In The Book of Five Rings, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi writes that, “The warriors way is the two-fold way of pen and sword”. Much of his meaning behind that expression resides in the idea that the subtle movements of the hand, in wielding the pen or specifically the calligraphy brush, can help hone the finer movements of the hand with a samurai sword.


There is, however, a deeper meaning that goes beyond swordsmanship, one that was visible throughout Musashi’s life. It was the idea that to be truly effective and complete in the samurai profession, one must develop both the technical as well as the creative skill sets. In Musashi’s terms, the science of swordsmanship and the art of calligraphy or painting, together, developed a well-balanced warrior.

In 20th Century Western terms, this sort of developmental activity has often been associated with Lateralization of Brain Function or oversimplified as “Right vs. Left” brain activity. Current science has punched holes in much of this theory but there is still evidence to suggest that creative combined with analytical learning taps into something within the human psyche. It has a developmental multiplier effect greater than each learning path on its own. Intuitively, Musashi knew in 1645 what we’ve summarized for decades in the phrase;

“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”

But in an age of analytics, Big Data, Lean Logic and vocation specific education, the synergy between the so-called left and right brain can get lost. With so much focus on efficiencies and doing more with less over the last decade, the left-brain has dominated much of the professional landscape. In fact, in many institutions of higher learning, liberal arts education is facing extinction as a relic of an impractical past. As a result, many extremely well-trained professionals struggle in moving their careers forward due to a lack of the often intangible, ‘Right Brain’ skill sets.

Left and Right brain function illustration
Left and Right brain function illustration

Not long ago, this concept came full circle personally and caused me to revisit what Musashi had written almost four centuries ago. It was over dinner with a business acquaintance who had apparently researched my LinkedIn profile extensively. He stated that he found my background very interesting and was intrigued by what I meant with my title phrase,

“Digging for Excellence and Developing Artists.”

Frankly, I was caught a little off guard. No one had ever done his or her homework in such detail, let alone question me on the title phrase of my professional network. Needless to say, my explanation was not very articulate and underwhelming at best.

So putting poetic license aside, it can be summarized as a balanced approach to professional development. “Digging for Excellence” is the science, the tangibles, the continuous improvement, the things often associated with driving individual and organizational productivity. It is all of the “left brain” activity ranging from root cause analysis to action plans that drive KPIs. It is also developing the technical, the mechanical skills of one’s profession. It’s more than just drilling on the fundamentals of one’s trade, it’s expanding the skill sets and tool sets that drive professional mastery.

Somewhat more elusive and often difficult to cultivate is the intangible flip side to the science of “Digging for excellence”. This is stuff of the “Right Brain” and examples would include creativity, empathy, the ability to listen or communicate effectively, etc.

To be effective in selling themselves, for example, professionals must be able to deploy all of the aforementioned skills. Creativity, communication, empathetic listening and so forth must all work in concert with technical prowess, empirical evidence or other tangibles. In other words, the science must work in concert with the artistry.

After all, what is customer service but selling yourself and the experience? What is marketing but selling yourself and the value of the product or service? What is employee development but selling yourself, your leadership and the long-term value for the employee?

So what is professional mastery in the digital age? It is the two-fold way of digging for excellence and developing artistry. One must cultivate tangible and intangible skill sets and mind sets both inside as well as outside their profession. To be an effective leader, one must understand that this symbiosis is at the heart of developing the people that they lead. They must also have the courage to evangelize this concept in an increasingly data driven, left brain world. In his book, A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink brings this concept of science and artistry further to life. Using scientific analysis and data, he stresses the relevance and need for right brain learning in the 21st Century. Well worth the read.


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