By Lauchlan Mackinnon, August 29th 2019.

A Bit of Background …

In my last post, Rethinking Ikigai: How To Find Work You Love And Make A Difference, I took a deep dive into examining a common vocational planning tool – the Ikigai diagram.

I pointed out that the Ikigai model was created by taking a previously existing vocational planning model, and simply changing the name of the outcome – the ideal career or business niche you are seeking – to “Ikigai.”

In this post, I want to take up one more problem with the Ikigai model (and with common vocational planning models in general) and solve it.

The outstanding problem is this:

The Ikigai diagram – or its equivalents – look nice, but they aren’t very clear about what you need to do in practice.

They don’t show you the way.

They don’t neatly translate into a step by step framework for finding your vocation – your ideal career or ideal business niche you are looking for.

But the Vocation Diagram – my alternative to the Ikigai diagram – does.

It provides an easy-to-follow process.

That’s what this post will give you.

First, we’ll recap the Ikigai diagram and the alternative model I developed – the Vocation Diagram.

Then, I’ll show you how the Vocation diagram leads directly to a step by step process for finding your vocation – what to do in practice.

The Ikigai Diagram

You have likely seen the Ikigai diagram before.

If you haven’t, here it is:

Ikigai Diagram

(Source: Toronto Star)

The Ikigai diagram was created by Marc Winn in 2014, by taking the Purpose diagram (below) and replacing the word “Purpose” with “Ikigai.”

I have three issues with the Ikigai diagram.

First, Ikigai is a Japanese word, that is about life in general, not work. It means something like a cross between the French concepts of raison d’etre and joi de vivre. It is not a vocation.

The Japanese word similar to the western concept of finding purpose at work is a different word – Yarigai.

Second, the centre of a Venn diagram, is by definition, what’s at the intersection of all of the circles. You can call what’s at the centre of the diagram a Taco, a Frog, a Unicorn, or an Invoice, but it still is what it is – it is defined by what’s at the intersection of the circles.

So, changing the name of the centre of the Venn diagram from Purpose to Ikigai makes no difference at all to the logic of the model. The intersection of the circles still is what it is, and in this case the “what it is” is a vocation – an ideal career or ideal business niche.

The central intersection is not Ikigai, because as we noted, Ikigai is not a vocational concept – Ikigai is a broader concept about life.

Third, on its own merits, the Purpose model – whether we call the the central intersection Purpose, Ikigai, or Vocation – is not ideal.

For example “Passion” isn’t really at the intersection of “That which you love” and “That which you are good at.” Passion is really just another aspect of “That which you love.”

Similarly, “Vocation” is shown as the intersection of “That which the world needs” and “That which you can be paid for.” But if you don’t love it and you aren’t any good at it, then it’s not a great vocation! Vocation properly belongs at the centre of the diagram and Ikigai – if we include it in the diagram – fits in as another aspect of “That which you love.”

For these reasons and more, I created an alternative to the Ikigai diagram – the Vocation Model.

The Vocation Model

A vocation used to mean, in the Catholic Church, a calling to serve God and do God’s work.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther expanded this to say that anyone, doing their work in whatever station of life (with a few exceptions that were unacceptable to the Church, such as prostitutes) were doing God’s work.

John Calvin expanded this reformation of the concept of vocation further, to say that anyone using their unique individual gifts to do meaningful work or other activities was fulfilling God’s plan for them and living their vocation.

In 1909, Frank Parson’s introduced the concept of vocational planning, with the premise that people should assess their gifts and match their talents to work opportunities.

Vocational Guidance – career and business planning and reinvention – then developed as a field over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The upshot is that a vocation lies at the intersection of a calling, your livelihood, and your unique gifts and strengths:

Vocation - where your calling meets a livelihood

The Vocation Model builds on this conception of a vocation.

The model is shown below:

Vocation Model

The four circles in the Vocation Model Venn diagram are:

  • What you are good at
  • What you love
  • What makes a difference in the world
  • What you can be paid for (is valued by others)

With the exception of “What makes a difference in the world,” these circles are just the same as in the Purpose and Ikigai diagrams.

I changed “What the world needs” to “What makes a difference in the world” because the original formulation of “what the world needs” was ambiguous.

“What the world needs” could mean, for example:

  1. What people need in terms of what they want to buy
  2. What the times call for – the zeitgeist (for example, the modern times might call for addressing climate change and saving the planet, and refreshing our political governance models, as well as creating opportunities around technology innovations such as biotechnology and automation)
  3. What makes a difference and impact in the world.

The first of these is covered off already by “What you can be paid for.”

The second makes some sense to the extent that it relates to business opportunities – Steve Jobs for example made his fortune by riding the waves of computer technology, digital animation , and consumer electronic devices – but if it is a real business opportunity, this one also fits into “What you can be paid for.” If it doesn’t fit into “What you can be paid for,” it fits into “What makes a difference in the world.”

So, I changed the name of that circle to “What makes a difference in the world.”

Also, I should clarify: the “What you can be paid for” circle should not be understood as being limited only to commercial opportunities, such as careers or businesses.

It could also be understood in the context of philanthropic or not-for-profit activities.

In these contexts, “What you can be paid for” means either “what you can be funded for” or “what you are prepared to pay for.”

The intersection between any two adjacent circles in the diagram defines something that is worth knowing and developing, namely (respectively):

  • Your Expression – the work you can do and would love to do. This is your “zone of genius” and full expression.
  • How you can be of Service to make a difference in the world
  • The Value you can create and deliver
  • How to Align making a difference with getting paid.

The next level of the diagram is the inner intersections:

  • Potential
  • Impact
  • Transformation
  • Excellence

Your Potential lies at the intersection of your expression and your service. Alternatively, and meaning exactly the same thing, your Potential is found at the intersection of What you are good at, What you love, and What makes a difference in the world.

It is a higher level concept than your Expression or Your Service. It is what you are capable of, the difference you are capable of making.

And if you combine your Potential to make a difference with a way to get paid for it (What you can be paid for), you have a Vocation.

Your Excellence is at the intersection of Expression and Value (or, alternatively, What you can be paid for, What you are good at, and What you love).

Your Excellence is your zone of mastery – it’s where you can reach your greatness, both in terms of expression of your talent and in terms of adding value commercially for other people. It’s work you do well, and love doing.

But if your Excellence was applied to doing something of no social value, or negative social value – something you didn’t believe in or something against your values – it wouldn’t be a vocation. If we now add in “What makes a difference in the world” – reflecting your values and beliefs about what’s important and what matters – now you have a Vocation.

Your Transformation is at the intersection of your commercial Value and Your Alignment to making a difference in the world (or, equivalently, at the intersection of What you are good at, What you can be paid for, and What makes a difference in the world).

If you are delivering commercial value you are delivering value and making a difference for someone.

If you align this with making a bigger difference in the world and doing something that is meaningful and matters in a wider sense, you are creating social impact as well as commercial value. The union of this commercial impact with making a difference in the world is what I am calling your Impact.

But you can have impact – be great at something, add commercial value and get paid for it, and make a difference in the world – without loving what you are doing. If you hate that work, it’s not your vocation. So, to find your Vocation, combine your Impact with the What you love circle.

Your Impact is at the intersection of your Service and your Alignment. It represents the intersection of what you can be paid for (your commercial value), What makes a difference (reflecting your wider contribution and elements of your mission and purpose), and What you love (reflecting what you would like to see grown and developed, in your work and in the world).

Recall that the “What you can be paid for” circle is also understood to mean “what you can be funded for” (for a non-profit) or “what you are willing to pay for” (for a philanthropy).

So the Impact is really about where you want to make a difference, that is aligned with a viable business model for doing it. So, if you combine a Mission with your strengths and capabilities – “What you are good at” – you have a Vocation.

At the intersection of any of the following:

  • The four circles in the diagram (What you love, What you are good at, What you can be paid for, and What makes a difference in the world)
  • The four outer intersections in the diagram (Expression, Service, Alignment, Value)
  • The four inner circles in the diagram (Potential, Vision, Impact, and Excellence)

you find your Vocation.

So that brings us up to speed with what we covered in the Rethinking Ikigai article.

The question now is: How to use the Vocation Model in practice, to find a vocation?

How To Use The Vocation Model As Part Of A Vocational Planning Process

There is no one “right” way to use the model

There is no one “right” way to use the Vocation Model.

It depends on what you want to achieve.

  • If you have a market-driven  opportunity, you might start with “What you can be paid for.”
  • If you are wanting to find a career or start a business you love, you might start with “What you love” or “What you are great at.”
  • If you are starting a business that succeeds, you might start with “What you are good at.”

Also, people’s working styles are different.

Some people like to work through things sequentially.

Others like to be a bit more intuitive, and jump around to work on the bits they need to work on in the order that makes sense to them.

Since some people do like to follow a structured process though, I am recommending a standard pathway through the model, that gives a step-by-step process to follow.

There is a recommended step-by-step pathway

If you want to follow a step-by-stop process for using the Vocation Model, here it is.

The approach is to:

  • Work your way in, from the outside to the inside
  • Follow an appropriate order at each level.

1. Work on the four circles:

This approach starts with the four circles, in a specific order:

Vocation Model  sequence - outer

  1. What you are good at
  2. What you love
  3. What makes a difference in the world
  4. What you can be paid for

You can (of course) do the steps in any other order, if that suits you better.

2. Work on the  outer intersections

The next step is to work on the outer intersections:

Vocation Model  sequence - inner

The suggested standard order for this is:

  1. Expression
  2. Service
  3. Value
  4. Alignment

Again, of course, you can do this in whichever order makes most sense for you.

3. Work on the inner intersections

The inner intersections are optional. But if you choose to work on them, the next step in the process is now to work on the inner intersections:

Vocation Model  sequence - innermost

The suggested order for working through the inner intersections is:

  1. Your Potential
  2. Your Impact
  3. Your Excellence
  4. Your Transformation

4. Bring it all together to find your vocation

The previous steps have given you some great ideas about where and how you can best contribute and make a difference – and still get paid for it.

The next step is to bring it all together to find your vocation.

This step is as much an art as a science.

Something may leap out to you as the obvious answer.

At other times, it s helpful to brainstorm multiple different scenarios, and either pick one or combine elements from them.

Then, the next step in vocational planning is to test it out – you move from vocational planning to business or career startup.

The steps of the process, summarised:

All these steps of the standard pathway through using the Vocation Model are shown below.

Vocation Model  sequence - complete

Going Forward …

The world needs the best people getting paid to do their best work – because people living their potential and making their difference is what drives the world forward.

And they need the best tools available to them to make that happen.

I believe the Vocation Model is more practical and actionable than alternative vocational planning models such as the Ikigai model.

The Vocation Model can be turned into a system or process that can be used in workshops, coaching programs, or individual self-study courses to help people find their vocation – a career or business niche that they love.

But how useful it is is not up to me to say – it’s up to you.

Try it out!

And if you do, let me know how it goes – did you find it useful? Can it be improved? Let me know.

About Me

I am passionate about activating human potential – helping make the world a better place.

I do what I can to improve the thinking and tools we have available in our industry and in the world.

I work with smart, creative leaders – transformation leaders such as coaches and consultants, thought leaders such as speakers and authors, and change agents and difference-makers –  to help them make a bigger difference through their work.

I help these leaders sharpen their ideas and messages to cut through and be heard.

And I work with strategy so that have clarity, the right plan, and the right action steps to get to where they want to get to.

You can learn more about me from my home page 

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If you are in business for yourself, you do marketing – in some form or another.

So do your competitors.

But what gives you a competitive advantage in your marketing?

One answer is provided by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, in their book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth.

Weinberg and Mares teach a way to think differently about your marketing than your competitors do.

The crux of the approach is to think carefully about your marketing channels in relation to what you have used and what other people use in your industry – and then add different marketing channels to your mix.

The book was originally written for startups, but the ideas apply for any business.

The Short Version:

To differentiate yourself and scale out your marketing, apply the Bullseye model:

1. Identify all the possible marketing channels that you could use
2. Test the most promising marketing channels
3. Optimise and scale the marketing channels that worked best

But how exactly does the Bullseye model work?

Can the bullseye model be extended and improved?

And what are the 19 marketing channels used by startups?

Read on to find out.

There’s a very popular model for finding work you love.

It’s doing the rounds now.

It’s the Ikigai Venn diagram:

Ikigai, the model tells us, is our “reason for being” – and if we find what is at the intersection of these four circles, we will know our Ikigai.

This is very helpful and motivational for people going through career reinvention, or who want to find their niche in business.

But to use it effectively, it helps to understand some more about it.

Where did the Ikigai diagram come from?
What is the Japanese concept of Ikigai anyway?
Is Ikigai the best model to use to find my purpose or vocation?

Let’s find out …

A lot of new business owners struggle to find their niche.

“Niching is so restricting.”

“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself like that.”

But what if there was another way to look at it?

What if a niche was simply a choice of where to focus?

Some common advice given in marketing circles is to “date your niche” – not to marry it.

This advice tells us to try out the niche, to give it a go. It’s not our whole life, we don’t have to do it for forever if it doesn’t work out.

But what does it really mean to date a niche?

Think about dating.

Imagine that Bobby and Sue are on a date – they are out for dinner at a local Italian ristorante on Tuesday night.

They first connected through an online dating site, and they messaged each other for a week. This is the first time they have met in person.

But Bobby has three other dates lined up this week – with Anna, Julie, and Monique.

And so does Sue – with Jim, Fred, and Andy.

Bobby and Sue are doing what we might call exploratory dating. They are casually dipping their toe in  the waters, seeing who is out there, and finding out who the other person is. They are testing out if the person is a fit for them or not, if they are worth exploring further. If not … on to the next one!

There is no kind of commitment, and they can and do happily date multiple other people at the same time.

The focus of exploratory dating is finding potential matches, sifting through options, and finding a good fit – people who might be really worth spending time with.

Rani and Pradeep, at the next table, are also on a date. They’ve been going on dates for three months now, they have both qualified each other and  like what they see – they think there may be something good here.

Pradeep has stopped dating other girls. He wants to give it a go with Rani and see how it works out. Rani feels the same way, she’s stopped dating other guys. They haven’t talked about commitment yet, and haven’t really talked explicitly about exclusivity. And they’re definitely not getting ready to get engaged. But they are starting to meet each others friends. They are starting to really get to know the other person.

We might call this tentative dating. It’s “giving it a go.” Rani is loving being around Pradeep. But if she found out he was secretly married to someone else and hadn’t told her, that he was abusive and he’s an ex-con, her feelings might change. On the other hand, when she instead finds that Pradeep is a good man, he has great friends, works hard, plays her love songs on his piano, and he writes her beautiful poetry, her feelings deepen. Similarly, Pradeep is trying out being with Rani.

Oh, and they both have checklists for what they need. Not huge lists, but Rani knows that she has two or three must-haves in a relationship for it to work for her. And Pradeep is the same, he’s learned from his last relationships and doesn’t want to repeat any previous poor choices.

On a third table, we see Ivan and Maria. Ivan and Maria have been dating for two years. They’ve really got to know each other well. They like what they see. And they’re in love. They haven’t got around to thinking about getting married yet, but it’s kind of in the thinking for somewhere a little down the road. They want to stay together. And they’ve already faced some challenges, some tough times. They’ve seen different parts of each other, the ugly side. But it doesn’t matter, because they helped each other through it, and the good outweighs the bad. They’re sticking with their choices.

Let’s call this confirmed dating.

So, what about niching?

In terms of marketing, exploratory dating represents things like:

  • Evaluating options and opportunities conceptually
  • Doing market research
  • Interviewing people who run that kind of business now, or work in that field
  • Doing some volunteer work in that field
  • Doing some small projects, for free or a low fee, to get experience, test it out, and get credibility
  • Putting up pilot products and services

Its doing things to check out a market, that are low risk and low investment – like Bobby taking Sue out for drinks or dinner.

And you can run through a checklist, to see if it’s a good fit for you.

For example, does it interest you – can you see yourself as happy if you work in that area for 5 or 10 years? Is there demand for that product or service? Do you have a competitive advantage? Is it a growing market?

Tentative dating is something more like taking a position in a market. It’s deciding to focus on one niche, to see how it works out.

It has to be a reasonable commitment to the niche, because it takes time to go deep enough, tweak the messaging, and get real traction with prospects, and then evaluate your experience.

But it’s not just for a day or two either. It’s not a one-night stand or a holiday romance.

It’s getting serious about serving the niche for 3, 6, or 12 months – long enough to give it a serious go, to see if the niche works for you both creatively and commercially.You are really giving it a go, showing up, committing, during that time.

It’s going out with the niche.

But you don’t want to just jump in casually, and commit to just any niche for three or six or twelve months.

That’s why a bit of exploratory dating, first, helps.

Although tentative dating is a bigger commitment than exploratory dating, it’s much easier to make that choice after you found your favourite in exploratory dating.

Tentative dating is what people really mean when they say “date a niche.” They mean make a commitment to it. For now. For a realistic and meaningful chunk of time … but not (yet) forever.

If all goes well, and after a while you still like the niche and it is going well for you, you can commit to it. You can then really invest in it over time. You develop more experience, more capital, as you go.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments.