Cool Japanese Life Philosophies

One of the fun parts of my work is looking for new types of life approaches and philosophies and then incorporating them into my own collaborative methodology. I’ll even introduce them to clients and let the clients play with those philosophies within the context of their own organization.

For example, today I suggested that my group of 30 clients take a “Slow Food” approach to the activities they had been assigned. I was inspired by a conversation I had with Michael Dila around “Slow Biz” and what that could mean to how people go about their work in a more mindful and deliberate way.

I’ve come across enough cool Japanese philosophies that I figured it was worthy of starting a conversation around and I’m hoping there will be some contributions. Here are a few that I quite like and I feel map well to business and collaborative approaches:

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. Ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together. It is the philosophy of developing closeness with nature. Ikebana is a creative expression with certain rules of construction. (From Wikipedia and thanks to Mr. Dila and Chris Finlay.)

One of the key principles of Ikebana is the mindfulness of the approach. It is typically done in silence. There is also an appreciation for simplicity and empty space which are two principles that don’t get utilized nearly enough in business, process or product design these days.

Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The phrase comes from the two words wabi and sabi. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. (From Wikipedia)

As much as I try to plan events down to the most minute details, I also balance the planning with the belief that people will take conversations in unpredictable and necessary ways. The collaborative sessions do have a degree of improvisation and “roughness” to them that makes each one unique and “imperfect”.

One of the very cool characteristics to the wabi-sabi aesthetic is that pieces aren’t designed to maintain their original qualities but are designed to stain, chip and crack so the pieces become an ongoing record of their existence. Examples of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include agile development methodologies, wikis and the “perpetual beta” mindset.

Omakase is the Japanese word meaning “entrust” or “protect”. It is most commonly encountered at sushi bars, where the customer may request omakase onegaishimasu (onegaishimasu meaning “please do me the favor”) to give the chef authority to prepare what the chef wants to make for you at the price that the chef sets.

One of the things that I like about this concept is the interplay between sushi chef and patron. The customer is an active part of the experience as they provide verbal and non-verbal feedback on each dish and the chef reacts accordingly in preparing the next dish. I actually have a lot more to say on this ritual and will elaborate further in the near future.

Do you know of any other philosophies or approaches in Japanese culture that can be incorporated into a design and/or collaborative methodology? I would love to keep this conversation going.


One response to “Cool Japanese Life Philosophies

  1. Oh boy…you happened across a favourite topic of mine…

    My Japanese lens on facilitation has always been based on the art of Aikido, which I had the pleasure of studying while I lived in Kyoto.

    The subtlety of the movements have always been – I thought – a wonderful metaphor for how to approach conflict or confluence. The core principle in Aikido is that in every interaction, one is responsible not just for themselves, but also for the other. As a result, meeting force with force is not an option, as someone will always come out ‘damaged’ from the experience. The art, then, is in harmonizing two opposing forces, dissipating conflict.

    Omote and Ura – Every motion in Aikido can be divided into Omote (direct) and Ura (indirect). In all cases, the result is harmony (ie two opposing forces merging into one), but depending on the situation, that path can be merged quickly and abruptly by Omote, or through a longer period of converging before the conclusion.
    In a conversation, where there is not a gulf between those interacting, omote can guide you to conclusion faster; but where the gulf is wider, a longer, less direct path is needed to reach harmony.

    Tenkan – this is a movement, almost a pirouette or spin, but is central to making the Aikido philosophy physical. Essentially, any attack is not met head on, but is pulled into a spiral so that direction and energy between the two parties have the chance to merge, instead of collide. This, to me, seems a critical consideration in facilitation; how do you guide without hitting head on? This is how you acknowledge, follow, then redirect.

    There is also a whole bunch from Zen teachings that applies in this realm….but this text box is feeling really small to type into right now… 🙂

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