In The Little Book of Ikigai, neuroscientist, Ken Mogi approaches Ikigai from the perspective of small and simple daily steps that you can integrate to live a more purposeful and happy life. He shares case studies of artisans, sushi chefs and shinkansen (Bullet Train) cleaners working with purpose.
He outlines 5 pillars of Ikigai that are foundational rituals and daily practices:
Pillar 1: Starting small
Pillar 2: Releasing yourself
Pillar 3: Harmony and sustainability
Pillar 4: The joy of little things
Pillar 5: Being in the here and now
Pillar 1: Starting Small
This is such a powerful and freeing idea when approaching Ikigai. Sometimes the hunt for purpose can be overwhelming. A Herculean task that requires strength, resources and boundless energy. The concept of starting small allows you to just try a small step, a tiny pivot. It aligns beautifully with concepts from design thinking: quick iterative prototyping and learning from experiments. We can think about the MVP, Minimum Viable Product, for the situation we are in and “ship” that. We don’t need to wait for the all-singing, all-dancing, bells and whistles version. We can try it on for size. See what works and what does not. Then we can iterate and improve.
By starting small, we are taking action but in a manageable and sustainable way. You are not running a marathon, you are starting day one of the couch to 5K! You are not banishing sugar from your diet, just buying and choosing a different afternoon snack. Starting small allows you to replicate the outcome or experience more easily and then ladder up as you learn what works for you and your lifestyle.
Starting small reduces the barrier to entry. From a Japanese corporate culture context it is a helpful approach as it reduces the perception of risk. Perceived risk is a powerful way to keep you stuck. How about trying a small pilot with a few people to learn and get feedback? Instead of investing hundreds of dollars in the perfect website, you can bootstrap a facebook page to gauge interest. Instead of creating multiple SKUs, just try one and see what happens.
Starting small allows you to be more playful. You can be freer in your execution as there is less skin in the game. Reducing your expectation of outcomes allows you to take action more quickly and move forward.
For example, when I was thinking about transitioning back into L&D, it had been 7 years since I led a group training session. I started small by leading a free Lean In Circle for women in managerial roles in Japan. There was a cap on number and the content was freely available at leanin.org. so my role was purely facilitation and marketing. I ran the group consistently for 12 months whilst working my day job as a Marketing Manager. When I started the group I did not know that I wanted to pivot into L&D but I felt a strong call to do the work for women’s empowerment for the community and also for myself as it was what I needed as I was returning to work after 16 months of maternity leave.
In another example of “starting small”: I approached a different audience with a different topic. I began running in-house sessions about online personal branding for the sales people in my recruitment company. It was aligned to my work as Marketing Manager and useful for the business. I got feedback on my facilitation style and developed the content and my confidence. Then I raised the stakes, but still playing it safe, by delivering the session to 30 professionals as part of FEW Japan’s Career Strategies Seminar. It was an event I had attended as a participant in the past so I knew that it would be a kind crowd!
When I transitioned out of my corporate job, I started small by working with training partners and delivering their content. I was not involved in the sales and just focused on delivery. 5 years in, most of my corporate revenue comes from working directly with clients which fulfills my Ikigai by allowing me to create new custom programs.
Starting small gives you space to experiment and reduces the barrier to entry. Starting small allows you to integrate Ikigai actions fast!