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Master the Art of Victory: Business Insights from a Samurai Warrior

By Julie King |

In the time of the Samuri a man named Miyamoto Musashi emerged as a powerful warrior. At the age of thirteen he won his first duel. At 29 he retired to study the true "Way" of martial arts, having been victorious in 60 engagements. Each of Musashi's duals had the ultimate stake: life or death.

Towards the end of his life Musashi recorded what he had learned about attaining victory in The Book of Five Rings. There are many parallels between winning in battle and succeeding in business.

Consider the business insights from these five lessons from The Book of Five Rings.

When you have mastered your weapons one man can defeat ten and ten can defeat a hundred. It is important to not hold a fondness for any particular weapon or anything else for that matter.

Lesson #1: Learn how to win.
Whether in business or in war victory comes from strategic knowledge coupled with experience, not size. More money, people or resources can, in fact, hinder your business development because they may make you less careful. The challenge is to understand what is needed to win, which comes from the mastery of your weapons.

Mastering your weapons has two facets. First, you need to understand what you must do to outdo your competition. Equally important is your ability to "execute". Execution doesn't mean your ability to kill your competition. Rather, it refers to how effective you are in actually doing the things that you have set out to do. Venture capitalists and angel investors will often say that they look for an entrepreneur's ability to execute when deciding whether or not to invest in a company. Execution is definitely the greater challenge.

Pragmatic thinking is essential.

Lesson #2: See things objectively.
Pragmatic thinking calls on you to think analytically about your business. There is no point in looking at your business through “rose-coloured glasses”. By recognizing both opportunities and threats you will be better positioned to respond in the most effective and appropriate way possible. Each business will face different challenges. For a retail store it could be finding the right product mix or storefront design. A manufacturing company may need to fine-tune its production line to minimize bottlenecks. It is up to you to recognize the challenges that you must focus your energies on and to set your priorities accordingly.

For most businesses, effective employee management and delivery of excellent customer service will be important "weapons of competition".

The martial way of life practiced by warriors is based on excelling others in anything and everything.

Lesson #3: Master Excellence.
Simply put, it is not acceptable to be mediocre. You must understand your competition - why would a potential customer buy from them instead of you? More importantly, what do you need to do to win back those lost customers?

If you are weak in a particular area then it behooves you to find a way to improve. For small businesses this may mean that you need to outsource certain tasks. For a larger company it could mean finding ways to stay innovative and flexible while also maintaining consistency across the organization.

Let the teacher be the needle, let the student be the thread, and practice unremittingly.

Lesson #4: To lead you must learn to follow.
Business owners are leaders. They make difficult decisions on a regular basis and are expected to have the answers when a crisis occurs. Yet as a strong business owner leads, he or she will also nurture the humility of the student by looking to customers, suppliers and employees for ways to do things better.

In order to be able to act as the "thread" you must be willing to discard arrogance and pride. If you cannot do this what you see will be clouded by your own emotions and ego.

As a 'student' your most important teacher will be your customers and suppliers. However there is much to be learned about the strengths and weaknesses of your business by observing your employees as well. It is commonly said that problems come down from the "top", so if you observe problems or dissatisfaction with your employees try to avoid casting blame. Instead, ask yourself what the company leaders are either doing or not doing to allow those problems to exist.

When you combine the fortitude of leadership with the knowledge that comes from learning from others great things can be accomplished.

The way to win in battle according to military science is to know the rhythms of the specific opponents, and use rhythms that your opponents do not expect, producing formless rhythms from rhythms of wisdom.

Lesson #5: Rhythm and timing are everything.
The belief that great entrepreneurs are born probably comes from their ability to react to the rhythms of business. This talent is not easily taught, but it can be developed. Failure is often the greatest teacher and many entrepreneurs will tell you that they have learned more from their losses than their successes.

An important aspect of rhythm is that markets are organic and always changing. The business community tends to hold the view that the management of a successful company will be based on forecasting and complex plans. However, when you launch a business you must be prepared to react to the unexpected. As the forces that affect your business change so must your plan.

Another aspect of rhythm is that in every situation there are a number of possible responses. The challenge is to find the best possible response, which often involves doing the unexpected.

Threats can come in many forms. The most obvious threat is the loss of customers to your competition. However, things are always much more complex than they seem on the surface and must be viewed as a whole.

Ask yourself why you are losing customers. Do you have difficulty attracting and retaining good employees? Is your competitor using a database to track customers more effectively and therefore doing a better job of staying abreast of emerging trends? Do you need to adjust or improve your sales and marketing methods?

Brilliance in business often comes from making an unexpected move that creates a powerful differentiation between one business and all others. Well executed timing can cripple the efforts of your competition. But you need to be careful, as smart competitors will attempt to use the same approach against you.

To conclude consider the advice that Musashi gives at the end of almost every lesson in The Book of Five Rings. To have any meaning or use, each of these lessons must be examined carefully.

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