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The Ikigai Canvas

Four circles to help you define your strengths as a Founder

How do you know what you want? How do you know what you’re good at?

Do you know what you want as a founder? Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Where do you start?

While some people want to start a business with a clearly defined idea in mind, others don’t. Maybe you are one of them. You know you want to start a business, or you are tempted to join one as a co-founder, but you are struggling to see what your starting point is. Will you be a good fit to the team? Do you have everything you need to make the journey?

Answering these questions before you start is vital to startup success. Not only for yourself, but also for the rest of the team. Self reflection and knowing what you want and what you bring to the table are very important parts of the equation. It will allow you to have the hard conversations up front. As I wrote in an earlier article, avoiding these hard conversations is what brings many startups and projects down.

There are a lot of tools that you might use to get an answer to these questions. I was introduced to the concept of Ikigai years ago by a friend, and have tried to turn it into a tool you can quickly use to map out for yourself what your unique contribution can be to a startup or project team.

Your journey of discovery

When you visualize the journey ahead of you, from these humble beginnings towards a successful business, it’s important to visualize it as a journey of discovery.

Think of it as being an explorer, going into uncharted territory. You’re going to setup an expedition, and venture smack into the white space on the map, going boldly where no-one gone before.

First off, you’ll need a good reason to even think about undertaking such a dangerous journey. You’ll need to sustain difficulties and hard times, and not doing something that is a good fit to who you are will make that very difficult, if not impossible.

You’ll also need people that have the skills and character traits to balance out what you don’t bring to the table yourself. The sooner you understand that, the better.

In both cases, Ikigai can be a lens to use introspectively. It may not give you the answers, but it will at least structure the questions, and make ti possible to discuss them and dive deeper.

The Ikigai Canvas

“Ikigai” is Japanese for “a reason for being”, which can be loosely translated as “purpose”.

The Ikigai Canvas on WRKSHP.tools (Download)

Canvas Building Blocks
The Ikigai Canvas has four overlapping circles that together create 9 sections:

  1. What you’re good at — What are you good at? What are skills and talents you have? What do you have experience doing?
  2. What the world needs — What are things the world (or people in it) need? What are the problems that need solving?
  3. What you love — What do you love to do or experience? What are the things that make you happy?
  4. What you can be paid for — What are the things you can make money with? Things you can do or create that you can get paid for?
  5. Your Passion -Things that you are good at and love to do are probably things you are passionate about.
  6. Your mission — Things you love to do that are also what the world needs are things you could see as your mission.
  7. Your Profession — Things that you are good at and can get paid for are candidates for your profession.
  8. Your Vocation — Things you can be paid for that are also what the world needs are your vocation.
  9. Your Ikigai — Your ikigai is what is your personal intersection of what you are good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you love to do.

How to use the Ikigai Canvas

The Ikigai exercise can help you to define your personal perspective, by asking yourself four key questions .

The questions to answer are: ‘what do you love?’, ‘what are you good at?’, ‘what can you be paid for?’, and ‘what does the world need?’.

By answering them and mapping the results in the Ikigai canvas, you see if there are any entries that are closer to the center of the diagram.

If there are things you love and are good at, for instance, they end up in the part of the diagram where those two circles overlap. Try to find out if there is anything that you came up with that is the answer to all four questions.

If you get stuck doing this, simply go over all the different things you have done in your life, plus things you’d love to do, and see where they end up in the circle. Find inspiration in what other people in the world are doing.

Step 1. Collect
Sit down, and for each of the four outer quadrants, come up with 3–5 items. If you get stuck, ask yourself: what would somebody else answer about me? Or, simply ask someone that knows you well. Stick these on your canvas.

Step 2. Connect
Try to see if there are any items you already put down that can be placed on the overlap of any of the circles.

Then, go over the overlapping circles that are still empty and try to see if you can combine items that you already have to fill them. Of course, if you come up with new items that is also fine, just make sure that they are really what you feel and are comfortable with.

Step 3. Ikigai
Try to connect items further until you have something that can be placed in the center. Perhaps you didn’t find it yet, if so, go back to step 1 and try to talk to close friends and relatives about what they think you are good at, can make money with, etc.

Step 4. Check
Check your Ikigai, first with yourself. Is this really something that feels right for all four aspects? Is there nothing else that could take its place? If you aren’t completely sure, come back to it a few days later and repeat the exercise.

Then, check it with close friends and colleagues. Do they agree?

Step 5. Next steps
Keep revisiting your Ikigai.

If you like tools like this one, sign up for the WRKSHP Weekly Tool newsletter and get a new tool in your inbox every week.

Keep experimenting!




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Erik van der Pluijm

Erik van der Pluijm

Designing the Future | Entrepreneur, venture builder, visual thinker, AI, multidisciplinary explorer. Designer / co-author of Design A Better Business

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