Miyamoto Musashi: A Life in Arms: A Biography of Japan’s Greatest Swordsman by William de Lange

Centuries before the digital age and the idea of creating a personal brand, Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi branded a paradigm for strategy  that has guided both business and culture in Japan ever since.

In his book below, William de Lange gives a humanistic and insightful perspective on the man behind the strategy.

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Source: Goodreads | Miyamoto Musashi: A Life in Arms: A Biography of Japan’s Greatest Swordsman by William de Lange — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Why a Few Minutes of Exercise Can Show Results – WSJ

At the risk of sounding very cliché, the human body is a lot like a high performance engine. In order to run at peak efficiency, high performance engines require the right mix of fuels and quality maintenance. They also don’t do well when they sit for too long. So too is the human body and mind.

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Sustaining excellence in your professional or personal life often requires massive amounts of physical, mental and even emotional energy. Maintaining those energy levels requires treating your body/mind like that high performance engine with the right formulas of:

  • DIET
  • REST
  • EXERCISE
  • STRESS MANAGEMENT

Like that high performance engine, the human body/mind does not like to sit for too long. Yes, meditation is sitting but I’m talking about sitting in front of desk, PC, TV, or any of a host of stresses and distractions that are a part of 21st Century life. Sedentary life styles are simply a growing reality of the digital age.

Solution? Get Action! Get out of that desk and move during those 10 minute breaks. Evidence, like the WSJ post below, is mounting about the power of even a brief workout.

How the right combination of brief workouts could be as beneficial as a straight hour lifting weights or riding a bike.

Source: Why a Few Minutes of Exercise Can Show Results – WSJ

This Personality Trait Can Lessen Your Stress and Anxiety | Inc.com

People have often asked me, “What do you mean by Mental Excellence in this strategy of yours?” It’s a valid and in fact key question as the mental excellence component precedes all else in the sustained excellence formula. You can’t create lasting culture, develop effective teams or manage others if you can’t manage yourself first and mental excellence is the first step to managing yourself.

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Mental excellence has to do with reconciling with the person in the mirror on a daily basis. It’s the attitudes, decisions, principles and belief systems which you use to communicate with yourself and shape your daily behaviors. For example if you make the decision to justify eating junk food every day, it’s guaranteed to effect your physical energy levels and therefore your productivity. It’s also likely to impact back to your mental well being since when you don’t feel good physically it tends to put you into a negative mental state. So there is both a forward and a backward ripple effect.

Additionally, the core principles which make up your mindset play a significant role in how you navigate your personal and professional life. Principles are different in kind and function from say morals or ethics. Whereas morals and ethics govern a persons actions, principles govern the consequences of those actions. Principles function independently, like natural laws such as gravity. So choosing to step out of a 5th story window may be a moral question. What happens once one steps out of that window  is subject to the laws of gravity, consequentially there is no turning back.

Some people manage to sustain excellence throughout their lives, often despite tragic obstacles and personal short comings. One common denominator in those people is a core set of principles from which they relentlessly operate. I often use the term, “personal code” to refer to these sets of principles. Theodore Roosevelt for example believed in the value of “Living the strenuous life”. That principle was part of his personal code.

Some traits can double as both principle and virtue, such as Humility. Below is a good post from Inc.com on how to develop humility and some of the productive consequences.

Humility frees you of unnecessary attachments. Here’s how to develop it.

Source: This Personality Trait Can Lessen Your Stress and Anxiety | Inc.com

Musashi’s “9”in the Digital Age

In The Book of Five Rings, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi uses the martial arts and swordsmanship as metaphors to illustrate how the larger concept of strategy can be applied to everyday life. He was a swordsman, a samurai and combat was his profession since childhood. The sword was intertwined with his life, it’s what he knew best and it would be only natural for him to write from such a perspective.

Throughout the book Musashi eludes to the idea that this paradigm he called ‘Strategy’ has a much broader application than combat or military purpose alone. Further, it was rare for samurai to write their philosophy or teachings so his work, by default, has become a cultural icon in Japan. It’s influence can been still seen today in economics, politics, education and more.

For many in the West, however, it can be difficult to find practical value in Eastern writing like The Book of Five Rings. For some, it comes across as esoteric poetry. Still others assess it as the ravings of a senile and violent madman. Ideas also get lost in translation as Japanese, like many Eastern languages, is complex. Separating the principles from the context can significantly alter their meaning, potentially diluting their value. In this case, the writing is three & a half centuries old and written in the context of feudal Japan. How is it possibly relevant in 21st Century Western society? In addition, both martial artists and non-martial artists often see his work as a mere text on combat or sword fighting and miss the depth of the Strategy.

 It’s impossible to know what Miyamoto Musashi was thinking when he wrote The Book of Five Rings. It’s also impossible to know what he would say about the world today, had he been here. What follows, however, is at least a plausible interpretation of Musashi’s Nine Rules as they apply to the Digital Age.

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Musashi’s Nine Rules

“Think of that which does not deviate from the way”

Translation = Cultivate an everyday mindset through self-discipline and focus

 This refers to developing an everyday mindset of strategy and applying it universally, to everything you do. It is the very act of mapping out your career path, for example; the, “where would you like to be in five years” question. Subsequently keeping your mind focused on the daily actions that move you forward toward those ends.

“Train in the way”

Translation = Develop the skillsets necessary to move you forward in accordance to the strategy, practice daily with purpose.

 This refers to developing the skillsets required to move forward on that map. It’s the daily disciplines, the incremental improvements repeated over and over. It’s the 10,000 hours spent practicing a new skill that makes the difference. True skill and knowledge cannot be learned in “10 Easy Lessons”.

 Weight loss is a good example to illustrate this. People spend tons of money, go on expensive diets for 30-60days, lose some weight and by the end of the year are right back where they started. Or, they make new years resolutions to ‘get in shape’, work out like crazy the first few months, then are burnt out by mid-year. No one gets ‘out of shape’ in 30-60 days and no one gets ‘in shape’ that way either. Only through incremental discipline does lasting impact take shape.

“Take an interest in all the arts”

Translation = Step outside of your comfort zone, engage in creative learning

 The digital age has brought so much focus on what can be called Left Brain activities; CORE curriculum education, Big Data and analytics in business, a ‘quantified self’ in professional development, efficiencies, process improvement, robots and other technological obsessions. There is of course nothing wrong with all of these, except when it becomes too much of a good thing. Right brain, creative activities including simple play allows for free thinking, new ideas and imaginative exploration. Without the balance of liberal arts and education, innovation suffers. As the saying goes, “All work and no play, makes one dull”.

“Know the way of all professions”

Translation = Learn the value of transferable skills and other career paths.

 If you take time to study other professions, you might make two potentially life changing discoveries; First, you may discover a latent interest that may result in you wanting to make a significant career course adjustment (Example: An associate of mine spent over twenty years with a successful career in the military. At some point, his travels brought him to Egypt where he was exposed to archeology. It sparked such an interest in him that at age 42, he went on to earn his PhD and become a full-time archeologist).

Second, you will discover a set of professional skills that are, at some level, transferable to every profession. It’s always amusing to hear professionals say, “I’m just not a sales person”. I then ask them what they do. Subsequently diving into the particulars of their job, there’s always a sales related component. After all, as author Daniel Pink states in his book, “To Sell Is Human”.

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“Know how to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of each thing”

Translation = Moderation, temperance and balance. Too much of a good thing can be bad.

 The technology of the digital age provides a great example of this. People across the globe, are connected in ways never imagined a century ago. At the same time, people have become more disconnected than ever. Regardless of generation, people now struggle to have face-to-face conversations with friends, family and professional colleagues without pausing to look at the latest update on their cell phone. Walk through any airport, on any given day, you will see the majority of people buried in some type of screen. Understanding the limits of tools and technologies, knowing when to ‘say when’ or step away from the phone, the tablet, the PC. It can have a balancing effect and be very advantageous.

“Learn to judge the quality of each thing”

Translation = Develop reasoning, critical thinking and sound judgement skills

 Today, we joke by saying, “it must be true because I read it on Facebook”. Generations before the Internet, a similar saying stated; “Don’t believe everything you read and only half of what you see.” The Internet is a marvelous tool that has brought information, learning and connection across the globe like never before.

Technological advances, however, can be easily manipulated for less than noble purpose. Information, “Big Data”, advertising, your cell phone, etc. can all be used as tools to sway public and your personal opinions. Very little replaces objective, logical reasoning skills and the ability to question validity. Unfortunately, today there is more hype than substance and the ability to separate the two is becoming an increasingly valued commodity.

“Perceive and understand that which is not visible from the outside”

 Translation = Cultivating awareness, fine tuning the senses and the power of introspection.

 We live in an age of workplace violence, one in four car crashes involving distracted drivers, obsession with multi-tasking and life in sound bites of two minutes or less. Now more than ever, the ability to pick up on details and subtleties of situations is an invaluable skill. What is often referred to as, “reading between the lines” and “thinking two steps ahead”. Very little time is spent today on developing the senses in concert with what can be called a ‘sixth sense’, meaning the ability to utilize intuition. Science has begun to establish significant evidence that multi-tasking actually dulls the senses and makes one really good at doing a bunch of things poorly.

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“Be attentive even to minimal things”

Translation = Pay attention to the details

Can you shut out all the noise and pick up on details? Do you listen for understanding or simply to respond? Picking up on details is a skill that anyone can develop, but it takes time and practice. The ability to listen for understanding is not taught in school, we must develop it on our own. Few invest the time and effort to get good at it, that’s what makes it a rare and valuable skill.

“Do not perform useless acts”

Translation = Time Management

 It has been estimated that by some counts, people in developed countries now spend on average, up to seven hours per day on digital media of some sort. This includes email as well as social media, gaming, video, etc. That’s almost an entire workday! The ability to cut all of that off and refocus has become a major challenge of the digital age. The idea here is that there will always be distractions willing to lead you away from the personal and professional course you’ve charted. Part of Strategy is in developing that daily discipline and focus to avoid getting sucked in.

Defining Sustained Excellence -2016

Why is that some people, despite the disadvantages of circumstance, lack of resources or monumental obstacles, manage to consistently thrive and excel? They make habit, throughout their lives, of turning adversity into opportunity. They reinvent themselves over and over in ways that seem to defy conventional wisdom. Meanwhile others, despite having the advantages of birth, wealth, talent or circumstance, manage to reach an apex of success or significance, only to self-destruct often in the most tragic of ways?

After almost thirty years of studying people from all walks of life; the wealthy and famous as well as those who are not, those of significant historical contribution as well as the mundane, those of extensive formal education as well as those of minimal informal education, etc. Certain common denominators have emerged in those who excel, repeatedly throughout their lives. Conversely, patterns have also emerged in those who aspire to and/or achieve the aforementioned and subsequently unwind those achievements at one or more levels.

So in defining “sustained excellence” the phrase doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the sense of fame, fortune or historical notoriety although those are possible byproducts. It’s more synonymous with terms such as significance, contribution and even reinvention, although even these are incomplete in thoroughly defining the topic.

Nonetheless, in those who have repeatedly found excellence and sustained it throughout their lives, they all exhibit this same formula within some range of exception;

MENTAL EXCELLENCE

They all have some form of “personal code” which operates as guiding principles and supersedes all other influences. They also utilize some measure of introspection, which allows them to regularly reorient, or ‘get back on course’ with the principles of this code.

PHYSICAL EXCELLENCE

Whether consciously or intuitively, each recognizes the need for the physical energy and vitality to sustain excellence in the long-term. As a result, all practice some combination of the rules for good health that include; Diet, Rest, Exercise, Stress Reduction and Social Connection.

SKILLS EXCELLENCE

All recognize the need for continuous personal improvement whether at the intellectual, physical or psychological levels. They regularly step out of their comfort zones into new experiences.

TEAM EXCELLENCE

As a result of the momentum created by the first three ‘rings’, what one might call Leadership Gravity begins to exert its forces around these individuals. People rally around them, to their cause and/or vision quests. This by no means suggests that they are either perfect or universally liked. There are documented examples such as Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and even Benjamin Franklin, who all had real character flaws, but suggest that this leadership gravity occurs despite those flaws.

INSTITUTIONAL EXCELLENCE

Out of the momentum created by the first four rings, culture begins to develop. It can become a movement, an organization, a business or even the heart of a society that, if properly incubated, can out last that individual’s lifetime.

Not everyone aspires to change society or create a lasting organization. Many are content with finding equilibrium in the first three or four rings throughout their lives. The formula remains, however, visible at some level in all individuals who consistently excel and overcome adversity.

This is what is referred to as the “Five Rings of Sustaining Excellence”

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What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness | Robert Waldinger | TED Talks – YouTube

At the heart of the Five Rings of Sustaining Excellence formula lies the two initial rings of self-management; Mental Excellence and Physical Excellence. Mental excellence being the activities that drive self-awareness, self-image and the idea that true change begins in the mirror. Physical excellence revolves around management of body and energy levels through a balance of the traditional four; Diet, Rest, Exercise and Stress Management.

Studies like the 75 year Harvard study below have provided significant evidence that there is an additional category, critical for sustaining both mental as well as physical excellence…Social connection.

The challenge in an age of connection through devices, screens and key boards is setting them down and reconnecting, face to face, with real people in real settings  with sincerity and an open mind.

Yahoo study: Gen X is the most influential generation by spending power | Marketing Dive

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In between the Baby Boomer and the millennial generation is the generation referred to simply as “X”. They’ve also been referred to as the “Forgotten Generation” or the “Cynical Generation” but like most social propaganda, there is very little factual evidence to support these titles. In fact, as research takes a more equitable look at all three generations, a very different picture begins to emerge.

Studies like the one from Yahoo below are creating significant exposure to the contributions of the generation with no true name. Likewise, the evidence is mounting that a definite leadership vacuum exists today in organizations across many fields. As baby boomers retire, leave or get asked to leave organizations are struggling to fill these senior leadership positions. Although millennials are being advertised as the natural successors, many are falling short in the skill sets, mind sets and experience necessary to lead in a complicated global and digital age.

Generation X is proving to have the balance required and could very easily fill that leadership vacuum in the second half of this decade.

Yahoo took a look at Gen X and found a multitasking, smartphone-using and brand-aware generation.

Source: Yahoo study: Gen X is the most influential generation by spending power | Marketing Dive