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Creative Career Path

Finding Finesse2009.09.30

    Finding Finesse

    Finesse is a fascinating word. It derives from Middle French, entering English in the 1500s, and it has taken on many nuances today which can help us rethink how we solve problems.


    Think of finesse as rooted in skill, being opposite to force which is rooted in strength. It is in the nuances and the consequences of these words that we see two very different approaches to problem solving.


    While force is associated with command, coercion, and compulsion, finesse is associated with artfulness, ingenuity, and diplomacy.

    In Japanese, the character for 匠 (takumi, skill, ingenuity, craftsmanship) comes close to the meaning of the word finesse. It is also a concept which is key to understanding Japanese culture, and the art of living in Japanese society.

    As a foreigner living in Japan, facing formidable barriers in language and culture, it is easy to feel frustrated. Being labeled from the start as an outsider (gaijin), we do not have equal access to the things and people around us. You may start out feeling like a bull in a China shop. Worse, Japanese people may see you that way, and you may not even know it.

    Even if you are a tourist or short-time resident, any effort you make to learn the Japanese language will give you increased awareness, appreciation, and access to things you may otherwise miss or be kept from. How much time and energy you spend on it depends on what you are hoping to achieve, but it can be rewarding at any level. It opens doors, inspires confidence, and creates opportunity. It also takes flexibility to learn, time to develop, and perseverance to succeed. Fluency in the language is the essence of finesse in communication.

    Finesse is the area in which you have the greatest immediate opportunity. You cannot do much about the immigration regulations. It takes time to gain fluency in the language. However, if you understand the importance and appreciation that Japanese have for finesse, then you can start developing more of it to gain your highest leverage points.

    Finesse shows in manners and behavior. Patterns of behavior developed during the Edo Period (1603~1868) which have persisted in Japan because they helped facilitate movement and cooperation under crowded conditions. These are known as Edo Shigusa, and have been popularized by Reiko Koshikawa in a movement to restore manners in Japanese life. Longtime residents of Japan notice the serious decline in public manners over time. I tried sounding the alarm myself in an article called, Where have all the manners gone? Read the full story at:

    Finesse also implies skill in moving your body, posture with presence, and a relaxed manner that conveys confidence. Instead of just admiring these movements at a distance, you can develop them yourself. One way to develop finesse is to study a Japanese martial or cultural art. These have elements of ritual and grace, and can be hypnotic to watch. It requires a commitment on a par with learning the language. These art forms are a means to polish your performance and your character at the same time. It is serious, rather than trivial pursuit.

    Another way to develop finesse is through NANBA, the Art of Physical Finesse. This will teach you to stand and move without fatigue, to make a favorable physical impression on others, and to be many times more productive. Learn more about NANBA in a previous article at:

    These are some of the paths to acceptance and access in Japanese culture, as well as to a Creative Career Path. The key in all cases is to use finesse, rather than force.

    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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