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Toon-Te-Ching: Verse 11

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Toon-Te-Ching. Each week we are taking one of the 81 verses of the Tao-Te-Ching, pairing it with a toon and connecting the teaching to our work life.


Verse 11

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;

it is on the hole in the center that

the use of the cart hinges.

Shape clay into a vessel;

it is the space within that makes it useful.

Carve fine doors and windows,

but the room is useful in its emptiness.

The usefulness of what is

depends on what is not.


The spaces in-between. This verse encourages us to shift our attention from the work or the ‘particles’, and instead pay attention to the spaces in-between. When there is a problem in your workplace, think about where that problem originated. Usually, problems are misunderstandings between people or organizations. Rarely is the problem in the work itself. We discuss this further in our post Handoffs: Handshakes or Hugs?

When we encourage the mentality of ‘clearly defined roles’ we increase the risk of errors. ‘Clearly defined roles’ suggest reductionist thinking: if we break everything apart, reduce it to smaller pieces, make each piece perfect, and then it will come back together without any problems. The problem with reductionist thinking in a complex world is that there are too many integration points. As a matter of fact, the integration points far outnumber the pieces or particles.

“Music is the space between the notes.” Claude Debussy

Slack time. We have become a society, in the workplace and even beyond, where being busy is a status symbol. This verse is asking us to consider that the value is not always in the particle, it is often in the space. The analogy to a room being useful in its emptiness is resonant. What would a room be like where every available inch is filled with furniture and knick-knacks? It would be completely unusable! Why do we arrange our work calendars to look like the home of a hoarder?

Slack time is the practice of having downtime on your work calendar. Yes, your WORK calendar! Schedule in a blocked hour of downtime every day. Use that time to walk around, have spontaneous chats, grab a coffee, go for a walk outside. Notice what emerges when you make space.

Stopping work is valuable. Deciding to start a project is valuable. But we often overlook the fact that stopping a project can sometimes be even more valuable than starting a new one. Stopping something that’s not providing value, not only saves the wasted money, but frees up resources to quickly tackle a new opportunity when one arises.

Brain Twist: While you’re in a meeting today, just for a moment shift your focus to the space between the action. Is something not being said? Is there a lack of space or excess space?

As you focus on the work at hand today, pay attention to what is exists between the elements of work to be done. Are there people that should be included? Are there conversations that aren’t happening?

Verse Translation from: Dyer, Wayne. Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (p. 52). Hay House. Kindle Edition.



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