Ikigai: The Japanese concept for Meaning in Life applied to work

- Worker Happiness

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Hello, I am Kumiko Sugiyama, a Management 3.0 Facilitator from Japan. The Management 3.0 “Meaning and Purpose” module explains in one of its slides the IKIGAI concept. I wonder how many of you have heard about this concept which originates from Japan.

In this article I am going to cover the following:

What is IKIGAI?

IKIGAI is originally a Japanese word and means “Meaning in Life”. In the West a framework has been developed which consists of four components, four rings which are overlapping: 

“What you love” 

“What you are good at”

“What the world needs” and 

“What you can be paid for”. 

Ikigai: Meaning in Life
IKIGAI means “Meaning in Life”

The overlapping center is your IKIGAI.

What does IKIGAI mean for Japanese people?

First of all, I would like to let you know that IKIGAI is something very personal for Japanese people. It is not something we share with others on a daily basis, and we do not directly ask someone, “What is your IKIGAI?”. It is very precious and represents a person’s way of life.

I highly recommend The Little Book of IKIGAI: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life. It is written by Japanese psychologist Kenichiro Mogi. This book has been translated into 28 languages. It will give you an insight into the Japanese mind and way of life. (I think it will help you to understand and relate to Japanese people.)

How Engagement Affects People: IKIGAI at Work

NuWorks, where I work, has been offering Management 3.0  to Japanese companies since it was established in 2016. Stefan Nüsperling is the first Management 3.0 facilitator in Japan. Yasuyuki Kashima has worked on Agile DX in Switzerland. The three of us are Management 3.0 Facilitators.

It is said that worker engagement is quite low in Japan. However, I have met many people at online events and workshops who said they like and enjoy their work. Such comments always give me a great sense of hope and energy. I am blessed to meet such wonderful people with a Management 3.0 mindset.

The other day, my family and I went to a PC store and I met a highly engaged salesperson. I could feel his pride in his work and his confidence in the company’s products. His eagerness to share that with us customers was very strong. I realized that he was exactly what we mean by an engaged employee. He didn’t come across as a strong product advocate, but rather as someone who had understanding and empathy for our family. I could tell that he genuinely liked the company and that he took pride in his work. I was very moved to realize once again that engagement is trust, enthusiasm and passion in the company you are working for.

Start from your Engagement

To create a highly engaged worker, it is crucial to understand one’s reason for being and one’s meaning in life. An organization is a collection of individuals with different values and beliefs. But despite these diverse mindsets, you can expect high engagement if people share the organization’s vision and mission together. During our Management 3.0 workshops, we always carefully explain employee engagement.

  • How do you want to be? 
  • What are we there for? 
  • What kind of role is the individual playing in the organization?

When an individual’s IKIGAI overlaps with the company’s vision and values, there is a synergistic effect for both parties.

A few years ago, Stefan offered Management 3.0 in an in-house workshop to create a vision for the company’s purpose. He used the IKIGAI card game which is described later in this article.

Our Management 3.0 and IKIGAI card game workshops explore the individual IKIGAI. The exercises Personal Map, Big Values List, and Moving Motivators are included to help the participants to explore IKIGAI from multiple perspectives. Our business partner, Ikigai® Coaching Institute developed the card game and I designed this unique workshop with original worksheets.

The synergy of Management 3.0 and IKIGAI are strong, so it became a very powerful workshop format with a very positive feedback from the participants.

Here you can see my current personal map (in Japanese). “Family”, “What I like” and “Teaching Japanese” as well as my “Work” are very important to me.

Personal Map with IKIGAI
Kumiko’s Personal Map with IKIGAI

As a closing exercise we are also using the Online Improv Cards.

Want to know how to redefine purpose with Ikigai? Read this article on working in co-creation session to reach that goal

What is the Purpose of Work?

We are on a journey to find the answer to this question. In today’s VUCA world, it is very important to focus on our inner selves. By doing so, we can become highly engaged people and the company will be energized by that. We are human beings with feelings and there are certain things which only I can do.

“Who are we and what do we want to accomplish?” is maybe a good start to face your inner self.

It is also very exciting to think about “What you love” and “What you are good at”. By finding the answers to these questions, you can increase your impact on the world.

Our journey continues and we hope to see more people benefiting from the Japanese concept of IKIGAI.


Photo by Content Pixie (via Pexels)

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