Wabi Sabi in the Workplace

“[The] spirit of wabi sabi… may be summed up with the following three principles:

  1. Nothing is perfect.
  2. Nothing is finished.
  3. Nothing lasts forever.” - Nobuo Suzuki, Wabi Sabi

Wabi sabi encourages us to appreciate the present and the imperfect (as nothing can be perfect). In Japan, many of the most valued art pieces are ones that are damaged and restored (e.g. kintsugi) or would be considered imperfect by Western standards, such as Honami Koetusu’s “Mount Fuji.”

Mount Fuji by Honami Koetsu

Wabi sabi is known for its philisophical influences on not just aesthetics, but also living, which can translate to our work. Here are some wabi sabi principles for the workplace:

  1. Your best work isn’t behind you, you’re always beginning.
  2. Appreciate the people that you work with. You’re not going to work with them forever and given the nature of professional relationships, if any one leaves, it’s unlikely you’ll see them again.
  3. Treasure the interactions that joyfully break the professional barrier, as these moments are rare.
  4. Don’t endlessly chase one goal after another. Give yourself time to process what’s happening.
  5. Be kind to yourself when you make mistakes.
  6. Learn when it’s the right time to put your pencil down. What’s shipped is better than what isn’t.
  7. You can’t always be “up,” there will inevitably be downs. Treat down periods as an opportunity to appreciate and reflect.
  8. Nothing lasts forever, definitely not your career, and even your company. By accepting the fact that existence is fragile, you can be prepared for the inevitable and adopt an anti fragile state of mind.
  9. The traits that are valuable to a team aren’t exclusive to their performance. There are many other traits that one can have which are of great value but are not easily measurable, such as the ability to foster team comradery.
  10. Repairing a damaged relationship can make it better than it ever was. Politics is usually a function of miscommunication instead of bad intent.