Nemawashi is a Japanese term that literally translates to "going around the roots."
Photo taken of beautiful tree roots in Hampstead Heath, London - post edited.
The concept of Nemawashi is so ingrained in the Japanese culture that it's challenging to translate into English, but mostly it's referred to as 'laying the groundwork.'
Nemawashi as an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for a change or - in the Western world we might see it as getting ‘buy-in’. The primary difference is that Nemawashi is done quietly - almost covertly - before the idea or desired future state is formed. The process includes talking to others who are related or interested in your idea and gathering their support, thoughts and feedback before any formal steps are taken.
Nemawashi can be used in various ways but in a commercial sense it can be useful for gathering information about your new industry and identifying ways you might work with and add value to people already in it, or navigate it more effectively once you're in it.
I only learnt about Nemawashi recently and I’m writing about it because it resonates with me.
My personal take on the concept is to build upon it: for me getting ‘buy-in’ is only one aspect of a move into something new - I see it as the wider approach or process someone can take when stepping out of their comfort zone and into the unknown.
With that in mind here’s three things I did when stepping out of my comfort zone - the world of design - and into something new - the world of art:
1. I made changes quietly:
At first, I didn’t tell many people about my idea to venture into and explore my passion for art. I kept away from social media and I chose to tell only a few of my friends and family that I’d gone back to Art College as a mature student. People love to try to help and rightly have their own opinions - which are important to listen to. Sometimes though, those opinions can turn into white noise that pollutes your mind and takes you away from your gut instinct about what’s actually right for you. I wanted to discover for myself, quietly and without the views of many others to influence any decisions about whether art was the right path for me. This was a huge decision, especially as it meant quitting the job of my dreams.
Hopes, dreams and ideas are fragile. Sometimes they need time to germinate and grow to a position of strength on their own. Choosing who you tell, or not tell at the beginning of a new journey is critical - be careful who to trust with this information - they are more influential than you probably think.
2. I dipped my toe in slowly
Opening the door to something different and new can be intimidating.
Making a change slowly and carefully is a great way to test the water: it gives you time to embrace feeling vulnerable, stupid and excited. Quite often when exploring something new you have to learn a new language, new way of thinking, or new way of doing things. Existing thoughts and habits don’t change overnight - usually they seed and grow over time.
Dipping my toe in slowly helped me to acclimatise to a new culture and gave me time to both reflect and choose the starting point for my new journey.
3. I embraced curiosity
To learn about the world of art and discover what the arts bring to us, as individuals and culturally I’ve embraced a curious approach. This included:
Although I believe Nemaswashi is crucial at the beginning of a journey or at a point of change, I also wholeheartedly believe that you need to continue asking critical questions about the norms in an industry, the existing culture within it and the systems and beliefs that support it. Learning should never stop and if you want to create change or navigate a sector fully and successfully then my belief is that 'ongoing Nemawashi' is critical.