Five people of different backgrounds hold up sign boards that spell
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The purpose of business is transforming. Bit by bit, it’s become less about the bottom line and more about impact—about a mission. It’s not enough for your company to make an affordable product or provide quick service. It’s not even enough for products or services to be useful. A growing base of consumers want products that are sustainable and ethically sourced with a positive ripple effect through society. And they want to be part of the conversation.

Millennials, in particular, are launching that transformation forward. While it’s easy to imagine that start-ups are responsible, a 2017 Deloitte millennial survey noted that much of the drive comes from within: “Many millennials feel unable to exert any meaningful influence on some of society’s biggest challenges; but, in the workforce, they can feel a greater sense of control—an active participant rather than a bystander.”

There are a lot of things you could call this: purpose, drive, motivation. In Japanese, the concept of kokorozashi gives us not only a word, but a path to realization.

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The Path of Your Personal Mission

A kokorozashi is not just a life goal, but an ongoing personal mission that opens the mind and helps bring possibilities into focus.

4 Steps to Bring Your Personal Mission to Life

Your kokorozashi (personal mission) can bring clarity and purpose to your career. But how do you bring your personal mission to life and make it more than just a pipe dream?
Illustration of a globe with a spiral path around it and people climbing up and down to pursue their kokorozashi

What is a kokorozashi?

A kokorozashi, by a loose GLOBIS University definition, is a personal mission that unifies the passions and skills of a professional to create positive change in society.

But a kokorozashi is much more than a mere goal, or even a life narrative. It encompasses the internal and the external, hard skills in parallel with soft skills. The aim is to emphasize the will, determination, and commitment required to achieve a goal, as well as the ethical values that support the journey.

Identifying your kokorozashi is not easy. In fact, it’s difficult for most people and can be very time consuming. But the time and effort inevitably pay off—once you have your kokorozashi, you’ll find yourself uniquely prepared to achieve your goals for a more fulfilled life.

For MBA students, in particular, a kokorozashi has the potential to become a grand purpose with sweeping impact. But to find yours, you must look beyond the fundamentals of finance, human resources, marketing, and other business tools—focus instead on personal development.

Of all the classes and books offered in the GLOBIS University MBA curriculum, the course that most focuses on personal development is Entrepreneurial Leadership. This is a required course in which students challenge themselves to develop a personal mission and life purpose—a kokorozashi of their very own—and then present it on the final day of class.

But what if you’re not able or ready to dive into your MBA, or not in Japan to learn more about kokorozashi from the country that coined the term? Don’t worry. You can still get your kokorozashi up and running.

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Ikigai: A Book about Finding Your Purpose

Mentioning Japan tends to conjure images of quality products and services, sushi, sumo, anime, and otaku, among other things. Something most people don’t realize is that there is a common thread running through all of these: ikigai.
An open book with two pages folded in the shape of the heart.

The Path to Happiness

Spiritual leader Acharya Ryojun Shionuma speaks about how to tap into your inner child and find happiness in daily life.*Please click CC (字幕) for English subtitles. Career success is about more…

3 Ways to Visualize Your Kokorozashi

The Japanese book Kokorozashi wo Sodateru introduces three visualizations for your kokorozashi. Each is instrumental for conceptualizing the process of kokorozashi development.

  • The Kokorozashi Wheel
  • The Kokorozashi Stairway
  • The Two Dimensions Visualization

But as my colleagues and I were writing Kokorozashi: The Pursuit of Meaning in Business (an English book built on Kokorozashi wo Sodateru principles), we realized three visualizations might not be enough. So we added two more:

  • Kamada’s Framework
  • The Four-Step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework

The Kokorozashi Wheel

In this first visualization, as the name suggests, you can visualize your kokorozashi as a wheel. Within that wheel, you develop your personal mission via a five-step process:

1. Objectively looking at yourself
2. Asking yourself personal questions
3. Setting new goals
4. Working to achieve those goals
5. Ending your pursuit 

While it might sound like achieving the objectivity in Step 1 or setting of goals in Step 3 are the primary points, it could be said that the most important is actually Step 2.

When you ask yourself personal questions, you identify and create a kokorozashi unique to you. After all, each of us has a different set of life experiences that have shaped us into who we are. Some people are interested in a specific field, while others may have a passion for particular services. Still others may simply enjoy the learning process.

To develop an effective and meaningful kokorozashi, reflect upon yourself subjectively. Recognize the unique differences that make you who you are. And remember, this is about awareness—the differences you identify are neither good nor bad. They’re simply you.

A graphic representation of the kokorozashi wheel visualization

The Kokorozashi Stairway.

The next kokorozashi visualization is a circular stairway. Just like the Kokorozashi Wheel, it involves the same five steps to move from objectivity to ending your pursuit. Unlike a wheel, however, the Kokorozashi Stairway adds a sense of time, progression, improvement, and elevation to the pursuit of your kokorozashi. Upon reaching the top, you’ll be inevitably changed by new knowledge and experience.

That means that, as you advance up the stairway, your kokorozashi also grows, ever evolving.

Representation of the Kokorozashi Stairway visualization

The Two Dimensions

Next, the Two Dimensions visualization highlights the contrast between priorities: your priorities vs. those for society. Instead of a wheel or a stairway, there are two axes: on the vertical axis, there’s autonomous decision-making; on the horizontal axis, public contribution.

On the vertical axis, “low” represents following someone else’s goals, and “high” represents determining your own. On the horizontal axis, “low” represents a self-serving mission, and “high” represents a focus on family, friends, organizations, and society. Typically, you’ll want to aim for the top right corner—that is, a self-defined kokorozashi that benefits society.

The Two Dimensions visual is especially important for reflecting on your past career and correcting any imbalance. Have you concentrated too much on autonomous decision-making? Are you overly concerned with public contribution?

It’s easy to think that a full-on, society-first approach is the noblest path, but that’s not necessarily true. Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center says that there are drawbacks to being too selfless: “Although helping others can benefit our health, happiness, and relationships . . . people who are especially selfless may end up feeling exploited in their interpersonal relationships, or burned out in their jobs.”

So try asking yourself questions about your past and future to see where you are and where you really want to be. The answers will bring you closer to meaningful kokorozashi.

Representation of the Two Dimensions framework, which helps you visualize your kokorozashi on two axes

Kamada’s Framework

Kamada’s Framework was the first of two additional visualizations we added to Kokorozashi: The Pursuit of Meaning in Business, and it speaks to connecting with society. It was conceived by Eiji Kamada, GLOBIS University faculty, but modified for our book to include further elements: being, meaning, planning/doing, and synchronicity.

  • Being represents the necessity to delve deep into yourself for understanding of who you are and where you come from. Who are your parents? What family values did you inherit? Where do you place value in your life?
  • Meaning connects you with society, the world outside. What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What agitates you?

Once your being and meaning are defined, connect them into a basic kokorozashi. For example, you might say, “I would like to help older people suffering from the Great Tohoku Earthquake by providing a food delivery service. I developed this kokorozashi because I enjoy sharing dinner with all members of my family, and this motivates me to work hard the next day.”

Once you’ve built this connection, you’re better equipped to define and refine your kokorozashi.

  • Planning/doing comes next—with a time horizon. If you’ve decided to provide food delivery to the Tohoku region after the earthquake, what will happen to the food delivery service next year? In three years? Ten years?
  • Synchronicity, last but not least, covers events that happen by chance—or, if you prefer, as the result of a greater power such as God supporting your kokorozashi for the betterment of society.
Representation of Kamada's Framework, a kokorozashi visualization that includes an element of synchronicity

The 4-Step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework

The final visualization is the Four-step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework. It takes us through the inevitable peaks and valleys of the kokorozashi process.

The Four-step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework relates to where you, uniquely, stand on the road to achieving your kokorozashi. It also helps you understand how your awareness changes with each step on your journey.

Adapting Kokorozashi Visualizations for Real-Life Impact

While visualizing the path of your kokorozashi may seem like a simple exercise in imagination, it is in fact an important part of kokorozashi development. Also note that kokorozashi visualization isn’t about picking one framework and sticking to it. To gain perspective on your goals, it’s a good idea to come at them from multiple angles that put different weight on various priorities. Perhaps the weaknesses uncovered by the Kokorozashi Wheel, for example, might find a solution through the Two Dimensions.

Or, rather than solutions, perhaps reflecting on your past will lead to reassessment of what you’re really aiming to do with your future. In doing so, be sure to face your emotions square on. How did you feel as you recalled past events? Did you become emotional, or did you feel a sense of peace?

In this way, you can align your career goals with your kokorozashi and become a part of the movement to change business—and our global society—for the better.

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