Finding the 'Way' to Business Success
By Julie King | May 31, 2005
In our hectic lives we are often driven by an internal frenzy that leaves no room for meditation or reflection. Yet a philosophical set of guiding principles may be exactly what you need to improve your business.
Upon discovering this he then dedicated the rest of his life to attain a deeper principle and uncover the science of the martial arts.
What he learned is set out in The Book of Five Rings. At the start of his book he explains that there are rules for learning the art. These guiding principles direct the student to maintain a philosophical approach to all that they do. You may be surprised by their application to the business world as well as that of the martial artist.
Rule #1: Think of what is right and true.
This rule calls on you to properly train your mind. Musashi says that it is imperative that you polish your intellect and mind diligently. He wrote ”Once you have sharpened your intellect to the point where you can see whatever in the world is true or not, where you can tell whatever is good or bad, and when you are experienced in various fields and are incapable of being fooled at all by people of the world, then your mind will become imbued with the knowledge and wisdom of the art of war.”
To achieve this state of mind you must begin by keeping your mind in its “normal state” in all your endeavours. Musashi explains that the mind should be “open and direct, neither tense nor lax, centering the mind so that there is no imbalance, calmly relax your mind, and savor this moment of ease thoroughly so that the relaxation does not stop its relaxation even for a minute. Interestingly enough, this is much harder – and much more rewarding - than maintaining a stressful, scattered mindset.
Rule #2: Practice and cultivate the science.
The way you “do” business is an ongoing journey. Every day is a new opportunity to cultivate your business, yet we often tend to get caught up in just doing the nuts and bolts without making a conscious attempt to learn from what we do. This is the essence of cultivation. When you maintain an external perspective on what you do with the intention of improving the way you do things you have the chance to take everything to an entirely new level. The mere application of intentional practice will take you a step beyond many of your competitors.
Rule #3: Become acquainted with the arts.
Musashi wrote that the way of warriors referred to someone who was familiar with both the cultural and martial arts. It was not enough to be skilled, but was also important to be socially well known and established. In modern business this refers not only to the ability to network with the right people, but it could also be interpreted that skill in the arts promotes balance in life, as well as adding depth of character and credibility, essential for building a successful business.
Rule #4: Know the principle of the crafts.
In Mushashi's time the crafts described the work of those who used their skills to create things. A great manager and leader will have mastered the principles of the crafts. They will have the technical skills needed to intervene and provide guidance to their staff. They will have the administrative knowledge needed to navigate bureaucratic requirements. They will have the knowledge and talent needed to hire and manage people. Their skill is seen in the end result, which is not only the final product or service, but also the ease with which the assigned tasks are accomplished. Talent is not enough to learn the principles of the crafts; hands-on experience is also essential.
Rule #5: Understand the harm and benefit in everything.
This principle asks us to step outside of our emotions to recognize the potential impact of everything we do. This approach can be a powerful weapon that will help you avert disasters as they are brewing. Sometimes you will need to make difficult decisions that will have a negative impact, but recognizing what the impact will be also gives you the power to off-set some of the problems that you expect to occur.
Rule #6: Learn to see everything accurately.
In his book Musashi explains the different schools of thoughts and the advantages offered by different strategic tactics. He then goes on to reject the notion that there is one “better way” or superior school. The more accurately you see something, the less important tricks become. In war, if you have the false perception that one particular approach will always bring victory then you have put yourself on the pathway to defeat. In business, the lesson is that if you do not see things as they really are, you place your company in jeopardy. This applies to all areas of your business. Investing in a losing product line could be a fatal error. Failing to acknowledge problems with leadership and management could be equally devastating to a business.
Rule #7: Become aware of what is not obvious.
In our modern world we can use much more than intuition to do this. Collect data, survey your customers, talk to as many suppliers and customers as you can so that you are aware of subtle shifts in your industry. This is intrinsically linked to the first rule which describes the ideal state of mind and way of seeing the world. Successful business owners are sensitive to shifts in trends, opportunities and threats. Developing a sense for the right timing is an important part of this rule as well; it does not help you to go out of business because you tapped into a trend two years before it was really profitable.
Rule #8: Be careful even in small matters.
The phrase “the devil is in the details” applies equally to war and business. Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of modern Karate-do, attended to small details such as his dress and bowing toward the Imperial Palace before having his morning tea with as much care as he did his training.
It is easy to allow the small details in our business to slip when things get busy, but when this happens you invite problems into your business. It could be that little oversights are causing client dissatisfaction, interruptions in your supply chain, or even employee theft. In our modern world the pace at which things move cannot be compared to the lives of ancient warriors, yet there is something to be learned from setting a pace at which the details can be addressed properly.
Rule #9: Do not do anything useless.
Despite the surface appearance this rule does not conflict with the previous rule. It is better to do the most important things needed in your business and do them well than it is to do too much and do it poorly. Be careful in how you apply your energy by staying focused on your goals and by working on the things you need to do to achieve them. This includes making the decision to not take on work or to fire existing customers who may be getting in the way of your ability to reach your goals, possibly by using up resources that could be better directed towards the success of your company.
The Way of the warrior may seem like a foreign path. It is steeped in tradition and meaning is often cloaked in obscure phrases. The most important thing to understand about the martial arts is that success will come when three elements combine: your talent and effort, your practice of the art, and your adherence to Musashi's 9 rules.
In the practice of every way of life and every kind of work, there is a state of mind called that of the deviant. Even if you strive diligently on your chosen path day after day, if your heart is not in accord with it then even if you think you are on a good path, from the point of view of the straight and true, this is not a genuine path. If you do not pursue a genuine path to its consummation, then a little bit of crookedness in the mind will later turn into a major warp. Reflect on this.
- Miyamoto Musashi
Read last month's article: Master the Art of Victory: Business Insights from a Samurai Warrior