Posts Tagged ‘Samurai’

The 6th Century BC Chinese General and military strategist Sun Tzu, best known today as the author and genius behind the classic text on strategy, The Art of War, penned a gem of a statement that has gained the status of proverbial wisdom.

“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

This book held profound influence over Asian military thinking and the Way of the Samurai. It was translated into French as early as 1772. Ultimately the book had an influence on leaders and generals from Napoleon, to General Douglas MacArthur, to Mao Zedong. It is studied at West Point Military Academy, and has been applied metaphorically in business and management strategy.

What is this powerful and apparently universal appeal behind Winning without Fighting, and more to the point, why is it that so few people throughout history have been able to master its lessons?

The Fisherman’s Quarrel

There are many variations on this wisdom in traditional Chinese culture, often told through profoundly simple and often humorous stories. One is that of The Fisherman’s Quarrel, in which two fisherman quarrel over their catch, during which time a bird makes off with the fish.

There is an inherent sense of the folly of fighting, and the wider perspective which seeks a way to win without fighting. There are many ways in fact of winning the battle but losing the war. We might say as well that the operation was a success, but the patient died. There are many ways of expressing the folly of the short-sighted solution.

We see it played out in our economy, where greed is good produces a massive win/lose scenario, eventually pitting Wall Street against Main Street. We see it in the nasty deception of going to war for the sake of peace. We see it in gross energy consumption that is altering the very climate of the planet we live on.

Sometimes we learn the hard way that fighting is not a way that works. Many conflicts erupt because someone had to talk back, stare back, fight back, rather than letting it go before it escalates. Even while studying the martial art of Aikido, which is fundamentally based on the art of winning without fighting, I have found myself drawn into conflicts that didn’t need to happen. Read Scene Three of my Manga Story, and see how easily this can happen. To have no enemies means to make no enemies.

Baker vs Taker

Guy Kawasaki tells of how he has found that by collaborating with what might have been his competition, both win and the pie gets bigger. He sums it up by saying that there is a fundamental difference in the mentality of the baker vs the taker. The baker makes pies and provides plenty to go around, whereas the taker gets his and leaves nothing for anyone else. The baker is creative and has an abundance mentality, whereas the take is destructive and has a scarcity mentality.

The Mandala Chart can help you develop an abundance mentality because it frees you from the one track mentality, and gives you 8 ways in which to view any particular situation. The power of the creative mind derives from flexible focus. If more people applied this in business, we would have the ability to generate solutions and preventions to problems, instead of constantly fighting to put out fires.

The Principle of Non-Dissension

There are many ways to think about winning without fighting. You can win by escaping, getting out of the fray in the first place. If you have a good understanding of all points of view, you can find a Win/Win solution, in which all sides benefit. You can win by passive resistance, the way of Mahatma Gandhi, in which you win by not fueling the conflict. Sun Tzu’s way is to win at the outset, through superior insight and perspective.

Instead of butting headlong into people and problems, develop a sense of pliancy and flexibility in your approach to life. Once you realize the folly of trying to enter the highway through the exit ramp in the face of oncoming traffic, you feel much better about following the good sense in the traffic signs that say, Yield or Merge.

An excellent way to cultivate this sense is to learn it with your body, by studying Asian martial arts which are based upon the principle of non-dissension, such as Aikido or Tai Chi Chuan. Learn to diffuse conflict by redirecting it, rather than fuel it by forcing the situation. You will avoid many of the problems that plague people, problems partly of their own making, and enjoy life more as you find the path of least resistance.

Taking your organization through change requires the skills of a samurai knowing when to make changes, when to leave things as they are, and staying centered through the entire process. Do this in an ever-changing environment with moving targets!

Like a samurai you can use the principles of martial arts and Zen, combine them with complexity theory, and develop an approach to changing your organization.

The Samurai

The word “samurai” has interesting roots. It means, “to serve.” More specifically, it means to serve something or someone higher than oneself. The samurai looks at the broader picture and chooses specific actions accordingly. To aid in this they practiced many arts with some samurai being great poets and artists. They worked to understand the principles of life beyond fighting. This led to even-tempered decision-making. This approach is critical when making organizational changes, some of which may be enjoyable and others painful.

Martial Arts

Martial Arts can teach us something about technique when changing an organization. Methods vary with circumstances but evolve from solid principles. In Aikido there is a proverb that goes something like this, “When you come upon a rock; be water and flow around it. When the ground is shifting; be a tree and establish roots.” This knowing when to flex and when to hold your ground is critical. In World War II Henry Kaiser revolutionized shipbuilding by restructuring the manner in which Liberty ships were designed and assembled. He turned naval construction on its head. Once new methods (flexing) were established and integrated they were pushed to the limit (holding ground). The time to build a ship was reduced from 245 days to 45 days with some being completed in less than a week. Some of those construction methods are still in use today.

Zen

So how do you pick from all different ways to organize? What order should they be used in? There are so many methods and types of advice one can get overwhelmed. The key is establishing and keeping an eye on your goals and values and choosing the appropriate method.

Zen offers some good advice: Be immovable. Now, this doesn’t mean be stubborn. It also doesn’t mean being stuck. What it does mean is be imperturbable. Have all decisions reflect movement towards desired goals while keeping values in sight. For more on this see a previous blog, Change Management – Leadership: An Executive Map, Compass and Navigation Method.

Complexity Theory

Now you can take a tip from complexity theory on how best to organize: let the people do it themselves. With everyone understanding the goals and values do something very interesting: take the organization back-and-forth between equilibrium and disequilibrium. When things are moving well – let them be (equilibrium). When a change is needed shake things up by pointing to the challenges and let the team decide how best to organize or reorganize (disequilibrium).

Andy Grove used a two-step process at Intel.

  1. He instilled the belief that change is needed and left the organization alone so the stress would build.
  2. When the stress was high enough he would then lead people through “The Valley of Death” to achieve the next chip design. (Adapted from “Surfing the Edge of Chaos,” Richard Pascale, et. al.)

In the next blog we will look at some deadly misconceptions regarding technology and change and how to remedy the situation. If you are as interested as I in these topics send me an e-mail at gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.