In many parts of Asia, it is unusual to construct an important new office building without first thinking about its feng-shui.
If the feng-shui is right—meaning that the building is located and oriented properly—it will bring good luck and cause the business to prosper.
Recently, a sort of “feng-shui lite” has begun to be exported to the West. Magazine articles offer advice on how to place your furniture, plants and water features to live more in harmony with nature.
Despite such quirky modern manifestations, feng-shui—which literally means “wind and water”—has its roots in thoroughly common-sense practices, as most ancient superstitions tend to do.
Stagnant air and water were the cause of many fatal diseases in old cities. Situating your home in a healthy location where water and wind flowed unimpeded could literally be the difference between life and death.
Feng-shui is all about eliminating blockages, because blockages create bad energy. Based on this, I like to define a good office space as “a place where light, air and people can all move freely.”
In the best Japanese tradition (“The Way of the Samurai,” “The Toyota Way,” etc.), I actually codified what all our company offices should look like in a document called“The Office Way.”
According to “The Office Way,” our offices throughout Japan must incorporate the following elements:
- Simple, intuitive layouts (for the free flow of people)
- Glass (for the free flow of light)
- Plants and natural wood fittings (for harmony with nature)
- A limited color palette (simple, traditional Japanese design)
Although based in feng-shui, my ideas also had more modern influences.
For example, a case study I read at Harvard Business School twenty-five years ago, had a powerful impact on me. It was the story of a young company that was growing very fast—until it expanded from one to two floors.
The simple physical change of being on two floors gave instant birth to a silo mentality. Instead of a “we’re all in it together” mindset, a “one floor versus the other” attitude took hold—and the company’s growth went into abrupt reverse.
Contrast this firm’s experience with that of financial data giant Bloomberg. At Bloomberg, no one, no matter how important, has a private office. Nor are there any partitions in the open-plan offices. There are even internal staircases to encourage staff to drop in on their colleagues on other floors (an idea that I adopted for my firm).Bloomberg is all about eliminating blockages.
Last year, I paid a visit to the Thomas Edison Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey. I detected feng-shui-like thinking behind the vast open-plan laboratories where Edison and his team created technologies like motion pictures and electric batteries. It seems that he too instinctively realized that a free flow of light, air and people promotes innovative thinking.
Ultimately, creativity is about people interacting freely in a single physical location. Physically being together is a meaningful thing. By sharing the same space, people share the same energy. Ideas transmitted directly by word of mouth have a massive impact. Face-to-face interaction is the best way to share and generate ideas, create excitement and boost motivation.
Ever since I set up my firm, I have seen the well-designed office as a place that can motivate, excite and inspire.
Think about it: after all, creating an effective “feng-shui office” could be the difference between life and death for your business!
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