How Could I Forget About Nemawashi!

Remember nemawashi? You may have seen the term in a book or on “Lean” or the “Toyota Production System“. If you did, you may have also seen nemawashi used in discussions about hoshin kanri (strategic planning) or change management.

Wikipedia defines the Japanese term  nemawashi (根回し) as
an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project, by talking to the people concerned, gathering support and feedback, and so forth. It is considered an important element in any major change, before any formal steps are taken, and successful nemawashi enables changes to be carried out with the consent of all sides. Nemawashi literally translates as “going around the roots”, from 根 (ne, root) and 囘す (mawasu, to go around [something]). Its original meaning was literal: digging around the roots of a tree, to prepare it for a transplant.

Interior close up of Chambered Nautilus ShellWhile I understand the agricultural origins of nemawashi, it’s easier for me to visualize the concept in action by looking at the interior of a Chambered Nautilus shell. I appreciate the Nautilus (Nautilus pompilius) and its sacrifice for my learning’s sake. And I know that this amazing animal is a wonderful example of nemawashi at work. Each day, the Nautilus is building its next living quarters. When the time is right the nautilus moves into its new digs. It also seals off the previous chamber, except for a small hole. After many iterations in this Fibonacci spiral*, the Nautilus uses the previous chambers to adjust its buoyancy in the ocean.

I love the lesson of the Chambered Nautilus.

  • Use today’s actions to grow & thrive.

  • Prepare for the future, today.

  • Use the past for stability & orientation to the present.

Like Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.


*Remember the Fibonacci sequence? Starting with 0 and 1,  each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21… Examples in nature abound in nature from honey bee hives to sunflower seeds to heads of cauliflower.

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