Wabi-sabi: the art of imperfection

Aug 8, 2016


By Lyndsey Hall



“Perfect is the enemy of good”.

You may have heard this phrase before; possibly from a colleague as you worked together on a project. You might have brushed the comment aside, thinking they wanted you to rush the job to completion; deadline looming. You might even have mentally judged them as lazy or inclined to cut corners. But, as you agonised over the perfect font to use, or which background colour would really make your presentation pop, was it your colleague who needed to get their priorities straight? Or you?

In this day and age, we are constantly exposed to newer, more accurate information and improved tools and methods. It would be easy to spend hours honing and perfecting every element of our work, but is this really the best use of our time? If it means projects are delayed, postponed or even abandoned, then the answer is no.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept, rooted in zen Buddhism, which denotes that nothing is permanent, nothing is perfect, and nothing is ever finished. It encourages us to embrace imperfection and enjoy the flawed nature of everyday life.

It is a combination of two independent philosophies:

Wabi means things that are simple, rustic, and perhaps have a small flaw that increases the overall beauty and uniqueness of the item.

Sabi refers to things whose beauty stems from age, and the concept that changes due to use may make an item more beautiful and valuable.

How can you apply this concept to your work?

The first step is to accept that perfect does not exist. No matter how many times you tweak that presentation it will never be flawless, because your own understanding of the subject may differ to that of your audience. The colours, images and fonts you choose may evoke one feeling in you and a completely different one in your boss. So, next time you are preparing a document, make sure the facts are correct and worry less about the aesthetics.

In these permanently connected times, it can be tempting to keep updating your work with the latest information. Try including a caveat such as “correct as of [date/time]”, so your colleagues know when you checked your figures and can request the latest data if needed.

The pressures of modern life can lead to feelings of inadequacy that cause us to overwork ourselves, leading to stress, exhaustion and ultimately, burn-out. Social media has made our personal lives just as challenging, with the temptation to compete with those on our feed whose lives we feel look better, more exciting and more accomplished than our own. Fear of missing out, or FOMO, drives us to do more, see more and be more, when we should really be happy with what we have.

Wabi-sabi extols the virtues of simplicity, eschews materialism, and encourages us to find the beauty in the transience of life. In future, when you find yourself aiming for perfection, and feeling inadequate when you fall short, just think of the concept of Wabi-sabi and remember that nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent and nothing is ever finished.


Do you constantly strive for perfection, or are you happy with “good enough”? We’d love to hear your tips for remaining zen in the workplace, leave us a comment or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.



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