In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, I interview, Marc Winn, creator of the Ikigai Venn Diagram. Marc is a community builder and changemaker on a mission to make his own community the best place to live on earth.
He Co-Founded the Dandelion Foundation which seeks to use the small island nations as testbeds for solving many of the world’s toughest challenges.
On May 14th 2014, Marc wrote a blog post that would change the world. After watching the TedTalk, How To Live To be 100+, and learning about ikigai, Marc decided to merge ikigai with the Venn diagram of purpose.
He simply replaced the word “purpose” with “ikigai”, had a graphic made and wrote a short blog post. Not long after, his post went viral, and now millions of people believe it to be the Japanese concept of ikigai.
In his own words:
In 2014, I wrote a blog post on the subject of Ikigai. In that blog post, I merged two concepts to create something new. Essentially, I merged a venn diagram on ‘purpose’ with Dan Buettner’s Ikigai concept, in relation to living to be more than 100. The sum total of my effort was that I changed one word on a diagram and shared a ‘new’ meme with the world.
Marc Winn On The 45 Minutes It Took To Change Ikiagi Into World Wide Viral Phenomenon
Nick: In this episode of the Ikigai podcast. I’m speaking to husband, father, mischief maker and lover of changing the world, Marc Winn. Hi there, Marc.
Marc: Hi there. Hi there, Nick, nice to be here.
Nick: Thank you so much for your time today and for coming on to the podcast.
Marc: Well thanks for having me.
Nick: Really you have… I think you have many hats. You’re a business coach and entrepreneur and you’re also the creator of the Ikigai diagram, but I think it would be interesting to start with where you live. Where do you live?
Marc: I live in a small island nation called Guernsey, which is, for those that don’t know, it is in the English channel between England and France. It’s a self-governing state of 63,000 people. Yeah.
Nick: Let’s touch on the blog post that kind of changed the world. On May 14th in 2014 you wrote a blog post and you introduced the concept to the world. Let’s talk about that. We’re talking about the Ikigai Venn diagram. So how did that blog post come about?
Marc: Yeah, I mean it was… I mean I’m quite embarrassed really because it really didn’t… I didn’t think about it too much. It was just, I’d seen this Venn diagram on purpose on one corner of the internet and I don’t even remember where. Then, I’ve become fascinated by the Blue Zones work from Dan Buettner on the research around areas of extraordinary life expectancy and that Ted Talk. In that Ted Talk, he talks about the concept of Ikigai as being one of the key components of areas of people who live to over a hundred. I just thought, “Oh okay, why don’t you just arbitrarily, without really researching anything into Ikigai or anything, arbitrarily join a doc, which is I only kind of half write my blog posts. I have a writer that writes them and then I have a cartoonist that does it. I said to the cartoonist, “Can you just redo this diagram on purpose and just change one word to Ikigai and then do a cartoon?”
Marc: Then I wrote a post about linking those two concepts, which is the Western idea of purpose and that one particular view of it, which was the idea of doing what you love, what you’re good at, what pays your bills, et cetera, and bring all that together, which is a narrow view of purpose in itself with the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which, obviously, I didn’t know too much about other than from that one Ted Talk.
Nick: What I’ve found, many people have this fascination with Japanese words in once they hear the word and they have some basic understanding or lack thereof, they just, I think there’s this mystique or this fascination about Japanese culture that there’s this desire to share it and tell other people about it. Is that what you think happened to you?
Marc: No. It really wasn’t that deep? I mean, I’ve become more interested in it. Obviously, I’ve never really spent any time in Japan. I’d probably be more interested in, I spent more time in places like Denmark with the concept of hygge and I get that, so I would say a mild interest. I mean, someone like you who spent time in Japan, in businesses that is really deeply immersed in what that cultural thing is. I haven’t deeply immersed in Japanese culture before despite having this strange story around it.
Nick: It really was just a moment of, oh, this is a cool word. I’ll just match it to this other concept and write a blog post and obviously, you had no idea what would happen.
Marc: No, no. I mean, in those days I blogged to everyone I’d ever met and it was just a way to reflect weekly and keep in touch with everyone I’ve met and stay accountable to one’s philosophy, right, that was emerging at the time. If I shared it with everyone, I would be accountable to it, so it wasn’t really any more than that. Then, I don’t know, a year or two later someone must’ve seen the diagram, but like I’d seen the diagram on a corner of internet that I changed a word on, someone must’ve seen this diagram on the corner of the internet and then started sharing it and then it turned into a worldwide phenomenon.
Marc: For me, it’s become an art piece because a lot of my work is around what’s the least you can do to make the biggest difference. I often use that in my work. When I went to Singularity University, it was like, how do you impact a billion people by just having coffee rather than having to build all these big organizations and do all this hard work. I want to love about the Ikigai diagram, is that I’ve deliberately not put any effort into it since it happened. A lot of people say, why don’t you do a book or why don’t you do this, why do you make something of it and things like that? I said, “Its artistry for me is in that I didn’t really think much about it. It was only 45 minutes of my life and it still grows exponentially and people write books on it.” As I said, that diagram’s had an impact on your life in a different way, more to it’s a challenge. “This is not the true Ikigai.” Or something like right, it’s a big deal, but it was actually that tension that drove you deeper into it.
Nick: You’re exactly right. I thought, “Hang on. This is not what Ikigai is!” and then once I saw all these life coaches saying, “Hey, this is Ikigai. You’ve got to do this and that and get paid,” I thought, “That’s enough. I’ve got to do something about this.” Yeah, it inspired me to share what Ikigai means to Japanese people.
Marc: It’s a real, so as a meme I call it, once I sat down a few years later because people kept asking me about it. I’m like saying this is not… Either you get the Japanese school that says this is not Ikigai, you get the original author that did the purpose diagram saying this is taken from somewhere else. I’m like, “Okay.” I had to write the blog post to say, “Look, this was… it’s not something that… I was sending something to a load of friends and people in my network. I had no idea this would get into, but here’s the story, which was the story of 45 minutes, not too much depth, and a story of a word or a proposition that wanted to move somewhere.” I mean, you only have to read Shakespeare and Chaucer to understand how much the English language has changed and how words change and take on new meanings all of time.
Clearly, the universe wanted Ikigai to take on this meaning in a Western context or in the English context anyway, and yeah, I mean, so many books have been written about it, so many lives have been altered by seeing it and I get messages and stuff all of the time. It’s astonishing, especially if you look at things like Google trends. I mean, it’s genuinely just witnessing that image has the capacity to change the course of people’s lives in all sorts of different ways.
Nick: That’s why it’s fascinating to me and I’ve taken on an approach that, because I do know that you wrote that follow-up blog post, which I want to share with the audience, which is titled Meme Seeding. To quote the first two sentences, you write, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Less than an hour of my time has made more of a difference in the world than all of my time put together.”
Once I saw that I realized, okay, this was like serendipity was you just connected these two things. You weren’t out to deceive the world and you have had this positive impact. For many people, the Ikigai diagram could be their Ikigai if that’s how they wish to take their life. It’s, I mean, I see it as a good snapshot of entrepreneurship. If you want to be an entrepreneur, this would be one way to go about doing it.
Nick: I was probably more shocked at how it went viral and that everyone would just see it and go, “Oh, okay, that’s what Japanese call Ikigai,” and to think that some Japanese person made this diagram up when obviously, that didn’t happen, as you well know. It was so fascinating. Then, I thought, well hang on. This guy, Marc, he hasn’t gone out to deceive the world. He wrote a blog post and just decided to merge two concepts and it’s had this profound impact and everyone just loves sharing it.
Marc: Yeah, I mean, and if I had a penny for every time someone shared it, I’d be a very wealthy guy, but I don’t and that’s fine. I don’t really feel it’s mine anyway. It’s two other people’s concepts that I just spent the time kind of joining, but it came, that idea came through me in one particular moment at one particular time.
What’s most, most important for me about all of this is that people are genuinely looking within to reflect on their path and if we look at what really needs to happen in society, I think that’s the inner transformation, right? It’s the listening to one’s own inner story and living from that place. Essentially, what I do every day is helping people tune into who they are really. If you look at how to transform society or how to transform healthcare, it’s around wisdom, right, an inner knowing, which is kind of what all of this is about.
Once you get a whole community living in their essence, then you start to get all of these incredible systemic transformations of which where the Blue Zones were interesting is that they’d definitely have this essence of life weaved into the fabric of their societies. They live a long and rich life as a result of it. No one is necessarily building big businesses in those systems or anything like that. It is people who have this deep wisdom and wisdom and community there to be learned of.
Nick: Well, let’s talk about what I imagine is your Ikigai and this is the Dandelion Foundation. Let’s talk about what you’re doing with that.
Marc: Yeah, I mean the foundation is just a vehicle, so I’m not sure it’s Ikigai itself, but it’s the current best way I have of delivering it.
Nick: Yeah. Oh, that’s what I mean, it’s obviously something you wake up to do every day.
Marc: Yeah. You get this concept of it takes a village to raise a child and part of when I built business and we had a million customers or so in my old business and it became… And this concept of scaling impact, but it became like a machine where you build organizations and things like that, We got to say million scale impact, but I suffered from the lack of humanity of building an organizational machine. Right?
I felt quite disconnected and lonely, so Dandelion Foundation really is about how do we build a village that changed this world. How do we create the myth of this one small community in the world that solves every single challenge in one place? Right? How do we work together? I get up every day really from the perspective of creating a better village for my kids to grow up in, but also knowing that I can have coffee with the president, I can have coffee with the person who runs the health system or anyone and everyone in between.
From that perspective, my village has a huge amount of autonomy over what it can really do. Unlike a lot of villages, if you live in a village in New Mexico, a lot of your policy is controlled by Washington, right? Whereas, where I live, the president is the mayor. It’s all the same single system, so the act of coming together and supporting people through transformation has a real effect on the very systems that govern society. If we were to unlock that collective insanity that I was talking about earlier on in the call, you would really need small island states. Interestingly enough, I’m quite contrarian, you may have gathered in this.-
Nick: Oh, yes.
Marc: Yeah. You know, everyone’s like looking at how do you solve global poverty if something looked like that, which would be a three billion person, say, challenge, but everyone else in the same breath talks about the 10 richest people in the world have more than those people. Right? I’m like, “Well, instead of thinking about alleviating poverty, you start to think about alleviating wealth because that’s a 10 coffee conversation or three billion person conversation. Right? Given that if they have the resources, why not just alleviate wealth rather than alleviate poverty?
A lot of people think about going into Africa and all these kinds of thinking about solving poverty in which I saw, I saw was joy when I spent time there. I challenged the notion of what poverty is. I work in a perceived tax haven to solve wealth and happiness and well-being, understanding that those two challenges are fundamentally interconnected. This accumulation of wealth is like an addiction for many, many people, this accumulation of power is like an addiction for many people, and you have to go with compassion to the very source of the problem, not the symptom of the problem.I think many people spend their lives working on the symptom.
My Ikigai, and my reason for being is to spend every day in ease and joy with my family, but working on some of the root causes, which in my own story I have direct experience of in some ways. In finding my way own way out of my own mental prison, so I can support others within my own village, my own community to do the same and in turn, my community can support other communities as well just through inspiration or through direct support. I’m hoping the urban myth of my island starts to propagate around the world and in meme form at some point. I mean in terms of where it’s going, we’re six years in, it’s 2020 was the original target.
Nick: Let’s talk about that target. That target was to be the best place to live on earth by 2020.
Marc: Yeah, and it was a meme, it was a joke.
Marc: When we launched, it was like, how do we make Guernsey the best place to live on earth was the question of the conference and then we launched the project or foundation that night saying, “We’re going to make Guernsey the best place to live on earth by 2020,” and then just launch this random adventure, our own version of the Apollo program, which was all you need is a big goal and not enough time. We would never answer what best place to live on earth meant, but actually when we were asked the question, what does it mean to you? Well, it doesn’t really matter what it means to you. It’s what it means to you, the person who’s asking what is the best place to live on earth mean to you?
Then, the question is, when you answer that question, why aren’t you doing something towards it? Again, it’s just a reflective question at system scale, but interestingly what’s happened is four ago our president gets elected wanting to make Guernsey the happiest and healthiest country in the world by 2026. All of our national policies changed towards being happy and healthy and quality of life. Education system is in transformation, healthcare systems is in transformation, civil service is in transformation, politics is in transformation. Criminal justice is likely to happen and a tax system is likely to happen next year. You know the figures for measuring quality of life have just kind of been released in the last year where we are one of the top jurisdictions in the world and there are some areas that still need improvement because if you haven’t got money in Guernsey, it’s a tough place.
We’re seeing that people don’t necessarily have as big as social networks as they like and things like that. The comedy of it is, so there’s very real system changes and people are like, “Oh, we’re not the best place to live on earth,” but they’re missing the point was the line was to get transformation happening rather than necessarily to be about anything in specific. That playfulness and that meme and that us setting off with a goal has fundamentally created a lot of change within our democracy and within our system. It took no fight. It took no stress. It took no requiring to throw parties out or go into this dark revolution or this tension and everything that you’re seeing everywhere else. It’s just a meme and playfulness and mischief and that over time is having a big impact, but we’re not doing anything, we’re not building anything, we’re not the ones doing the work. It’s lots of different people in different ways inspired to make change and that narrative or meme, the best place to deliver on earth, works.
It is not about achieving that aim. It’s about what the aim causes the community to reflect on. I mean, Guernsey, what’s happening here is incredible and I think over the next 10 years you’ll start to see the magic that my community creates on a global scale.
Nick: The goal is for it to be modeled by other communities and villages and states and then countries.
Marc: Yeah, I mean the primary goal is to create a place where my kids can grow up in and be well. Communities inspire each other in lots of different ways and if I achieve as a parent what I want for my kids as a village, then that will spread and it does already spread. With some of the stuff we’re doing here has inspired other communities and stuff significantly in many ways already. The virus is already uploading in the same way that many communities like Okinawa, et cetera, inspire us to do what we do here. It takes 7.7 billion of us to transform this world to the beautiful place that it can be.
Nick: Where can people learn more about what you’re doing?
Marc: I always say come for coffee in Guernsey.
Nick: Come for coffee.
Nick: Do you know the coffee’s really good in Melbourne? Have you heard that?
Marc: Yeah, no. I spent time in Melbourne. I remember, I lived in the Ritz as a backpacker for a few months. I love that city. I had some fun times in 2002 maybe, so yeah, I like the cultural melting pot that is Melbourne and yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I invite anyone for coffee here, plus I invite anyone for coffee online if you can’t quite make it to the island. My website is MarcWinn.com and that connects to all the other websites or Ted Talks or anything like that, but ultimately it isn’t about me or what I’ve done. It’s about reflecting every individual that’s listening to this. I’m not really going to give you any answers that you haven’t got within yourself or within the people around you.
Nick: I was just going to say I’ve learned quite a few things just by watching the Ted Talks or things perhaps I did already know, but I had forgotten or even just things now on this talk, ease or what you mentioned before about the prisons of our mind. How we lock ourselves in the mental prisons and we struggle to get out of them.
Marc: Yeah, I mean it’s like… I think the struggle is part of the magic, right? If it was easy, it wouldn’t be-
Nick: We wouldn’t do anything.
Marc: Yeah. It sounds like in some ways ease is great. I’m a big proponent of ease, but also there’s transmuting struggle into ease is where the magic of life occurs. Right? Ease wouldn’t feel like ease if you’d never felt struggles. We need the light and the shade to understand perspective, I suppose, but I’m a big fan of ease.
Nick: I’m going to look into it. It sounds like a good way to live life.
Marc: What if it was easy, right? That’s one of my favorite. That’s one of my favorite questions. It breaks people, especially those hardworking struggle junkies the Western narrative likes to manufacture or likes to create the theme of success around, but I look for who’s the person that managed to do it that didn’t work so hard?
Nick: It’s a smart approach.
Marc: What if it was easy? If you sit in that question for a long time, your life tends to unravel.
Nick: All right. I’m going to be asking this question to myself every day.
Marc: It’s good to do that. A lot of people have been through that process and it really does help. Then you start realizing, man I’ve been holding on.
Nick: Yeah, that might be scary. Gosh.
Marc: Well, it feels like it when you realize it, but then the other side is obviously, so it’s not so bad facing that insanity that you’ve been holding onto, the belief in hard work. Yeah.
Nick: Well, I think this is a good point to end. Thank you so much for being willing to come onto the podcast.
Marc: Thank you for having me. It’s been fun.