Westerners’ relationship with time is hurting the work

The Japanese tradition of Takumi is the anti-“always be hustling,” but incorporating it into your 9-to-5 can help you find equilibrium—all on your own time.
Grand Seiko’s signature timepieces   are crafted in-house, shaped by the workshop’s pillars of precision, legibility, and ease of use.
Grand Seiko’s signature timepieces are crafted in-house, shaped by the workshop’s pillars of precision, legibility, and ease of use.
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In 1983, anthropologist Edward T. Hall noted that those in the West perceive time as linear. The result of this perspective is a tendency to create limitations, such as the idea that one “can only do one thing at a time.” Hall also observed that in places outside of the West, including in parts of Asia where Buddhism and Hinduism are common, time is instead seen as constantly moving in various directions. From this vantage point, critical junctures occur not on a deadline or after a precise number of hours, but simply when the stars align.

The tradition of Takumi, central to Japanese watchmaker Grand Seiko’s ethos, encapsulates this nonlinear mindset. Originally meaning “artisan,” Takumi refers to those who have mastered their craft through decades of thoughtful repetition. These expert makers pour all that they have into their trade to learn, understand, and create, knowing that perfection may be unattainable, but constantly striving for it anyway.

For business leaders, this patient, disciplined headspace may sound anathema to the pervasive “always be hustling” philosophy and unreachable in a corporate environment.

But incorporating this method into your own 9-to-5 can help you find your equilibrium, keep in touch with your creative impulses, and get inspired—all on your own time.

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Step 1: Find the balance

Each Grand Seiko watch is crafted in-house, shaped by the workshop’s pillars of precision, legibility, and ease of use as well as the organic beauty that surrounds their studio near Japan’s majestic Mount Iwate. Some, like the Japanese seasons collection which embodies Japan’s 24 (yes, 24) sekki, or seasons, are literally influenced by the nature of time and evoke a more playful, less pressurized attitude toward the clock. Its dials bring to mind a rippling lake, autumn moonlight, snow-capped mountains, and spring cherry blossoms.

The Shōsho from Grand Seiko 24 ‘Sekki’ Seasons collection; timepieces influenced by the nature of time itself.
The Shōsho from Grand Seiko 24 ‘Sekki’ Seasons collection; timepieces influenced by the nature of time itself.

These concepts—the serenity of the natural world and the stress of checking the hour—might seem in conflict with each other, but they are complementary. In fact, Grand Seiko designer Kiyotaka Sakai specializes in these kinds of juxtapositions.

“[There was a period during which] people were more strongly inclined to value collective consciousness. It was an age when more emphasis was put on how to fit in with those around you,” he reflects. “[Now] individuals have begun to think more independently about everything.” Striking this balance helps Sakai develop contemporary timepieces that still honor the traditions of his predecessors.

Images of the Shizukuishi studio surrounded by greenery and mountains with modern wooden interiors
Located in northeast Japan, the company’s Shizukuishi studio is surrounded by mountain landscapes that dramatically evolve each season.

Step 2: Make the space

Since 1960, Grand Seiko has been on a mission to create the most accurate watch in the world and given their designers the legroom to accomplish this feat by whatever means necessary. In his projects for Grand Seiko, motion designer Hisashi Fujieda has employed the slower, more methodical Takumi process to create some of the brand’s most iconic watches.

Takumis possess a thorough grasp of their trade, but are always striving to elevate their skills.
Takumis possess a thorough grasp of their trade, but are always striving to elevate their skills.

For example, Fujieda and his team have spent as long as nine years (nearly double the average luxury watch timeline) engineering one-of-a-kind timepieces. They once took two years to develop an entirely new analytical technique that would help them find the most accurate hairspring shape, then used that technique to test more than 80,000 designs.

Two identities that tend to coexist within leaders—and Takumis—are teacher and student. To hone in on this dichotomy, adopt the humility of the student by taking continuing ed classes, reading up on the latest industry trends, or regularly seeking advice from an admired veteran in your field.

In the same vein, share your own wisdom with the next generation of employees through your company’s mentorship program, guest lectures at your college alma mater, or broadcasting an “open-door” or “open Slacks” policy with your coworkers, then making good on that promise. Acting as both lifelong learner and trusted educator serves as a reminder that, just like the seasons, your approach to work is a dynamic process.

For some companies, two years may be enough of a span to shift and re-shift entire business strategies. But this dedication to building a strong foundation, upon which to bring a new product to life, is central to the Grand Seiko code. Like Fujieda, leaders looking to expand upon their own vision and usher in fresh recommendations must give themselves the space to find that prolonged focus.

You may not get a two-year extension on an assignment, but you can carve out protected chunks in your calendar to conduct market research, create moodboards, brainstorm with trusted colleagues, and encourage teammates to do the same. Start by closing your messaging and email apps and getting lost in the big picture and the fine print. Spending time indulging in your own curiosity can help you rethink possibilities and unlock new ideas, keeping you ahead of the curve, just like a Takumi.

[When designing], we take plenty of time 
to develop a solid understanding of the underlying elements,” Fujieda says. “That is the key to our achievement of the absolute ideals we seek.

Step 3: Reference the blueprints

Rather than follow the trends of the present day, Fujieda finds his muse in timekeeping’s past and examines sketches of Grand Seiko’s many revolutionary pieces, even those conceived more than 50 years ago. More often than not, what he finds in these blueprints is the skillful repetition of a Takumi. The quality of the drawings and the ideas present within them are telltale signs of a studious and storied craftsperson, one who knows their métier inside and out.

Going back to the basics helps Grand Seiko’s Design Division determine how they can advance the qualities of a mechanical watch with the help of modern electronic tools. Like a true Takumi, Fujieda uses the knowledge he gathers to inform his next innovation.

“Looking at these drawings gives me confidence,” he reveals. “They’re the push I need to translate my thoughts into concrete actions.”

Even if your field of work does not lend itself to literal sketches, you can still draw from the efforts of those who came before you, whether by interviewing current coworkers with deep institutional knowledge or digging through the company archives: pitch decks, early mission statements, brand pillars from the startup phase, the original business plan, or assorted ideas left on the metaphorical cutting-room floor.

You can even reflect on your own prior accomplishments by reading through old meeting notes, performance reviews, or email threads that led up to a project you’re proud of. Study triumphs and tribulations from your own professional journey and others’, then take those lessons and apply them going forward.

Guided by the values of Takumi, Grand Seiko is committed to the pursuit of perfection, no matter how long it takes. Just like effective business leaders, these engineers and artisans are at once experienced veterans and forward-thinking trailblazers, well-versed in the old and intrigued by the new.

(left) image of a Takumi artisan examining a Grand Seiko watch and looking at sketches. (Right) Picture of a Grand Seiko watch with metal hardware and a white dial
The work of a Takumi’s forerunners serves as both an instruction manual and fodder for a “Eureka!” moment.

To learn more about Grand Seiko’s expert craftsmanship, check out the latest collections.

This article was produced on behalf of Grand Seiko by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff.