Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

The Principle of Wu Wei: Do nothing? Not quite....

on Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wu Wei

Wu Wei, could be simply translated to "do nothing", but packs a punch when you reflect on what it truly signifies. 

In reality, Wu Wei is the embodiment of the principle of going with the flow. To the right is a calligraphic painting by Aisin Gioro, the grand nephew of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. We didn't get to meet the artist, but he is known to span China and the West, and manages the delicate balance of gentle engagement with political powers that be - I suspect he gets Wu Wei rather well.

Wu Wei is a spirit I learned to recognize during my 10 days in Shanghai and Beijing, and month and a half in India. A lot has got done in the past decades in both nations - but it's been done with the spirit of flowing with ancient systems and beliefs. Change has certainly come, but some of the immutable nature of the cultures remain. 

How does one innovate in such situations, one might ask? In some cases it means "breaking with permission." 

The Shanghai Skyscape

It's a set of capabilities I would advocate that innovators living within large organizations develop. Find the space you want to transform, identify stakeholders - and either bring them along or find someone who can manage those stakeholders. 

Managing change while you innovate may not seem as glamorous and crashing through walls, but it can result in fewer broken bones and opening up of interesting new opportunities.

What has China done right, in my opinion?
- Set out a vision for change, e.g., the modernization of the economic system within their political construct
- Identify where change will be implemented and do it locally, e.g., by ensuring the political machinery in key cities drive key initiatives 
- Leave what can't change untouched, e.g., Beijing was quite a contrast to Shanghai!!

I look forward to catching up with others who know more about this space, but believe change management and innovation go hand in hand.


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