ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Mushin – Innocence and Simplicity in Design and Innovation

Posted by Plish on May 6, 2011

Where does good design come from?  Is it a representation of who each of us is?  If so, then surely self-awareness comes in to play?

I came across this short reflection (Via Charlie Badenhop of Seishindo) by a Japanese architect who we know as Okamoto.

Please give it a read and I’ll join you on the other side…

From time to time I get to meet exceptional teachers in Japan. Often what happens is I go to visit a friend and it turns out that one of the other guests is a highly regarded sensei.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet a man that works as an architect. Here is what Okamoto sensei had to say about his work.

“Charlie-san, our host said you have an interest in architecture. She suggested I tell you about the concepts that influence my work, and thus I’ve taken some time to think about this topic. In Japanese culture, and particularly in Japanese architecture mushin is an important concept to understand. In relationship to my work, the two ideas I hold in regard to the meaning of mushin are “innocence” and “free from obstructive thinking”. I strive to make all my work as simple as possible, without any visual, emotional, or physical obstructions.

What I’ve found over the years is, the simpler you make something, the more obvious the obstructions in your thinking appear. Rather than being bothered or constrained by the relationship between simplicity and obstruction, I find it very energizing. In the early stages of each new design, I look forward to discovering the weakness in my thinking. This leads me to understand I sometimes try to hide my weaknesses by obscuring them with complexity. The more simple the design, the less there is to hide behind. I must say that each time I discover this I am humbled. It’s only by being willing to own up to my many personal flaws, that I can little by little do away with the flaws in my designs.

In both my personal and professional life, I attempt to discard all extraneous actions and thought. I strive to be economical, ecological, and graceful, and follow a path of least resistance and optimal effect. I’ve found that I am most likely to embody this way of being prior to reflecting on what I’m doing. At such times, which still only happen rarely for me, I’m in a state of open focus relaxation, and my thoughts and actions occur simultaneously. Nothing comes between my thoughts and my actions, and neither is anything left over, or left undone. When I’m able to embody such a state I feel better both physically and emotionally, and I consider my work to be a reflection of my soul.

Sensei paused to make certain he still had my attention. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “let me please say one more thing, at the risk of filling the space with too many words.

Tao de Ching, the classic Chinese text of wisdom says the following,

A door and windows are cut out from the walls, to form a room. It’s the emptiness that the walls, floor, and ceiling encompass, that allows for the space to live in. Thus what we gain is Something, yet it’s from the virtue of Nothing that this Something derives.?

If you’ve ever been in a traditional Japanese room or Zen temple you’ll see that these spaces are filled with the same emptiness as described in the quote I’ve just read. Space is filled with “nothing”, as a way to allow for the infinite potential a room encompasses. This is an important part of the Japanese design aesthetic. The experience of “emptiness” is an invitation to empty one’s thinking mind, so that a new, innocent reality might appear.”***

I think my favorite quote (there are many actually) is: “This leads me to understand I sometimes try to hide my weaknesses by obscuring them with complexity.”

Complexity as Weakness’ disguise…

How many corporate cultures have complex innovation processes? What weaknesses are these complexities hiding?  What weaknesses are complex User Interfaces hiding?  Are these all reflections of the designer(s)?

Powerful questions to ask and not for the faint of heart.

What are your thoughts?

***Unless otherwise attributed, all material for the newsletter “Pure Heart, Simple Mind”™ is written and edited by Charlie Badenhop. If you would like to receive complimentary copies of future newsletters, please click on this link, http://www.seishindo.org/newsletters/ ©All rights reserved.
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