Ikigai

Blog | Words Matt Norman | 06 Dec 2022

In this 10-part series, we share 10 different pictures that can help us to make sense of the big complex world of social innovation and systems change

#9: Ikigai

What does it say?

This one isn’t directly social innovation-related, and it’s maybe a bit cliché – but it’s a framework I find myself coming back to over and over again.

The important disclaimer is that the Ikigai in this picture is a (probably poor) translation of a Japanese concept, which I found after it was popularised in a Forbes article by a tech startup founder called Chris. Make of that what you will, but I think there’s still value to be found here.

This translation claims that Ikigai means, roughly, “reason for being”, and the picture suggests that your purpose in life can be found at the intersection of four key areas:

  • What you’re good at – your skills and talents, plus things like resources and networks
  • What you love – the things that bring you energy and get you up in the morning
  • What the world needs – things that help build the kinds of worlds we want
  • What you can be paid for – things that will pay the bills!

How is it being used?

This is a far cry from the kind of careers advice I got while growing up, which focused almost exclusively on what I was good at and what I could be paid for (with fingers crossed that I might enjoy it sometimes too). It wasn’t until a friend won a competition and took me along on a social impact tour of Australia with the The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) that I even realised you could do good in the world as your day job, not just as a hobby or side hustle.

The addition of ‘what the world needs’ as a key consideration for careers thinking feels like a big deal for social innovation. Whenever I’m asked for advice or I’m thinking about what’s next for me, I end up coming back to the Ikigai framework and thinking through each of these circles in turn – then starting to map the connections and trying to find the overlap!

Why is it important?

I’m nearly at the end of a ten-week series of posts about big ideas in social innovation, and while they’re hopefully exciting and inspiring, they can also be overwhelming. When there’s so much to do, where do I start? And do I need to know everything about everything before I get going?

I’m sharing Ikigai as a way to think about your own role in making change. None of us can (or should try to) do all the work that’s needed at once – instead, the goal can be to find the spot where you’re best placed to think, work and learn, and then connect with others in other spots so we can start to line up our unique contributions in the same direction.

I’m still working out what that means for me, but I hope this helps if you’re thinking about the same thing!

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