As promised on my last update, I'll be sharing an excerpt each week from each of the 12 chapters of Uplifting Design. I'm excited to close out 2023 and open up 2024 with a spirit of sharing, and invite you to respond by sharing any thoughts and provocations that come! This first excerpt is from Chapter 1, which is all about personal values. The first three chapters of the book actually are all about values, as I believe they are the foundation for great design. The excerpt tells the story of how my son Max introduced me to ikigai, and it changed how I think about work and life. Happy reading!
A few years ago I was having a chat with my son Max. He was about to start university, and decided to study documentary photography and photo journalism. He was particularly fascinated with analog photography and film development. I cheekily said, “You know there’s this thing called digital photography that’s changed everything in that field.” Max smiled and said, “I know Dad, but it’s not in my ikigai.” “Your iki-what?” I said.
My son, Max Makoski, as he was starting his studies in documentary photography.
Uplifting Design Tool #1: Ikigai
Max then explained to me the Japanese philosophy of happiness called ikigai. The word comes from "iki," meaning life, and "gai," meaning value or worth. It represents the pursuit of a fulfilling and meaningful life, where one finds a deep sense of purpose, joy, and satisfaction.
The four components of ikigai are:
• Love: This is what you love to do, the activities that bring you joy and enthusiasm.
• Good: This relates to your skills, talents, and what you are good at, the activities that you excel in.
• Need: This refers to what the world needs or the cause you are passionate about, the things that you believe are worth contributing to or making a difference in.
• Paid: This is what you can be paid for, the career or job that provides you with financial stability and resources.
The ikigai model.
These were the four questions you just explored at the start of this chapter, and the highlighted “ingredients” from each area can be combined to ensure you are working and living at your best. For example, the intersection of what you are good at and what you can get paid doing is usually your profession. The intersection of what you love and what the world needs is described as your mission. If we don’t have jobs that combine all four areas, we end up living a split existence: 9-5 for a profession, and 5-9 and weekends for our mission.
When all four of these aspects align harmoniously, individuals can experience a deep sense of fulfillment, happiness, and contentment in both their personal and professional lives. Ikigai encourages people to identify and follow their true passions while making positive contributions to society, leading to a more purposeful and satisfying existence. And while this is essential for anyone, it is particularly meaningful for designers whose vocation is focused on elevating the lives of the people they serve.
Ever since Max introduced me to ikigai, I’ve used it as a tool to navigate my own career choices, mentor my leadership teams, and help my loved ones as they rethink their career paths. For example, my move to Lloyds Banking Group in 2018 strengthened the mission aspect of my ikigai. At Walmart, my areas of love, good and paid were strong, but need was much weaker. I felt that helping shoppers make better purchasing decisions wasn’t exactly the world’s most pressing problem. Ironically, working for a bank increased my ikigai, because helping people connect to money in simple and understandable ways is actually an unsolved design problem and is critically important to society.
Another example was when I was working with a friend who was thinking of how to change careers. She had been a professional dancer and now wanted to pursue family therapy. As we looked at each of her ikigai elements and started exploring how different combinations of her ingredients might work, the concept of Life Choreographer emerged. The idea of artfully orchestrating behaviors and mindsets in her clients’ lives was perfectly aligned to her skills in choreography. This thinking and title unlocked a new confidence and enthusiasm in what might have otherwise felt like starting a new career late in the game.
And this very book is the result of my most recent ikigai meditation, and is helping me imagine a future as a strategic advisor to several CEOs and their boards, and one day becoming a CEO who can have a transforming impact in the world of business by using my design training for good.