Are You on Purpose?

The culture and history of Japan fills me with awe, admiration and enjoyment.

For many years, I’ve collected rare tin robots from the golden age of Science Fiction, and the best of these come from Osaka in Japan. The logo of our marketing business for many years was an origami frog, and when searching for a philosophical foundation for our new business, I found and selected the Japanese philosophy of ikigai; which is considered to be Japan’s secret to a long and healthy life.

As our passion is to help mature entrepreneurs start their first business in their 40’s and beyond and eastern cultures appear to be far more reverent of experience and wisdom than western ones, I find this philosophy also applicable in the search for a decision on what sort of business you should run.

In this article, I examine the four intertwined concepts of ikigai(pronounced ick-ee-guy) and how you can apply them to this choice:

In this diagram of ikigai you see four intersecting circles; what you love, what the world needs, what you are good at, and finally what you can be paid for. At the intersection of each pair we have mission, vocation, profession and passion, and at the centre of all these is the nexus or ikigai, loosely meaning ‘your reason for being’ or as I have translated, purpose.

And so, I ask you four questions, the answers of which will help you decide on a business opportunity for yourself:

What do you love?

Running a business, you’ll have good days and bad days, but if you love what you are doing, you’ll be able to push through challenges to the other side without feeling like you should be doing something else. If there is no inner passion for what you do, it will be all about the money, and this isn’t good for you, your staff or your customers. In Small Business it’s the human element that gives us an advantage over the big competitors – and if there is no heart in our business people will notice.

What does the world need?

I know it may seem like all our needs and wants are catered for in the world today. But if you examine every market closely, and at the local level you intend on operating in, I will make you a bet that you can find a market opening or niche that needs filling. It may be a faster delivered dry-cleaned suit, it may be an organic café, or it may be a plumber who doesn’t leave a mess and turns up on time. Accurately researching your chosen market and your ideal customer will open up opportunities which you can take advantage of. The trouble is, in our surveys of business owners, too few are surveying their market and customer enough to really know these needs well.

What can you be paid for?

I’m sure we all know inherently that to be paid for something we have to deliver value. But working in a job sometimes there is a disconnect between our pay and what we do on a daily basis. In business, you soon find out if your customers value your product or service highly enough; because you’ll start making money and profit. If they don’t you won’t; it’s pretty simple. So, can you get paid enough for what you are going to do to make a profit and an income? I suggest you find this out in your research too.

What are you good at?

Many people who start a business have deep technical skills in something related to the products or services of their business idea. This is good, but if you remain a technical expert at delivering products and services, you’ll get stuck in the day to day grind of your business. In order to be a successful business owner, there are eight skills and systems you need to put in place. It is better to be skilled at being a business owner, than making violins if that is your business. Business owners can get others to make and deliver a product, whilst they focus on scaling their business and working on it. So, make sure you’re a good business owner if you decide to start a business.

Japan is a wondrous and history filled culture. The philosophy of ikigai is a simple intersection of four elements which I believe can contribute to a highly successful life in business if you examine, research and apply them to your right business choice and make sure you know each factor well in relation to that business choice.

Best wishes for starting your new business. Reach out and tell me how you go.

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  • julian Mather

    Big fan of the IKIGAI concept since I learned about it in the Blue Zones project. I loosely use it as the reason you get out of bed in the morning. Great model btw.


      Thanks Julian – it’s a good’un. h

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