Embracing imperfection can make your business boom

The concept of Wabi Sabi, the embracing of transcience and imperfection, may not seem like a natural fit for the precision of accountancy, but the Japanese philosophy, along with other East Asian beliefs are increasingly shaping our approach to work across the western world.

Alongside Wabi Sabi, experts in Feng Shui, the Chinese philosophical system of harmonising everyone with the surrounding environment, and Vaastu, the traditional Hindu system of architecture, are increasingly being called upon to mould and design modern western offices.

Cathy Graham, Executive and Systems Coach, at the US-based Workplace Navigator uses Wabi Sabi techniques in her coaching sessions and believes they have direct relevance to the world of accountancy.

The acceptance of imperfection can bring release from stress in the work environment, she said.

“Instead of letting one little thing trip you up and getting caught up in that, it’s about acceptance, because that constant striving towards perfecting everything is really exhausting,” she said.

In a work context, this kind of attitude can help an employee to get a project done quicker by simply accepting that while it is not perfect, it is good enough.

“I coach a lot of people and they constantly beat themselves up for feeling that they never get to perfect and unfortunately we never do get to perfect and that striving is what is going to cause so much stress in your life,” said Graham.

“I would say for accountants you’ve got to set a time limit on how long you’re going to work on something. I also think what contributes to that stress is the amount of distractions we have in our lives,” she added.

“The distraction of the notifications from your phone and your iPad and everything pinging and vibrating just constantly sending your adrenaline up. If I’m high on adrenaline, do you think you can ever let go of perfection? It’s the opposite,” Graham argued.

Switching it all off allowed work to flow better, she explained. “Let it be your best work but not your perfect work.”

Setting up “timezones” was also a helpful tip, she countered. “If you say, I’m sending emails or making phone calls from 8am to 9am then that’s what you do during that timezone, and then from 9 to 10 I’m going to work on projects,” Graham explained.

A more structured timeframe helps to prevent the onslaught of the day “invading your time,” she said.

Wabi Sabi is not the only Asian philosophy picking up popularity in the West.

Cyd Alper-Sedgwick, a Cincinatti-based consultant who runs Full Circle Feng Shui Life and Design, said her services were increasingly in demand from businesses who wanted to create a more harmonious working space.

Feng Shui, one of the Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics, sees architecture in terms of “invisible forces” that bind the universe, earth and humanity together.

“It is a science and an art but it’s not a religion,” said Alper-Sedgewick. When asked to do a consultation for an office, she uses a Bagua map to trace different energies in the space available, in order to create the best layout.

“Generally speaking we put the head of finance or the head of the company in the wealth area, we put sales people in ‘helpful people’, we put Human Resources in ‘relationship’ and things like that so there’s that very good flow of energy that moves around,” she said.

“If people are happy in what they are doing, and in the environment, which is incredibly important, around them, then productivity goes up.”

One company that she helped – Best Upon Request, which offers on-site concierge services – had seen unbridled growth.

“They called me at each step and they’ve just had their third massive growth spurt so I’m currently working on re-doing the rest of the top floor of the building that they’re currently in,” she said.

In Alper-Sedgewick’s view, individual offices or an open-plan set-up encourages productivity more than a structure of booths.

She also works carefully with colours, and in Best Upon Request’s case played with different shades of the official corporate colour, blue.

Original artwork, particularly from local artists, is also a successful way to lift the mood of the office.

“I’m a great believer in using local artists in any of the spaces that I work in. It’s important that… the artist has good energy. You want it to be uplifting,” she said.

Alper-Sedgewick also stressed the importance of trying to arrange desks to face the door.

“Ancestrally we were always on the alert…our ancestors always faced the door or the cave entrance in case there was a predator coming in,” she explained.

“So sub-consciously we’re not totally addressing the situation work-wise because unconsciously we’re thinking somebody is going to come up behind me so I can’t give 100% to this, I need to protect myself,” she added.

“When I turn everyone around and they’re facing the door, that clears up. It takes away all those extra feelings that ‘I can’t concentrate on this’ and then productivity goes up again,” she said.

For accountants who may be feeling sceptical, Alper-Sedgewick counters that maths is very akin to art and science.

“I have a lot of accountants on my books, and a number of engineers, and a couple of scientists,” she said.

“It’s interesting – they immediately put a barrier up…but when they see the logic and the common sense of Feng Shui then they see how much it benefits them. Then they open up their hearts a little bit more and take it all out of their minds.”

The Indian-origin philosophy of Vaastu often complements Feng Shui, said Sylvia Bennett, who heads up the UK-based Fengshui-living.com.

Bennett often incorporates the Hindu “science of architecture”, with its principles of design, layout and spatial geometry, into her consultations.

“The advantages are that visually the atmosphere of the office becomes calmer, there is more positive interaction between one employee and another, one department and another,” she said.

It also had a positive impact on the responsiveness of managers to the rest of the staff. “It can resolve conflicts. It tends to help as well with regards to absenteeism. If people have conflict they get stressed and then they stay off work,” she said.

Adequate circulation of air was also essential to good health, Bennett argued.

“These are things I would address,” she said. “Then in terms of productivity and success I would be looking at where desks are, how they are orientated, ways to optimise the layout, ways to optimise what we bring in in terms of natural elements to enhance and augment the environment.”

Like Alper-Sedgewick, she said she had also seen businesses become more positive as a result.

Working in IT, PR and Finance, she has also witnessed conflicts between managers being resolved. She recalls one example where two managers made their peace with each other after their office spaces had been rearranged.

“The very bottom line is obviously clutter, stuff that is actually negative in their office, that needs identifying and then figuring out a strategy so that there’s a workable, practical way of isolating it, discarding it, whatever is necessary to leave a clear environment,” she said.

Desk arrangements could be changed for the better, plants inserted into the space, or the lighting changed, Bennett added.

Coming from a strong business background also helped her to understand how to apply her Feng Shui and Vaastu skills to a commercial setting, she said.

“It’s becoming increasingly in demand,” said Bennett. “I’ve seen business turnover double in a year.”

Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.

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