The Path to Ikigai: Solving Society’s Many Dysfunctions By Designing for Humans as They Actually Are

Hunter-gatherers don’t have a problem helping everyone find their place in society. The older members of the tribe mentor the younger members of the tribe and find great satisfaction in passing on their knowledge. Some people are shamans. Some people are hunters. Some gather. Some cook. Some make pots. Some fish. In short, humans in small tribes kick ass at finding what the Japanese call ikigai. On the other hand, most large-scale societies suck at ikigai. A lot of people simply fall through the cracks and can’t find their place in society.

On the surface, finding ikigai can seem like a pie-in-the-sky, first-world problem. “Oh, really. You want to find a job you love that you’re good at that the world really needs and that you can get paid for. Nice idea, guys.” Except ikigai is not something new we’re trying to find. It’s something we lost ten thousand years ago when the rise of agriculture led to large scale societies. If you’ve already gotten your orange belt in Mixed Mental Arts, then you know all about The Dunbar Number. You know that individual humans simply can’t track more than about 150 relationships. The kid who looks lost and is up to no good in a tribe gets taken under someone’s wing. The kid who looks lost and is up to no good in a country with a population of millions becomes someone else’s problem. The problem is that when society doesn’t help someone find a constructive path to ikigai then someone else (the bloods, the crips, MS13 and ISIS) will find a place for that lost soul. Finding a path to ikigai for all of a tribe called human isn’t just something we personally want, it’s the real solution to most of society’s problems.

The challenge is that worries that large aren’t even something most of humanity can even think about right now. Many of our fellow humans are so busy just trying to get by and pay their bills that they don’t have time or energy to start building a better world. The problem is that if we don’t start building a better path to ikigai then A LOT more people are going to start falling through those cracks and the problems that we already see with terrorism and gang behavior are only going to get worse. The #jobocalypse is tearing up the old path to anything even approximating some part of ikigai right now. Jobs are disappearing to automation and the truth is that because humans are bad at figuring out why things happen (causal intelligence) and have hypersocial intelligence there has been an explosion of cargo cults that at best distract us from solving the real issues and at worst get us to take counterproductive actions. In spite of what President Trump says, jobs did not MOSTLY go to China. They went to automation. In spite of what President Zuma says, the reasons why the end of apartheid hasn’t improved the circumstances of many South Africans isn’t the race-baiting “White Monopoly Capitalism” but Zuma’s own corruption and a lack of education for the country’s poorest citizens. And, in spite of what the New Atheists say, the problems of the Middle East do not come down to Islam. They come down to…well, corruption and a lack of a path to dignity. In the end, criticizing the old order won’t get us anywhere. We just have to focus on building the new order better and better. As Hunter puts it, we have to get people paid and get them laid.

We now have three pieces that together provide people with all the tools they need in order to be onboarded into the 21st Century economy:

  1. The Mixed Mental Arts Belt System: This helps you become aware of how we ALL blindly downloaded a culture that was NOT well suited to the world in which we all live. With that awareness, you can now be intentional about the culture you create.
  2. The Straight-A Conspiracy: As Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” The Straight-A Conspiracy teaches you everything you need to do that more and more effectively.
  3. Outsmart Your Instincts: Innovation is not something magical. It’s a skill that can be taught. AND, it’s a skill every human will need in the 21st Century and beyond. Fortunately, we have Adam Hansen and the Ideas to Go team here to help us democratize that skill.

That’s where we stand. But that’s the beginning. We’re already having more #ideasex about how we can further evolve these together and turn them into comedy and song so they can teach you even more in less time. And that gets to the core of what clarifying the path to ikigai is really about. It’s about making smart convenient.

Yes. You could go off now and find all these ideas. You could teach yourself whatever it took to be the best in the world. In fact, you could always have done this. BUT, people are busy. If you can order a pizza with the press of a button, then why should it be so hard to get ideas. Why should they be buried behind a wall of academic jargon in a boringly-written book? Why not make the ikigai of humanity making ikigai easier for humanity to find? We’ve got 7.5 billion people? Why not have ANYONE with the time and inclination team up on the greatest challenge of our generation? We need an inclusive society with ikigai for ALL at the exact same time that the #jobocalypse is destroying the old path to ikigai.

What we’ve already done comes from pooling the insights, skills, efforts and resources of many different humans from all around the world. We have people from South Africa, New Zealand, New Jersey, Botswana, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Switzerland all working together to help make it more convenient for all of us to be smart. The more we achieve the more new people jump into help. It’s a vast, vast challenge…for one or two people. But many hands will make light work of this.

And the next stages are even more exciting. The truth is that the old path to ikigai with its high school diplomas and University degrees provided what Adam Hansen calls a “low-res map” of people’s knowledge. We can build digital systems that provide increasingly high-res maps of people’s knowledge. This has a number of benefits:

  1. From a learning perspective this is huge. When you see, specifically, the things you don’t know already broken down, learning becomes way more manageable.
  2. It empowers better hiring decisions. You’re now not hiring people based on where they went to school but on what they can actually do.

This way of thinking about real world skills will be very familiar to one group of people in particular: video game players. From Civilization to Skyrim, the idea of a skill tree in video games is an old one. 

Really, video games provide a far better skill tree than reality. People get lost in video games and excited to upskill. Why not give them the same experience in reality? Moreover, the best gamers know that it is far more effective to play any game as multiplayer than single player. Reality is the most immersive, challenging and complex multiplayer game. Why not make a game of making the game better? But, in real life, people DIE! We couldn’t possibly think of life as a game. I’ll let John Cleese take this one.

Well, we know that plenty of people will object and try and defend the old system. That’s why it’s way easier to just Buckminster Fuller this and just go ahead and build a better system.

There’s a saying that is super helpful here “Don’t hate the playa. Hate the game.” There’s nothing wrong with the humans playing the game of life. It’s the game that is poorly designed. It incentivizes a lot of the wrong behaviors. So, we’re going to change the rules. We’re not going to ask permission. We’re just going to do it. Why? Because haters gonna hate…and playas…well they gonna play.

The question for you is whether you’re a hater or a playa?

Game on!


Right after being born in Saudi Arabia, I was taken to the Callen house. Since then, Bryan and I have travelled the world with our Citibank fathers and somehow ended up in LA together. There we'd run into each other at family gatherings and do something that no one else in LA seemed to be doing: we talked about books. Since Bryan was kind of a big deal, Hunter and Bryan hatched a scheme to use his podcast to get on their favorite authors and professors. Out of that evolved Mixed Mental Arts and this tribe. For me, the marriage of entertainment and education is a return to how things used to be before our culture split story into two separate things. It's exciting to be able to build on the work Katie O'Brien and I did for The Straight-A Conspiracy and expand it out to every area of life. While I play a series of roles in the Mixed Mental Arts community (including Shitty Dutch Uncle and Bryan's #1 fan) my favorite role is as Toto who pulls back the curtain and let's the world see that there are no wizards...only men and women who try and puff themselves up to seem important.

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