I came across the beautiful Japanese concept of ‘nemawashi’ yesterday, which is an informal process of laying foundations for a proposed change or project. I guess we would call it ‘socialising’, or consider it gathering feedback to reduce the friction of the proposal.
The word ‘nemawashi’ comes from gardening and literally translates as ‘going around the roots’. A gardener would gently dig around the roots of a tree over an extended period of time to prepare the tree for a move.
Moving a tree is hard. Take your time.
Sometimes, landing an idea or a change is difficult and involves laying groundwork in a deliberate way so as not to introduce shock into a process.
Nemawashi. Playing the long game.
I recently encountered someone who had built a barrier between them and customers because ‘they had been told NOT to speak to customers’. It made me think about permission.
“I wish you luck, and stubbornness, and the absence of the need for a permission slip from anybody. Just go fucking do it.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
It seems to me that building walls of process and silos of communication are huge barriers to success. Anything that stands in the way of employees doing ‘the right thing’ has a negative impact on company culture and ultimately success.
“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission.” – Elon Musk
This approach needs to be infused in culture and encouraged from the top down.
There is nothing like ambiguity to crystallise the abilities of a leader. Navigating uncharted waters, and helping others see a way forward is an essential skill for anyone who aims to take a leadership role.
Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty – Marshall Ganz
The old adage of ‘change is a constant’ has been true in all the businesses I have served in, and every group has needed its leaders to take responsibility and enable their teams to move toward a common goal, whatever the conditions and challenges.