Home >Opinion >Views >Opinion | Let purpose precede profit the Japanese Ikigai way
Brand or business purpose is one of the hottest concepts doing the rounds of boardrooms across the world. (Reuters)
Brand or business purpose is one of the hottest concepts doing the rounds of boardrooms across the world. (Reuters)

Opinion | Let purpose precede profit the Japanese Ikigai way

People don’t buy products, they buy a set of values and beliefs that resonate with their own

Have you ever wondered where you are heading, what drives you to do the things you do, or what’s your role in the larger scheme of things? Finding Ikigai, the Japanese concept for one’s “reason for being", is all we need to make our lives truly worthwhile. Finding one’s true North, the Japanese way involves deep reflection on the intersection of what you are good at (your vocation), what you love (passion), what the world needs (mission) and what you get paid for (profession). A simple congruence of this is what you need to achieve balance, fulfilment and longevity the Japanese way.

While the concept of Ikigai helps motivate people, it is also a great construct for companies looking for a purpose to build upon. Brand or business purpose is one of the hottest concepts doing the rounds of boardrooms across the world. Simply put, brand purpose is the higher-order reason why a brand exists. Getting everyone to align with it and realize that there is more to business than just making profits can be a powerful way to inspire your teams and garner greater respect from customers.

People don’t buy products; they buy a set of values and beliefs that resonate with their own. The role your business plays in society, why it exists, what changes it is trying to make in the world are just some of the questions your business should ask itself.

Consider a brand like Apple. Looking at it through the lens of purpose, you can say that Apple doesn’t really sell computers or mobile phones. What it sells is a philosophy that is deeply ingrained in thinking differently about technology, and making it accessible, easy to use and delightful for the consumer.

What is the result of this deeply realized purpose? A tribe of loyalists who line up outside an Apple store and are willing to pay more than twice for a product with pretty much the same hardware. These buyers are in love with the brand and everything it does. Apple realizes its Ikigai because it intelligently aligns what it is good at, developing technology, with its passion for aesthetics and also its mission of making hi-tech products accessible and easy to use for all.

Another example is Nike. This brand isn’t really about shoes. It is about inspiration to aspiring athletes around the world. What it’s good at is making innovative and high-quality shoes; what it loves is its ability to nurture the human spirit and create role models for the physically active, and what it addresses is the global need for motivation—a reason to go on. It makes loads of money with this simple but effective strategy, and has found its Ikigai. Nike’s reason for being resonates with millions of people.

Here follows a simple Ikigai charter for any business that will give its people a reason to come to work and further its cause every day.

First, define what your business is really good at. This is also known as core competence, something that gives your product or service a competitive edge. Remember to keep this definition broad.

Prior to 2011, Netflix’s core competence was content delivery. Then it forayed into original content, which opened up a whole new avenue of business. For a business to evolve over the years, it would be helpful to evaluate what your business is especially good at in a changing scenario.

Second, identify what you and your people really love. People at Google are known to love their jobs. The perks of working at Googleplex or any other of their cool offices apart, Googlers genuinely believe they are part of a revolution that is putting knowledge and information at people’s fingertips. The passion for this job permeates their lives. It’s common to see them work long hours, live on campus, bring their families in, and stay deeply loyal to the company. Their passion drives commitment, which in turn drives loyalty.

Third, spot something the world really needs, and deliver on it. The world may not really need your product or service, but you could find a way to connect your brand with the things that really matter to people and society at large. This doesn’t necessarily have to translate to furthering a social cause like eradicating hunger or poverty. It could even be something as simple as what Starbucks realized when it was defining its promise. People aren’t just looking for a cup of coffee. They need a place to hang out beyond their home and office—a third place. Starbucks has made this its mission and become part of people’s lives—one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time.

Fourth, identify the products, services or market segments that bring you the most money with the least investment. Identifying the stars of your business will help you focus adequately on these. For Samsung, its phone business is a distinctly fast-paced revenue generator, as opposed to its camera, TV, refrigerator and washing machine product lines. Apple’s iPhone, Honda’s City and Reckitt Benckiser’s Dettol are all brands that account for a sizeable chunk of their companies’ revenues.

It all begins with Ikigai. While the Japanese have found an answer to the question of living a balanced and mindful life, there are lessons embedded in this deeply reflective philosophy for every facet of our existence. Applying the concept to business will help you and your teams create an enterprise that stays relevant and commands respect for years to come.

Rutu Mody-Kamdar is founder of Jigsaw Brand Consultants.

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