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Hello Project Manager. What is your Ikigai?

August 29, 2017

What? Ikigai? What’s that?


Ikigai is a Japanese concept for “what is your reason for being?”. It is a powerful concept. The Japanese believe that everyone has a Ikigai. This article applies the concept of Ikigai to explore a key question to the Project Management Community: “What is your reason for being a Project Manager”?


Thinking about this question, reflecting and fine tuning our answers may orient us towards being great Project Managers (The 4% Elite). If nothing, it will hopefully, help us find the internal motivation to wake up in the morning and head to work with optimism, positivity and cheer.


The Ikigai concept


The Ikigai concept states that for living a purposeful life, it is important to maintain a balance between four core concepts of “What we love doing”, “What the world needs”,  “What we can be paid for ” and “What we are good at”. In other words, if we have a passion, a mission, a vocation, and a profession then we have a reason for being. This is illustrated in the simple diagram below;



Passion = What we love doing + What we are good at


Mission = What we love doing + What the world needs


Vocation = What the world needs + What we can be paid for  


Profession = What we can be paid for + What we are good at


Passion + Mission = A sense of delight and fulfilment – but no financial satisfaction


Mission + Vocation = A sense of excitement and complacency – but also uncertainty


Vocation + Profession = Being comfortable – but feeling empty


Profession + Passion = Being Satisfied – but feeling useless


Note: Vocation is the innate ability in an individual towards a particular occupation. Profession is a career one opts for and requires extensive training and skills.


The Ikigai concept applied to Project Management


What should Project Managers aim for in a purposeful life?


A Project Manager’s Ikigai (Passion + Mission + Vocation + Profession) can be characterized thus;


Passion = Managing People + Organizing and directing skill, effort and resources


Mission = Completing Deliverables + Delivering Value to Customers


Vocation = Leading people and Organizing resources + Creating and nurturing networks


Profession = Prioritizing, Planning and Managing (work, time and money) + Seeing risk and resolving issues


Project Managers are essentially being paid to consistently deliver projects on time, within budget, of required quality and to stakeholder satisfaction.


Application to other professions


The Ikigai framework can be applied to any discipline, career or occupation – Sales, Corporate Leader / Executive, Product Manager / Owner, Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Software Developer, Business Analyst, Tester, Architect, Engineer, etc. The concepts of Passion, Mission, Vocation and Profession can be adapted to a specific role / career.


The Ikigai concept can act as a compass for guiding our lives along a purposeful and enriching journey, especially during difficult or trying times requiring course correction or balancing. It is obvious that too much emphasis or focus on one or two of the core concepts of Passion, Mission, Vocation and Profession is likely to cause a weakness in other areas leading to an unfulfilled stage of life.




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