that?

In our first face-to-face meeting, before we’d even signed an agreement to work together, we met at the Impact Hub Zürich. All five of us sat at a round table on the patio in the sun. They talked fast, taking turns; my head whipped left at one of them then right as another one of them spoke. They clearly felt the situation was more problem than opportunity; they’d been trying to figure this out for a while.

To ease their angst, I suggested:

“Let’s look at your streams of revenue & your streams of purpose to see if they’re in balance…”

Before I finished the thought one of them exclaimed, “Streams of Purpose?! Yes! We never thought about multiple Streams of Purpose!”

“Isn’t it strange that we plan for multiple streams of revenue and not multiple streams of purpose?” I asked.  “In the beginning, some work may provide more revenue and less purpose, other work will be more meaningful and less lucrative. You want them to balance out and give you clarity and a platform for the kind of work you want to do long term.”

They moved from problem to action fast,

“How do other founders do this?” they asked. “Do you have examples?” With that, the agenda for our next meeting was set.

Opening Dialogue

In our first facilitated working session, I brought 5 examples of people and organizations (most involving tech so it would be easy for them to envision) with different models for managing streams of both revenue and purpose. (The model has since evolved to include a 6th example.) See this post for more on those examples and Streams of Purpose™.

With the Züricher millennial team, the process for our discussion went:

  • I introduced them to examples I knew of or had worked with personally (not using abstract examples, so that I could answer questions they might have).
  • The examples fell on a continuum from one clear, internal, overarching purpose (far left) to purpose through external community or platform (far right).  Seeing the continuum provided the sense that what had felt terribly complex (finding that single overarching purpose) might actually be the simplest Stream of Purpose. We discussed the differences between the ways of positioning Purpose, what appealed to them immediately, what they were each individually drawn to.
  • It was also clear that there was not one right spot on the continuum or one right way to do this. Three of the approaches might resonate strongly and the questions was how they wanted to strategically construct their Purpose Model and Streams of Purpose just as they had their Business Model and Streams of Revenue.
  • Then each member of the team separately, without speaking, identified two things: Where they thought their Streams of Purpose currently flowed and where they’d like them to originate in the future.
  • They silently marked those spots on the continuum. When they were finished, they simultaneously showed each other what they’d done.


Two streams of purpose and a stressor were immediately clear:

The team thought they should have one clear purpose, but they actually gravitated toward being role models for a way of leading and working, and they found both the deferred and pillared approaches most applicable to their own situation. They also removed the pressure to articulate one overarching or all-encompassing purpose. They each marked spots in between (without being given “in between” as an option) those two examples (Deferred & Pillared), and also had extremely similar ideas about why they’d marked there and how they’d like to move forward.

The activity provided a new way of approaching what had created a stalemate in the leadership team. It showed that they agreed much more than they differed. They were able to clearly see a path forward through a dilemma that had slowed their momentum and dampened their morale.

For the Future & For You

At APOGEO Group, we feel fortunate we’ve landed on a clear purpose; it was years in the making: We support global leaders to serve the greater good. We amplify, spark, and spread leaders’ work through radically custom learning & leadership programming. We partner to actually do some of the communication work associated with leadership to ease your heavy load.

We employ a variety of tools and frameworks to help leaders and organizations clarify their Streams of Purpose™, align across whole organizations, and move forward together to serve the greater good.

What are your Streams of Purpose™? We’re committed to helping you find out.