What Is An Ikigai Diagram? The Ikigai Diagram In A Nutshell

Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy combining the terms iki, meaning “life” or “alive”, and gai, meaning “worth” or “benefit”. Together, these terms describe life’s purpose or meaning. In many English-speaking countries, ikigai is defined as a reason to get out of bed in the morning. An ikigai diagram is a powerful framework based on Japanese philosophy for discovering one’s life purpose.

Understanding ikigai 

Ikigai is thought to have evolved from the basic health and wellness principles of traditional Japanese medicine. Specifically, that physical health is connected to mental health and a sense of life purpose. 

Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano argued ikigai is a state of wellbeing derived from devotion to activities one finds fulfilling and enjoyable. Kumano also compared ikigai to eudaimonia – an ancient Greek concept describing lasting happiness from a life well-lived. The philosophy has also found use in modern cognitive-behavioral science, with the pursuit or mastery of enjoyable activities known to alleviate depression.

The four components of an ikigai diagram

The ikigai diagram was created by mentor and speaker Marc Winn who represented the philosophy as a Venn diagram. 

Many practitioners suggest Winn’s diagram is a westernized misinterpretation of the concept. This may be true, but we can still learn some important lessons from it.

As with all Venn diagrams, the ikigai diagram uses overlapping circles to illustrate the relationships between two or more factors.

Let’s take a look at them now:

  1. Circle 1 – that which one loves, or the things we derive the most joy from experiencing. 
  2. Circle 2 – that which the world needs. This may be something a small community needs, or humanity in general. 
  3. Circle 3 – that which one can be paid for. Not all passions or joyful experiences can be monetized.
  4. Circle 4 – that which one is good at, including hobbies, skills, talents, or capabilities.

With that in mind, below is a look at how each circle overlaps:

  1. Where circle 1 and circle 2 overlap, an individual finds their mission.
  2. Where circle 2 and circle 3 overlap, an individual finds their vocation.
  3. Where circle 3 and circle 4 overlap, an individual finds their profession.
  4. Where circle 4 and circle 1 overlap, an individual finds their passion.
  5. Where mission, vocation, profession, and passion overlap in the center of the diagram, one finds their ikigai or life purpose. 

Some key points about ikigai and ikigai diagrams

Here are some things an individual should keep in mind when attempting to discover their life purpose.

Ikigai is not all work and money

Firstly, there is no requirement that ikigai be related to work or money. Many Japanese people pursue their ikigai for as long as their health allows, which may be related to family, a dream, or simply the spiritual belief that life is worth living. 

Removing work from the equation means the third circle should also be removed from the diagram.

Ikigai should never be overwhelming

Society places a lot of pressure on people in the West to find their singular life purpose. What’s more, their purpose must be ground-breaking, extraordinary, and unique. 

In the East, ikigai is more humble. Instead of a single, lofty goal, there is more of an emphasis on process, immersion, mastery, and sharing this excellence with others.

Ikigai can change or evolve over time

Following on from the previous point, one’s life purpose can be tweaked or changed at any point in life. There is no need to blindly adhere to something no longer working.

The Japanese consider ikigai as something that evolves as people evolve. Many may have several life purposes for this very reason and never let the prospect of change hinder the enjoyment of life.

Key takeaways:

  • An ikigai diagram is a powerful framework for discovering one’s life purpose by considering Japanese philosophy.
  • An ikigai diagram is a western misinterpretation of the original Japanese concept. Nevertheless, it remains an important way to help clarify life purpose. This purpose can be found at the intersection of four circles: what one loves, what the world needs, what one can be paid for, and what one is good at.
  • There is no requirement for an ikigai diagram to produce a life purpose dominated by work or money. Practitioners who want to develop an ikigai based on family or spirituality can simply omit the third circle from the diagram.

Other Lean Manufacturing Frameworks

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

Kaizen Approach

Kaizen is a process developed by the auto industry. Its roots are found in the Toyota Production System, which was heavily influenced by Henry Ford’s assembly line system. The word Kaizen is a hybridization of two Japanese words, “kai” meaning “change” and “zen” meaning “good.” Two of the basic tenets of Kaizen involve making small incremental changes – or 1% improvement every day – and the full participation of everyone. 


Poka-yoke is a Japanese quality control technique developed by former Toyota engineer Shigeo Shingo. Translated as “mistake-proofing”, poka-yoke aims to prevent defects in the manufacturing process that are the result of human error. Poka-yoke is a lean manufacturing technique that ensures that the right conditions exist before a step in the process is executed. This makes it a preventative form of quality control since errors are detected and then rectified before they occur.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping uses flowcharts to analyze and then improve on the delivery of products and services. Value stream mapping (VSM) is based on the concept of value streams – which are a series of sequential steps that explain how a product or service is delivered to consumers.

Kanban Framework

Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.

TQM Framework

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.

Main Free Guides:

Scroll to Top