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The Map of Meaning
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The Map of Meaning

A Guide to Sustaining our Humanity in the World of Work 

Marjolein Lips-Wiersma and Lani Morris
September 2011   238 + x pp   234 x 156 mm  
paperback   ISBN 978-1-906093-65-5   £21.95  

Alternative formats: hardback   eBook (PDF)

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A clear, simple and profound framework of the dimensions and process of living and working meaningfully.

Preview samples   Introduction

Meaningful Work: Marjolein Lips-Wiersma at TEDxInnsbruck (video)

Holistic Development Group website

This book introduces a ‘Map of Meaning’ called the Holistic Development Model, which provides a clear, simple and profound framework of the dimensions and process of living and working meaningfully.

Like all reliable maps this one has been carefully tested. It is based on over 15 years’ research into the insights and practice of ordinary people. Although the authors borrow from the work of philosophers, psychologists and sociologists to provide evidence and context for their ideas, the main contribution of this book is that it describes how ordinary human beings wrestle with, and give answers to, the questions of ‘What is meaningful work and a meaningful life?’ This innate human knowledge is captured in a practical model that makes understanding and working with issues of meaning clear and accessible to everyone.

At an individual level this book helps people to define and stay in contact with what is most important to them as they grapple with the real problems of daily life and suggests how to they can stay in charge of keeping the human search for meaning alive, especially in the face of the challenges that exist in organisational life.  The authors recognise that in the current economic context a simple map of meaning is essential, precisely because organisational life has become so intensely directed towards a singular economic goal. They argue that it is vital that people have a simple and powerful way to reclaim the significance of meaning in their working lives.

There are numerous studies that show conclusively that meaningful work, or its absence, influences some important outcomes in organisational life such as motivation, absenteeism, work behaviour, engagement, job satisfaction, empowerment, stress and performance. But people’s humanity and search for meaning, so often compromised at work, is not something that can be mechanised by the latest self-help or managerial technique. It is not something that can be picked up and dropped as convenient. The authors argue that being human is not a fad.  Being human is enduring and needs to be taken seriously. Creating meaningful work, therefore, leads to many desired organisational outcomes, but implementing it does require the courage to question some fundamental ways of thinking about business and the integrity to engage with the issues sincerely. At an organisational level this book offers many practical examples of how to build and maintain workplaces that are meaningful to people.

The idea that there is a parallel between the meanings, decision-making dynamics and actions of individuals and organisations is central to the structure of this book. It therefore addresses meaning at both individual and organisational level and in the dynamic between them. This is neither a self-help book, nor an organisational systems book; its strength is that it draws together the aspirations of individuals with those of the organisations in which they work.

At the same time, this is not a naïve book. One of the strengths of the Holistic Development Model is that it takes tensions, paradoxes and imperfections as a given. They are part of being human and they are part of organisations. The book is not only about the importance of living meaningfully, it is about how to do it. The book is full of stories of people who have worked with the model. They demonstrate the versatility of the model and how it helps them to analyse, speak to, plan around and respond to an enormous variety of everyday issues and situations. It is this resourcefulness the authors would like readers to get from this book and have at their fingertips.

This book is primarily written for anyone, from a CEO to a blue-collar worker or consultant, who is interested in creating more meaning and purpose in work and organisations, and who would like to better understand how to get others on board. It is for those searching for ways to re-energise their roles or change their careers. It is for anyone who firmly believes that it must be possible to align our deeper life purposes with our daily actions in the workplace.


This book can make a major impact on the lives of many, wherever they work and whatever their faith.

It provides a highly practical, easy-to-follow yet thorough treatment of what we mean by ‘meaning’ in our lives, and how we can increase that meaning. In a world where there is ever-growing stress and where the economic and social system based on individualism is being challenged, it is a very timely publication.

The authors provide a great welcome balance of theory and practice: Marjolein is Associate Professor of Management Studies at the University of Canterbury NZ and Lani is an independent practitioner in organisational behaviour. The book, which is written with considerable humility, is the result of over 15 years of research and practice. Its premise is that we are more likely to find work and life meaningful if we have a practical way of engaging with these deeper questions of meaning... 

By asking people to describe the things that give meaning to their lives and work, Marjolein was able to draw up the Map, which can then be used by us all as we seek to increase the meaning and balance of our lives.

The Map is not prescriptive, nor does it classify or judge. It helps the reader to access what we already know deep down to be important to our humanity. It helps us bring it to the surface, act upon it, and bring it to life. There are a few places that we can go for help with this struggle, and for me, the Map provides as good a way as any.

The book is effectively a “how-to” manual. Examples show how the Map has been used by individuals and by groups, by people of many faiths and none, by people in paid employment and those whose work is simply the cares of life.
There are three main elements to the Map:

• Four “pathways” to meaning: developing the inner self; expressing full potential; unity with others; service to others
• Two tensions between these pathways: the needs of the self and the needs of others; the need for reflection (being) and action (doing) – these need to be in balance if we are to retain our sanity!
• The overall context provided by, on the one hand, inspiration (for example one’s faith) and on the other the reality of self (...human frailty) and circumstances (...the pressures of the world)

The authors provide unpretentious exercises that bring these three elements to life, examples of how they have been used, and of the impact they have had on those involved. Though these exercises are simple, they are also profound; they draw you towards your inner self but allow you to be your own guide so that you are never out of your depth.

The book is in two parts. The first deals with personal use of the Map, and this is where the power lies. I have been a leadership trainer and coach for many years, and have experienced many tools and therapies in the personal development arena. I have found that many of these have shortcomings and indeed dangers, primarily because they are rooted in an economic, rational and individualistic approach to life and are couched in specialist language. The Map’s power comes from being more broadly based, expressed in everyday English.

The second part of the book deals with organisations, and here too it has impact but does not (and indeed I think cannot) go far enough. The basis of this section is that organisations benefit from people who are able to nurture and energise themselves; that people (and society) benefit from organisations where work is a natural extension of our search for meaning; and, sadly, that many organisations actively damage the search for meaning. The rational, economic, process-based paradigm often fights against the need to have engaged and committed people. The authors address this by helping individuals be stronger about their own meaning, and by helping groups share a common search for meaning and use this to shape their goals. Examples show where this “multi-individual approach” has worked well. There is value in this for any organisation, but I think that there needs to be an additional and complementary organisation-wide approach if the full impact to be made in larger firms.

I have been aware of the Map for several years, and have indeed flirted with its use, but it is only through reading this book that I have grasped its full significance and potential... most powerfully, because of its accessibility to all, it provides a highly constructive way of bringing the power of faith to those who have none.

I recommend this book to you.

John Kay, Director of Change Management in Transforming Business, University of Cambridge


We have been applying aspects of the Holistic Development Model here in classes in management and leadership at Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School over the last four years. Students have found this frame an invaluable tool for orienting themselves in the face of what they see as an insurmountable range of paradoxes presented by our modern world. They ask themselves: how can I effect change ethically and meaningfully when my needs and those of the world, my values and the direction of society seem so at odds? Working with this frame has brought integration and empowerment, clarity and personal commitment to these students. It’s great to see it now in its published form.
Christian Penny, Director, Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School

I read this book and did all the exercises in it. The book contains an indispensable tool to keep us whole. It will save us from burnout; it will save us from cynicism. It’s totally non-judgemental. It’s like a key that unlocks all that is important to us as human beings. As a consultant working in developed and developing countries, this framework gives me a simple way to profoundly engage with people across cultures. I can see for the first time not only myself but the context in which I live my life.
Kerry McGovern, Public Sector Asset, Governance and Financial Management Specialist, K McGovern & Associates, Australia

By providing a well-tested, comprehensive framework and language, this book helps managers to engage in a genuine dialogue on how daily tasks can be a natural expression of what truly matters, beyond profits and growth. Grounded and deep, the authors show us how to integrate inspiration and purpose into the reality of business.
Lenette Schuijt, leadership trainer and author of several books on management and inspiration

I read this book with great delight. It is an important book, as it helps people orientate their career and work–life balance in line with their values and beliefs. It is a rigorous book, thoroughly researched and evidence-based, tried out and tested in various organisational sectors, in different countries and with a range of professions. It is also a ‘dangerous’ book, as it confronts readers with their inner most sense of being and challenges them to an intimate conversation with their self. The human resource professional who wishes to work with human beings, rather than with human resources, will find in this book a useful and easily accessible tool, with numerous illustrations, to help people on their career journeys inside and outside work. It is very well written and deserves a good reception. Highly recommended.
Yochanan Altman, Senior Professor, Bordeaux School of Management; Research Professor, London Metropolitan University; Visiting Professor, Sorbonne Universities (Pantheon-Assas); Founding Editor, Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion; European Editor, People & Strategy

I loved your book and am so glad to have been exposed to your model and all the ways it can be generative — what a gift! Lips-Wiersma and Morris bring the meaning we make of life to a whole new level of understanding in their book, The Map of Meaning. They offer their holistic developmental model as an analytical and practical tool for engaging different pathways of meaning-making in our work and in our lives more generally. The book is overflowing with useful advice and examples of how to engage the model as a means for fostering individual and collective growth, learning and re-becoming whole.
Jane E. Dutton, Robert L. Kahn University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology, University of Michigan

I had the good fortune of using this Holistic Development Model early in its development, both for my own growth and then in one of my classes. In my MBA class on Organisational Behaviour I use the model and describe it to the students as a sort of ‘personal balanced scorecard’. The students immediately see its relevance to integrating their personal and professional lives. I am delighted to have this beautifully written book available, and if you are interested in your own growth as a whole person and/or if you assist others in that quest, you need to use this book.
Douglas T. (Tim) Hall, Morton H. and Charlotte Friedman Professor in Management and MBA Faculty Director, Boston University School of Management

The search for meaning is as old as humankind. The Holistic Development Model proposed in this sober volume is about learning to successfully engage the external world and its challenges from the inside. This is a contemplative yet practical work which is as incisive as it is revelatory. It combines our search for deep purpose with the need to align goals, aspirations and values within the environment we live in. It will be received as a welcome addition to the rich and growing literature on self development irrespective of cultural boundaries. It is warmly recommended.
Ramnath Narayanswamy, Professor in Economics and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

The Map of Meaning provides a well-structured and tested framework for a reader who has the will power and tenacity to participate in a challenging ongoing conversation with one's own self and with others about how to create a meaningful life-path. The search for meaning is inclusive of a spiritual search where inner and outer realities interact to co-create personal and organisational existential fulfilment and make spirituality discussable at work. The book provides practical ways to work with this perennial human quest.
Peter Pruzan, Professor Emeritus, Dr Polit. and PhD, Department of Management, Politics & Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark; author of Rational, Ethical & Spiritual Perspectives on Leadership and co-author of Leading with Wisdom: Spiritual-based Leadership in Business

1. Introduction, overview and welcome

This item available in PDF format for free download     Download

2. Background and guide to the Map of Meaning

Section 1: Taking personal responsibility for meaningful work

3. Finding the words to talk about what matters
4. Wholeness and integration
5. Taking responsibility between inspiration and reality

Section 2: where meaning meets organisation

6. Taking responsibility between inspiration and reality in contemporary organisations
7. Creating practices and systems that have integrity and respond to the whole human being
8. Speaking to meaning within organisational systems
9. Meaningful work at the foundation of the responsibility revolution

Appendix 1: Joining us in creating more meaningful working lives
Appendices 2 and 3: Versions of the Holistic Development Model
Appendix 4: List of certified practitioners

Marjolein Lips-Wiersma is Associate Professor of Management Studies at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. She has spent the last 15 years understanding the theme of meaningful work in practical and empirical ways. She has been a board director, chair of the Management, Spirituality and Religion group of the Academy of Management, and regularly works with individuals, groups and organisations to diagnose and action how to create more meaningful work and work practices. Her academic work has won several awards. She has integrated the theme of meaningful work into a wide range of teaching including undergraduate business ethics, postgraduate responsible leadership and executive MBA organisational behaviour.

Lani Morris has over 20 years’ experience of working as an independent organisational behaviour practitioner with organisations and individuals in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom and as a contract lecturer at a number of universities and tertiary institutions. She has an MBA and an MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice from the University of Bath. She has studied the human search for meaning all her life, through philosophy and comparative religion in her undergraduate degree and through independent study since then. The key focus of her work is to help people take responsibility for and reclaim power over themselves, their lives and their work. Her expertise includes: leadership, motivation, clear communication, creativity and meaningful work. She has worked with the Holistic Development Model since 2000.