One of the fabulous things about the internet and AI is it allows us to explore and adopt the ideas and philosophies of other cultures with an unprecedented ease.  I believe that this blending of ideas gives us access to new ideas and promotes understanding of the human condition that transcends language and geography.  An idea that was recently presented to me by a colleague is Ikigai.


Ikigai is a Japanese concept that combines the words “iki” to live and “gai” reason.  In other words purpose.  In the past I have found discussions of purpose to be vague and a bit new age.  Yet finding your purpose is the key to a satisfying life.  Live your purpose…have a dream…find your passion.  All of these are important but without a map the terms seem ephemeral and trite.  Ikigai provides a visual roadmap that allows communication of the concepts and a tangible tool for people who are unsure where to begin.


Ikigai is represented by four intersecting concepts ideas or categories.  The categories are:


  • What you love,
  • What the world needs
  • What you can be paid for
  • What you are good at


In the Ikigai visual representation each of the concepts is represented by a circle with the intersections of these four concepts represented as overlapping circles.  When we are in perfect balance (center of the diagram where all of the circles intersect) we have achieved ikigai.

Sounds easy enough, however the circumstances of our lives and our economies, technology, politics local and geopolitical are constantly changing so staying centered requires constant adjustment.


So what does this have to do with business you may ask.  My business partner has a saying that he uses with our clients all the time: Your business is meant to serve you, not be your master!  A business that is serving the owner is more fun to run. If your intention is to sell your business to a third party when you no longer want (or are able) to operate it yourself, a business that is serving your life is far more valuable and saleable.


As a business owner and an individual, I encourage you to really consider the implications of the graphic above.  What I love about this graphic is that it lays out a clear path for what is next in your business.


Are you doing well financially and have passion for your daily work, but you would like to have greater impact in your community or the world at large.  Perhaps it is time to find a way to meet a need in your community or in the world.  It could be something that you do corporately such as an apprenticeship or training program, or donation of product.  It could be personal such as volunteering for or supporting a good cause.  If you are a business owner and you want to volunteer but don’t feel you are able to break away, you may want to consider whether or not it is time to hire.  Business is meant to support your life, not be your whole life.


Perhaps you are financially comfortable but feel unfulfilled or bored.  Consider adding something that you are passionate about.  This means finding a way to incorporate things that you love on a regular basis.  As a business owner I call this the candy and for me it is that application of technology in our business.  I love to learn new technologies and find ways for them to make us more effective and efficient which leaves me more time for the other part of our business that I love, personal connection and education.  It may be something different for you, but life should be sweet.  Make sure that you are spending at least some of your professional time feeding your soul.


I have met many business owners who feel fulfilled but are financially stressed.  If this is you need to make sure that you are monetizing your professional activities.  This is especially important if you are in the business of selling your expertise.  I have worked with business owners in all kinds of businesses who make the error of failing to raise prices, failing to adjust to economic changes and end up on the brink of financial failure.   Heck, I have been there myself.  To reach ikigai you have to be willing to find people who are willing to PAY for the value that you provide.  If you don’t, not only will your business fail to serve you as an individual, but it could also cease to exist, taking jobs away from your employees, services away from your community.  Financial stress leads to anxiety, depression, physical illness and damage to relationships.  You cannot feel guilty about creating financial stability for your business or yourself.  For goodness sake, get paid!


Did you feel excited about your business at first but now you are struggling to stay motivated?  Perhaps you are not making the highest and best use of your talents.  In his book the E-Myth, Michael Gerber makes the assertion that many small businesses are started by crafts people who are skilled at and love their trade.  These individuals frequently feel that they could do a better job running a business than their boss or that the world needs their particular expertise.  He uses the example of a young woman who is great a making pie.  Her friends encourage her to start a pie shop, which she does with a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm.  As the business grows her time is spent on HR, Accounting, Purchasing, Customer Complaints…and suddenly she is no longer working in the area of her greatest strength and passion.  If this sounds familiar.  It may be time to hire so that you are working in an area of strength.  If you don’t have enough financial strength to hire…see the last paragraph.


In concept creating balance and achieving ikigai is simple but I am not implying it will be easy and when you throw in environmental and economic factors such as COVID, inflation, rising interest rates, flakey poorly equipped employees it may seem impossible.  But I encourage you to have another look at the diagram.  If you need help identifying or implementing changes, find a coach.  There are free resources such as SBDC (Small Business Development Corporation) or you can find a coach who will help you identify and execute the changes that will move you in the right direction.