Sunday, January 08, 2006

Nemawashi anyone? 

Nemawashi was one of the more interesting concepts I came across doing my postgraduate work on Japanese Business Systems. The literal meaning is ‘binding the roots’ and it started off as the word for planting a tree - everything that needs to be done before during and after planting to make sure the tree takes life. I think this has relevance to out political situation today.

According to the Japanese, in business and organisational terms Nemawshi means the process by which everyone affected by a decision works through what the implications are and accepts the necessary consequences for their own actions and behaviour. If you deal with a Japanese organisation you may be amazed how long it takes to get a ‘decision’ made as everyone seems to be passing ideas around without commitment. But once a decision is made it can be implemented pretty rapidly as it has been internalised – it really becomes the ‘policy’. Contrast this with what the Japanese characterise as the abrupt Western way of decision making. Someone with power decides on a major change. That becomes ‘policy’ and enormous effort has to be expanded after the decision fighting through opposition coalitions and wrecking tactics.

Over in the Tory encampments, David Cameron is doing the opposite to Nemawashi – he is making extreme statements (from the Tory perspective) and leaving his own followers stranded as they struggle to understand and internalise the positions he is taking. I suspect that he will find many troubles in coming weeks and years, even from his strong allies.

Just maybe we could benefit from thinking on Nemawashi lines in our own debates. This does not mean shying away from hard and controversial topics but realising that we are part of a process. And an important part of that process is a respect for listening and learning,

One of the disciplines of Nemawashi is knowing that you cannot ever get complete agreement from all participants on the final goal for a serious action. What you can get however is an ‘agreement to proceed’, to move on to new ground and learn from what taking that new ground implies. Building up an ‘agreement to proceed’ gives an organisation great strength and helps establish the possibility of further ‘agreements’.

Another discipline is internalising a realisation that ‘carrying a narrow vote’ in a meeting or conference does not make that decision the ‘policy’ of all its members, not deep in their hearts and guts. If a vote is narrow it may be a current operational arrangement, it may decide on a bias in power relationships, it may settle questions of legitimacy but much much still needs still to be done.

We have an opportunity for some Nemawashi processes on 14th Jan and I hope we can ‘agree to proceed’ from what we learn there. I certainly hope that those of us with strong ideas for direction for the LibDems learn from watching Cameron’s errors and realise that bouncing parties into planting new trees without proper preparation leads to stunted and disappointing growth, the initial excitement be what it may.

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