Ikigai. Where motivation and product validation collide.

By  •  Updated: 05/11/20 •  4 min read

In my Dropbox account, there’s a whole folder full of online courses I’ve created, that either failed, or never saw the light of day.

They all fell foul of one of four reasons.

The first reason was that I was doing it for the wrong reasons. Usually just for money.

After 25 years in business, there are quite a few things I’ve had to get good at, but I don’t love all of them. My accounts are a prime example. I came top of my class at business school in accounting in the first year, but I have no desire to do it all day.

Building websites is another. I learned to do it out of necessity when I started my first online business. I got good at it, and I even had a successful agency building ecommerce websites for a few years. But it’s what flows through the websites that excites me.

Generating traffic, watching customers interact with the sites, and seeing them buy is what gets me out of bed.

Not coding.

Nowadays I still offer this to clients but I have a team to do it so I can focus on the parts I love.

Second, is the harsh reality that no one needed what I was selling. Or at least not in numbers that I could make a business out of.

I see a lot of passion projects fall flat like this. People get wrapped up in their hobbies and skills and spend months committing them to words and video, only to find that noone is really interested.

In a lot of cases, people want your service, but only if you do it. They’re not interested in learning it for themselves.

Brain surgery comes to mind.

You won’t find many courses on that on Udemy.

Third is that people want it, but won’t pay. Selling to a broke market is usually the problem here. It’s why I stopped going to terrible local networking events, filled with grey old men in bad suits, eating worse breakfasts, and trying to sell me life insurance.

In reality, almost every product has someone who will pay for it. People making money by playing video games still amazes me, but it happens.

The problem is that if you don’t know where these people are then you can go broke trying to find them.

The fourth, and last one, if I’m honest, was that I was no good at the subject I was trying to teach. Usually, I’d got wrapped up in something new that I was learning and decided, with all the best intentions, to share my new-found knowledge.

I over-estimated my abilities and when I shared what I’d done with the first few potential customers, they shone a harsh light on the gaps in my knowledge.

This is so common there’s a name for it. The Dunning Kruger Effect.

I don’t regret trying though. After all, trying to teach something is the best way to learn it, but I definitely shouldn’t have moved on to taking money for something where my own understanding was still half-formed. Fortunately, I have a beta process that stops that happening, but more on that another day.

If you’re setting goals in your Mission Planner, I really recommend you take a look at the list above and see if you’re falling into the same trap.

Having a goal is one thing.

Having a goal that you love, that people need, that they’re prepared to pay for, and that you’re good at, is a whole other level.

The Japanese have a word for this: Ikigai.

Roughly translated it means “reason for being”. That might sound a bit lofty, and if you apply it to yourself it might set of an existential crisis, but if you apply it to your output, the product of your goals, it becomes a fantastic filter.

Does your product have a “reason for being”?

If the answer to any of these is a “no”, my prediction is that you’ll struggle, lose motivation, and be staring at the wreckage at some time in the next year.

If you can answer yes to all four though, your chances of long-term success go way up.

For a bit more detail on this topic, I recorded a breakdown of the Ikigai model, with some examples of the questions you can use to judge new projects against.

Using the Ikigai model to choose your goals.

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.