Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Glossary for a Wabi-Sabi Approach

If wabi-sabi were to be applied to business, organizations or communities rather than to art, design and perhaps contemplation it would be useful establish the points of reference that would steer decision-makers, leaders and contributors away from the modern and technological (or technocratic) and toward something that can invite the generation of synergies within groups of people.  In large organizations, whether they are cities, business or churches, it is easy to fall into a habit of regarding something as almost monolithic and without challenging its purported infallibility.

Examining situations from a perspective embedded in the characteristics of wabi-sabi and trying to integrate those aspects into an organization or project would be a key step toward creating a more resilient and lasting project.  For this post, I'll provide a list adapted from Leonard Koren's book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers and from Richard Powell's Wabi-Sabi Simple.  The list is one which contrasts wabi-sabi approaches from modern or technological approaches.  It is lengthy, so I will conclude the post with this and elaborate further on the contrasts and the potential of wabi-sabi approaches in future posts.
As I've looked into these terms and reflected on my own perceptions of wabi-sabi, I've come upon my own pairs, which I have included above in blue.  These may do nothing more than rephrase or recapture original terms or pairs Koren generated when he first delved into the topic, but they give me and perhaps others another perspective from which to analyze these differences and apply them in to situations, objects and systems that bear scrutiny from a perspective other than a creative or aesthetic perspective.

As design, design thinking and systems thinking become more prominent in business, it may become more beneficial to apply the wabi-sabi perspectives to organizations and problem solving.  I will touch on the tame-wicked paring in a future post to greater extent, but this pair applies to the concept of wicked problems, which are problems that defy efforts to address them with modernist approaches and require more intuitive approaches in order for them to accept the magnitude of the challenge and realize the value of a more careful, deliberate and artisanal approach to problem solving.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wabi-sabi and the Agile Business

Wabi-sabi has been referenced in discussions of interior design, art and other aesthetic endeavours.  A sense of nostalgia or the organic is infused in the discussion of wabi-sabi and how it is applied to the assessment of things people get attached to.  Whether it is a well-worn leather briefcase that has been handed down and possesses a sentimental significant, a rugged wooden desk with a patina or a texture that makes the experience of working at it intangibly more pleasant there is something about wabi-sabi that makes it less measurable and less meaningful in the harder edge world of business.

The three main tenets of wabi-sabi also threaten to run counter to business as well.  Given the aspiration of flattening boom-bust and other cycles of business or economy, the recognition that:
  • nothing is perfect
  • nothing is complete
  • nothing lasts
may appear more likely to disturb business leaders rather than guide them.  Wabi-sabi's embrace of these facts is may be in direct opposition to common business thinking and the ways of achieving success.

Beyond that first assumption about wabi-sabi, however, acting in a manner that recognizes these realities and either takes advantage of them or acknowledges them in advance has the opportunity to build more resilience and nimbleness into the organization.  Integrating aspects of wabi-sabi into strategic planning, crisis management, product life cycles and branding, to name just a few components, can steer an organization away from a more monolithic mindset where decisions only come from a handful of authorities within a business and personal sacrifices and compromises must be made in the name of the brand, the company, the product or the goals for a project.

Acknowledging in advance that an organization or project is not perfect, lowers the stakes when encountering a crisis and weans a business from the impulse to spin in the face of a challenge or crisis. Responding to crises with the acknowledgement that challenges being faced are indeed unusual or unexpected rescales public expectations to something that is more reasonable and in the long run allows the organization and the public figures representing the organization to remain authentic in an intuitive, unconscious manner rather than an approach based on standing communications policy or a passing trend or mania in business publications.

It would also encourage organizations to continue to look for solutions and innovations rather than settling for the old phrase, "if it ain't broke don't fix it."  Continuing to look within for innovation and improvement can keep an organization open to change and consequently allow them to better engage staff and customers in contributing to progress and generating change rather than resisting it in favour of the apparent security and certainty of shoring up the standing of some arbitrary monolith that an organization feels it must protect in the name of some sense of... nostalgia.