The Beauty of Blank Space

I was in Portland, Oregon a couple of weeks ago attending Agile Camp 2017 Northwest. I had a day before the conference to explore and decided to go to Portland’s Japanese Gardens. They are quite beautiful and invite peace and quiet as you enter the gates.

As I hiked through the gardens, I stumbled upon the sand and stone garden. I looked at the perfect concentric circles and I wanted to grab a rake and wander through the garden, making my own circles….getting lost in my thoughts.

I opened the brochure and found the description of the sand and stone garden: “An important Japanese aesthetic principle underlying this dry landscape garden is yohaku-no-bi, meaning ‘the beauty of blank space.’ This style of garden was not meant for meditation [zazen], but for contemplation.”

Maybe my presence in this specific garden was just coincidence, but I like to think it was divine intervention. I am currently coaching a group of leaders both individually and as a leadership team. Blank space (and giving ourselves the permission to create it) has been one of the main topics during my sessions with each of these amazing leaders.

The demands of the day-to-day keep us busy, but I find the “busy” is typically tactical. At the end of the day we may feel accomplished with several items checked off our list, but did we actually take any time to focus on strategy or self-reflection?

These leaders are so caught up in the day-to-day fire-fighting mode of supporting teams, answering to their leaders, managing projects, etc., that they don’t take any time to contemplate, strategize or even self-reflect. These leaders are all self-aware that they need to take this time, yet they rarely do.

So I have posed this coaching question: “What is stopping you from taking time for blank space?” The answer every time, “Me.”

Interestingly enough, this one question and a little nudge from their coach has given these leaders the permission they needed. They have all taken time to embrace yohaku-no-bi. The result has been leaders who are more settled, organized, confident and focused on strategy. So, I will ask you the same question. What is stopping you from taking time for blank space?

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