What Business Leaders Can Learn from 100-Year-Olds in Okinawa

The Japanese island of Okinawa boasts the highest life expectancy, and the greatest concentration of centenarians (people who live to 100), in the world. Their culture, rituals, diet, and environment have been the subject of extensive study as researchers try to crack the code of longer, healthier life.

When questioned why their people are vastly healthier and outlive others around the world, Okinawan residents often credit two words for their vitality and longevity: ikigai and moai.

Ikiagi is essentially one’s driving force or purpose of life. It is the thru-line that connects people’s actions to their calling, their reason for living. Moai refers to one’s tribe. The inner circle of friends, family, and colleagues that enrich life’s experiences. A strong moai provides uplifting support and counsel during the tough times while cheering you on during life’s triumphs.

As business leaders, what can we learn from these key Okinawan themes? Ironically, the principles of ikigai and moai are the same elements that determine longevity and vitality in our organizations. They are the fuel that drives sustainable success.

Your business’ ikigai – or sense of purpose – is what ignites passion, creativity, and resilience in your team. Without a strong why, work is merely transactional. As a leader, developing and reinforcing an important ikigai provides a compelling North Star for both daily actions and important decisions. The stronger your ikigai, the more your people will push themselves, and in turn your organization, to greatness.

As the war for talent rages on, a highly developed moai may be your best approach to attracting, retaining, and engaging the best of the best. In the same way playing tennis with someone better than you improves your own game, a tight knit culture of mutual respect will boost collective performance. The most effective organizations cultivate their moai to encourage courage, nurture personal growth, and drive collaborative innovation. The best bands, dance troupes, and sports teams craft a deliberate culture in which the supportive nature of the team elevates all participants.

As human beings, we crave well-being, vitality, and longevity. As leaders, we want the exact same things for our organizations. So, let’s follow the lead of those individuals that consistently outperform their peers around the globe. Let’s embrace the ancient Okinawan principles of ikigai and moai in order to maximize the health of our companies, careers, and communities.

Here’s to your 100 years of success…