Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lesson 2: Bushido - The Way of the Warrior

(Note: after writing about my Uncle Hiromichi and his hair-raising ride through the tsunami in Japan's devastating 9.0 earthquake in March, I've been asked by numerous individuals to republish my piece on the Bushido. Focused on the concepts of the Bushido, Uncle Hiromichi, was able to keep his wits and flow out of harm's way)

In today’s global business environment, entrepreneurs are faced with a multitude of challenges because of the tumultuous climate of business in our communities and across the planet. American businesses understand that competition has been equalized worldwide through technology and innovation and that ethics in our relationship to our partners and clients must be clear and honest if a business is to live a long, prosperous life. Unfortunately, we have been witness to, and victims of, a business environment gone wildly out-of-control in the United States with Wall Street leading the way.

What we need to do is look at examples of best practices.  In this case, we will examine a way of life that has been practiced in Japan for ten centuries. The lessons from these principles are worthy considerations for entrepreneurs in conducting their businesses consistently and not wandering to the whims of the moment. Note that these principles are not the tales of words but of conduct. It is to say that people trust what we practice and not what we say. We can fool some of the people some of the time, but when we don’t come through with our promises, it is nothing more than a lie. We not only lose their trust, we lose their business and worst, our reputation – affecting all future business.

The Entrepreneurial Warriors
For a thousand years, the “Bushido” or the Way of the Samurai (Warrior) was practiced by a class of entrepreneurs in Japan whose business was maintaining peace and harmony. The samurai was a niche group of independent contractors who served regional lords (or Shogun), enforcing the laws and keeping order in their kingdoms. While their skills with swords and archery were legendary and deadly, they also were fine masters of tea ceremonies, flower arrangements and poetry. Their greatest strength came from their daily training in martial arts to improve their discipline and just as importantly, their understanding of social relationships. This way of life was called “Bushido” (Bu = martial arts; Shi = Warrior; Do = the way.) While the society was a male-dominated structure, women were welcome under the Bushido code and appropriately referred to as “women warriors.” They followed these seven essential principles:
            1. “Gi” = Integrity and Rectitude
2. “Yu” = Courage and Bravery
3. “Jin” = Compassion, Universal love
4. “Rei” = Respect and Courtesy
5. “Makoto” = Honesty and Utter Sincerity
6. “Melyo” = Honor
7. “Chugo” = Loyalty and Commitment

In addition to these seven principles, the samurai also remained cognizant of the following three virtues:
1.     Love of Parents and Ancestors
2.     Never-ending Quest for Knowledge
3.     Care for the Elderly

Decisions Based on Principles
By following this code of ethics, the samurai were able to make decisions based on their principles and act accordingly. They were respected by their communities for their commitment to doing the right thing without ulterior motives of money or personal glory. The greatest samurai are still revered today as models for trustworthiness, honesty and bravery without compromise of their pure intent. Perhaps the most famous, Miyamoto Musashi, and the author of “The Book of Five Rings” (circa 1645) is still studied today as the greatest swordsman in Japanese history and a master battle strategist. (The Book of Five Rings has become a bestseller among business readers because of its strategy applications to business.) His popularity was heightened by the present-day use of his name and likeliness in video games and comic books. 

One of Musashi’s key concepts was that in order to be a great warrior, it was imperative to learn through practice, not merely through reading. He believed that it was imperative that students engage in the physical performance in order to truly understand what was required of the mind, body and soul. Today, his theory has proven itself with the scientific discovery that neural transmitters reach out to all parts of the body and that knowledge-based intelligence is reinforced through physical acts that engage the various components of our body. In our entrepreneurial transformation, it is important for new business owners to take this lesson with utmost responsibility in order to improve our performance. In other words, the act of performing a business transaction helps you to improve your business transaction know-how.

The Greatest Entrepreneur in Japanese History?
As entrepreneurs, the samurai had to find contracts to fulfill in order to stay in business. Their ability to win these jobs was based on their reputation and skills. Because the standards were set in part by the cultural norms of the society, it was imperative for the samurai to understand his social environment and the needs within it. While his martial arts skills (including his skills with weapons) were valuable, the greatest of all the samurai was a short, unskilled, uneducated, floppy-eared peasant named Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He earned the nickname of “Monkey” because his face reminded people of one. While he had no skills with weapons, he succeeded by learning human nature, outwitting his competitors, using an opponent’s strength against them and solving problems using people’s desire to succeed. He conquered one obstacle after another using this formula and eventually advanced like no other peasant before him – advancement so profound that one would call him the greatest entrepreneur in Japanese history. As he rose to power, he became known as the “Monkey King” and the military ruler of Japan. Recently, an English version of Toyotomi’s exploits were published entitled, “The Swordless Samurai” by Kitami Masao and translated to English by Tim Clark. (Published by St. Martin Press, 2005)

Having been born to poor farmers, Hideyoshi was destined to work in his village caring for the rice crop year after year. But unable to withstand the cruelty of his stepfather, he ran away at the age of 12 taking odd jobs and vowing to come back in triumph, saving his mother and brother. All along, he dreamed of some day becoming a respected samurai. His passion and powerful desire maintained his course through good and horrific times because Hideyoshi taught himself the concepts of the Bushido. But recognizing his inability to master any weapons or the physical strength to win any battles, Hideyoshi turned inward to discover his two greatest assets: the ability to understand human nature and to think outside-of-the-box. With these skills, he realized that people wanted to be respected and recognized for their abilities. He also showed that getting people to work together as teams was far superior in achieving the outcome than individual efforts. Through his organizational triumphs and innovative solutions, Hideyoshi rose in status placed upon him by appreciative Shoguns. He continued to climb until he had united all of Japan and he became the first Shogun to rule the entire country.

Applying the Bushido
Leading your business in a principled manner is not only the right thing to do; it will build the one thing that is the most treasured jewel with customers, vendors and employees: trust. It will be critical to apply each of the principles in a holistic manner; that is, each one complements each other. They do not work in isolation; they only work when working together in synchronicity. By practicing these principles conscientiously on a daily basis, they will become second nature to you. But you must have their meaning in front of you each day, and you must perform them without fail in order that they become a part of who you are. It is your training as an entrepreneurial warrior.

“Gi” is your integrity; your relentless effort to stand behind your word.  It is the first step in establishing a solid relationship with others. It is your promise to carry forward with what you say you will accomplish. You cannot consider anything less because a slip of your integrity will damage the reputation of not only your business, but of you personally. Too often, we hear the phrase: “I’ll try to get that done.” There is no integrity in making such a statement. We know this only mean to lower our expectations because most likely, it’s not going to get done. Gi is about honoring your commitments, increasing your standards and standing behind each word we speak.

“Yu” is your courage to stand up and do what you believe is right even in the face of fear especially fear that has lived within you for a long time. It is your empowerment to start your business knowing that it has been your life’s passion; that it will improve your life and of those you love. It is the courage to follow your heart and succeed against what once felt like impossible odds. Yu is your awakening to explore the unknown with an optimistic courage to becoming a stronger, better person. Then, once you’ve launched your business, the consistent application of yu will give you a growing legacy to build upon because the future will always bring more unknown elements for you to conquer.

“Jin” is your compassion, your universal understanding of the need to improve our world through your business. It is the idea that all things are interconnected and to neglect one will have a negative effect on another. It serves as your compass to assure that what you contribute will always move your community forward while serving to meet your personal goals. Jin means that you will take the time to walk in the shoes of others and to understand the world through their eyes. Your own world perspective will broaden and build a concrete understanding of why success comes through compassion and interconnectedness.

“Rei” is your respect for others and the environment in which you live. It is your understanding of the relationship between your actions to the results. Rei reflects the courtesy you place on your interactions with each person and situation in your business. It is showing the courtesy and respect that all people deserve in order for you to succeed in your business and more importantly, in your life. True respect and courtesy is practiced without regret even as hostilities surround you. When you honor and respect your enemies as well as your allies, your enemies may very well become your allies.

“Makoto” is your uncompromising commitment to honesty. It is not only a principle but a way of life that dictates your respect for those you affect. It is your utter sincerity in making sure that you and those in your relationships are progressing clearly without concern for doubts and mistrust. Makoto means that your courtesy for others builds lasting relationships and integrity that will translate into rich, permanent successes . Honesty may hurt at times, but it will never deteriorate the respect others will have for you. In the end, your honesty will leave a legacy of your brilliant reputation. And that will always be good for your business.

“Melyo” is your honor. In business, we rarely speak of honor as if it’s out of context. It is not a flashing neon sign to display to your customers and vendors to attract their business. It is a way of personal conduct that establishes itself as the culture of your business.  Honor means integrating all the other Bushido principles and assuring their proper practice. It means that your business represents who you are and those that you love in the best way possible. It means that you honor your commitments, your clients, your vendors and your competitors so that the integrity of your business is never compromised or questioned.

“Chugo” is your loyalty and commitment to fulfill your destiny. In business, loyalty has numerous hands including loyalty to reach your goals, to those that work for you, with you and benefit from you. Loyalty places a foundation for your activities and gives your business a stabilization that is cherished  by your clients, vendors and employees. Through your commitments, you are saying that you will always do what you state. When you succeed each time, the loyalty to those you most affect will be reinforced by your actions. Loyalty is always based on your performance, not by your words alone.

In addition to these seven principles, the samurai also practiced the following three virtues:
  1. Love of Parents and Ancestors – our DNA and personal characteristics are the result of not only our parents but our grandparents and great grandparents. Within our cells are the ingredients from past generations, and we share a direct kinship to this genetic makeup. While it is our responsibility to improve upon who we are, we must keep in mind our inherited histories and honor the achievements and legacy that our ancestors have left for us.

  1. Never-ending Quest for Knowledge – if we are to succeed, there is no end in sight to our thirst for knowledge. Without this mindset, we will stop challenging our ability to succeed while the rest of the world continues to progress. Without continual knowledge, we will fall behind much of the world and our businesses will suffer. The status quo must be on-going knowledge and applying that knowledge to the way we live. There is an absolute guarantee that unknown factors will arise. Our approach must be to first understand and intelligently take action. To reject it because we do not understand it will push us back into ignorance and sheltered lives.

  1. Care for the Elderly – we are where we are because of the contributions and sacrifices made by those who came before us. Now it is our turn – through Bushido – to honor and support those who have helped to open the road for us through their hard work, devotion to us as their children, and their commitment for a better world. Too often, we get involved with our own daily lives and look to the future as our salvation – our brighter day. When we consider the future, we must remember that it was the past that has brought us here now. We must continue to value our elderly because their wisdom and experiences will help guide us into the future.

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