How to explore your purpose – without getting stuck

How do you find your purpose?

This model makes it look easy. You only have to answer 4 questions.

But sometimes a model is counterproductive.

What kind of answer are you looking for?

And do you really need it?

Let’s explore the above Venn-diagram for purpose finding. A Spanish astrologist developed it  years ago. Then blogger Marc Winn put the term Ikigai in the middle: A Japanese concept that describes what you find meaningful and what makes you happy.

The model went viral

Winn got the ikigai-concept from a TEDTalk on the blue zones. Blue zones are areas in the world where many people live a 100 years or more. And what turns out: If you know your ikigai, you live longer and happier.

But the 100-year-old’s do not need a model to find their ikigai

They immediately know the answer. Like the great-grandma: She just wants to hold her great-grandchild. Or the grandpa that works in his garden every day.

Do you only live a successful live if you end up in the center?

In the related Hedgehog concept of Jim Collins that is where you need to be.

His hedgehog comes from a parable by the greek poet ArchilochusThe fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The fox thinks of all kinds of strategies to catch his prey. But he does not get the hedgehog: His spines always work.

By finding your hedgehog concept you can turn a successful company into a great company says Collins in his book Good to Great.

The hedgehog concept is not a strategy

It is not something you pursue, it is an insight: What could your company be the best in the world at?

When you discover that, you skip everything else. All organizational activity is targeted to the further development of the hedgehog concept.

But does that also work for you – as a person?

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin sees the hedgehog and the fox  as 2 ways to approach life. He uses the dichotomy as a playful pair of glasses to compare a number of big thinkers.

The fox pursues diverging interests and takes his experiences for what they are. The hedgehog has a central vision on life through which he looks at the world. He tries to fit everything in his worldview.

The divide is a starting point for a 63-page essay in which Berlin studies the work of Tolstoi.

That is how you can use a model to explore your purpose

As a pair of glasses: an entrance for reflection.

And no, you do not have to write an essay. A few mindmaps are enough.

Watch out: Don’t turn your specs into a hedgehog

Not everything you come across has to fit in the 4 balls. And not all your activities have to direct you towards the center. Then you get stuck.

You see more when you take the fox approach

You look at your experiences with an open mind. When you explore activities in different areas you have a bigger repertoire to fall back on in a challenging situation.

Your purpose is not a question with one overall answer

It is about the attention you give to what you do. And it changes during your lifetime.

It does help when you think about what is important to you and about what energizes you.

So you can base your choices on that

Here you find 3 pdfs with visual templates to explore your purpose. I connect it to your sweet spot and with the golden circle of Simon Sinek. And I added some extra questions to get you going.

Who knows: Maybe you discover connections you did not see before.

In short

A model makes purpose finding manageable, but you can also get stuck. Not all your experiences fit in a closed framework. And they don’t have to.

And now

Print the pdfs and reflect on what matters to you. Or water your plants.


Why visions don’t work – and how you can change your approach

We are vision addicts.

That is what organizational researcher Tjip de Jong says.

And it is only human to be busy with the future.

Because it feels good to be working on a nice picture of how things could be. Much better than having to deal with the messy here and now.

If it were only that simplevisions don't work

But visions and action plans do not work when you want to create deep change, says Hans Vermaak.

Vermaak and De Jong inspired me to make this cartoon

visions do not become reality

Theory U is a method to look beyond your frame

Otto Scharmer developed it to fundamentally change big systems – think climate change. But you can also use it on a smaller scale: For any question to which you don’t have a ready-made answer.

The U-process comes down to this:

It is a creative process

And that makes it difficult to grasp: Scharmer needed over 500 pages for Theory U  in 2009. In 2018 he summarized it in The Essentials of Theory U.

I clarify the method in three visuals

Click on the icons to open them:

The essentials of theory U

The Essentials of Theory U





You can use the visuals as an anchor during the process. And as a reminder to let go.

Because it is tempting to try to control the process. And when you stay on top of it, new ideas have no room to emerge.

That is the pitfall in the U-process

Letting go invokes feelings of uncertainty. And your brain wants control. That makes it more difficult to just see what happens. And to listen to each other.

Visual thinking with theory U

That is why I made a fourth visual: Visual thinking with Theory U.

Because you see the whole picture when you put your thinking on paper in symbols, lines and keywords. And it gives you a sense of control when you have the overview – even when you are looking at jumble of lines.

Your brain can relax and you are more open to other insights. And that helps to have a good conversation.

You can also use the visuals for yourself

In this cartoon you can read how I applied the U to the way I work on my blogs. Then you know why they look different from now on. 

To summarize

Visions don’t become reality by themselves. If you really want to change your approach you have to look outside of your frame. Theory U helps you do that. And visual thinking makes it easier.

And now?

Download the visuals in this blog as a mini-ebook, print them and get to work.

visual thinking theory u