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Ikigai- How an Ancient Japanese Concept Can Help Long-Term Hiring

Sometimes you find inspiration in the last place you’d expect. I’m not one to lean heavily on eastern philosophy, but when my research on company culture and values guided me there, I couldn’t help but want to share what I have learned about “ikigai.”

Ikigai is an ancient Japanese concept that translates to “a reason for being.” People in pursuit of their Ikigai must take some time to really think about their true selves to achieve the fulfillment of finding one’s purpose.

If you run a business, especially a startup, then this article is for you! To stand out in today’s competitive market, startup leadership must invest more time and resources in aligning their employees’ purposes with their organizational goals. Ikigai could very well be your answer to obtaining that harmony and ensuring better long-term results from your hiring initiatives.

Not sure how it works? Read on to learn more.

What is Ikigai?

Ikigai (pronounced as “ee-kee-guy”) is a combination of two Japanese words: iki which means life, and gai which is worth or value. Together it refers to the art of finding a concrete purpose in life. This purpose is the reason people find inspiration every day to continue adding value through their actions. It is the burning desire which can make someone start each day with intention and determination.

Ikigai can be visually represented through a simple venn diagram. This diagram involves four intersecting circles representing the following:

  1. things you love to do (a passion)
  2. things you are good at (a skill set)practical goals that address a need in the world (a problem to solve)
  3. a job that makes you money (a vocation).

At the intersection of these four circles is your jam – the Ikigai!

How does Ikigai help long-term hiring?

Can employers boost their long-term hiring success by understanding someone’s deeper purpose in life? It might seem far fetched, but it really isn’t.

Think about it! Most people would love to find true meaning and fulfillment in what they do. Research shows that more and more of the US workforce is driven not just by money, but alignment to an organization’s purpose. It is through their vocations that people seek self-esteem and actualization – the two ‘must-haves’ – according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What can be better than understanding one’s Ikigai to achieve this fulfillment? Imagine what it would convey to a potential employee if you took the time to understand it with them and determine how your company could contribute. You’d be building your company by changing the lives of every person on your team. 

The first step is for companies to find their organizational purpose. Most startups originate with a vision, and then a ton of work is put into understanding and defining culture. These efforts can be found in well-crafted mission and vision statements that can be considered to be a company’s  Ikigai.

What takes a company to the next level is a pragmatic approach to truly understand each individual on their team and provide them with the tools and the environment that helps achieve their personal purpose(s). As a company, this is how you can differentiate yourself in the market and make your company a desired long term home. Every one of your potential new team members comes with expectations from, and about, life. Having their personal purpose empowered on a daily basis by their boss, team and culture may not always be top of mind, but it could blow their mind if and when they find it.

Hiring and retaining quality talent requires a lot of effort in startups (well… anywhere!). Leveraging out-of-the-box but effective concepts like the Ikigai can help you find great new team members and keep them meaningfully engaged for many years.

My ikigai? Oh, I am lucky that Red Circle’s mission – Building Companies by Changing Lives – lets me live at this intersection every day.

Happy Hiring!