One of the benefits of the digital age is the unprecedented volume of information and knowledge at the disposal of every person around the globe. Classic books, entire libraries and cutting edge technologies are all available by way of an internet connection, most at little or no charge. Even todays libraries provide free access to computers, internet connections as well as multimedia resources that past generations could never have imagined. Nonprofit universities like, University of The People offer an entire college education at virtually no cost.
Science and medicine continue to provide evidence that consistent brain stimulation through challenging learning can have longterm health benefits. Some studies have linked it to reducing the possibility of Alzheimer’s Disease in later years (visit the National Institute for Health & Aging for more).
History has repeatedly demonstrated that continuous learning is one of the keys to both finding and sustaining excellence. Take one of the most famous examples of the early 20th Century, Mark Twain;
- His formal education ended at age 11, with the death of his father.
- He subsequently self-educated in public libraries
- He would be awarded two honorary Doctorate Degrees.
- Mark Twain has become one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th Century.
Further example is found in The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Depending upon the translated version, Musashi makes two assertions in the first few paragraphs; First that self-guided study is the key to finding and sustaining excellence. Second, the need to balance profession with continuous learning. In today’s terms, this is likely what he meant by his famous quote;
“The warrior’s way is the two-fold way of pen and sword.”
The list of examples goes on and there is further reading in the article post below. The evidence, however, is compelling and the conclusion hard to argue. In an ever polarized culture, continuous learning can be the competitive difference that today’s Ronin professional needs to thrive.
“What you love to do you will do well.” ~Japanese proverb What do Thomas Edison, Vincent Van Gogh, Maya Angelou, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Lennon, Steve Jobs, Jimi Hen…
“Today’s graduates, he said, will need to carve their own path, but have the freedom to fail and to try again.”
A quote from Mark Zuckerberg, within the context of the recent MarketWatch.com article below. Like feudal Japan in the age of Miyamoto Musashi, we’ve entered a transitional period in our society. Technology and economic evolution is once again reshaping society and how we do business. As a result, many have begun to feel as if out on an island both culturally and professionally.
On the one hand, we have more resources at our disposal than in any other time in human history yet we remain unsure how to manage it all. At the same time, many of the institutions that we’ve clung to for stability have begun to shift away in other directions.
The need for individual ‘Strategy’ is greater than ever as we’ve begun to move into an age of the Ronin Professional.
On October 21st, 1600 the battle of Sekigahara established the Tokugawa Shogunate, a military dictatorship that effectively ended centuries of civil war in Japan. Over the next generation clans were merged, territories acquired and military budgets consolidated. As a result, countless samurai were dismissed from their positions as their services were no longer required. They were in effect, laid off from their jobs.
The word samurai means ‘to serve’ and without a ruler and/or patron to serve they were said to be Ronin or masterless samurai. It also meant no money so many became mercenaries or changed professions all together. This was a world in transition, a world going through unprecedented change. This was the world that Miyamoto Musashi would have grown up in. He would become a rare example of a samurai who would thrive his entire life as a Ronin. Like Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin, he was a self-made made in a world in flux.
The Tokugawa Shogunate would organize Japanese society like a well run corporation and rule in relative peace for over two and a half centuries. The remaining Samurai, however, would become a redundant element as firearms, artillery and ordnance technology would reshape the notion of combat in Japan. Less and less, battles would be fought with bows and swords. The Samurai would essentially be reduced to a cross between military police and ‘middle management’ of society. By the Meiji Restoration in 1868, both the Samurai and the Shogunate were officially rendered obsolete. They were all out of a job and once again the country went through both an economic and cultural transition leading up to World War II.
Cultural transition, unprecedented technological change, mergers, acquisitions and lay-offs, does any of this sound familiar? The Western world has gone through many similar periods of transition, much of the current rhetoric suggest that we live in one today. The recent article in Business Insider below serves as a good example. What does that say for the modern business professional?
Sustaining excellence in your personal and professional life requires energy, lots of energy. Science and medicine continues to provide evidence that maintaining a proper balance of good diet, rest, exercise and stress reduction can help maximize your energy levels. But how do we get to that balance and maintain it?
At the core of it all are the attitudes, decisions and perspectives that we focus on each and every day. Deciding to eat right or exercise regularly are decisions we make and those are a result of the regular communication that we have with ourselves. I call that, The Circle of Mental Excellence.
I’ve spent the last ten years researching people of note, throughout history, from Roman emperors like Hadrian to Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs. The common denominator in each one is that they all have a set of principles or guiding mantra to keep mentally aligned on a day-to-day basis. Much like the Samurai of Japan or Knights Templar, they have what I call a Personal Code.
Theodore Roosevelt for example was very vocal about his “Doctrine of a strenuous life”. He truly believed that physical and mental adversity not only tests ones character but is essential to building it. Benjamin Franklin had is principles of frugality and initiative. Steve Jobs believed in creating things that were both artful and useful. These people were not perfect, in fact these principles likely rose from each of them to offset significant internal conflicts. Those personal codes, however, became an internal compass that allowed them to find their True North under the toughest conditions.
Mental health, if not addressed, can have debilitating side effects — some of which may be detrimental to your business.
“Perceive and understand that which is not visible from the outside.”
One of the biggest challenges for Western professionals is cultivating the ability to ‘disconnect’, even just temporarily, from the demands of work and life. The unwritten rule is that you must be, ‘always on’ or ‘always connected’. In the early days of mobile devices, one colleague would refer to this as the “Crackberry” addiction…as in never being able to put her Blackberry down.
But even clinical, Western research has now confirmed that not only is this unhealthy, it’s bad business. Like a battery that gets overworked and runs out of energy quickly, so too can the human body and the psyche do the same. Results? You become less productive at work and more prone to poor judgement.
Traditional exercise is great, however it’s more difficult to slow your mind down and regain a sense of mental balance during intense exercise. You’re typically way too focused on the exercise activity. On the flip side, the idea of meditation in the classical sense is can be foreign and uncomfortable. Some people simply aren’t ready to sit still with just their thoughts for 30-60 minutes.
In between are what I’ve referred to for years as, Meditation-In-Motion activities. These are physical activities where you are forced to slow down although there may be physical movement. It’s physical and mental fitness at the same time. These types of activities may include:
- Tai Chi
The key to effectiveness is leaving technology behind for even an hour. Forget your cell phone, your FitBit, your social media posts and just relax.
“At the University of Michigan or on the road, a negotiation expert uses the Chinese practice as the linchpin of his routine.”
Many have historically confused strategy with tactics or other thought processes, particularly in business. Almost three hundred years ago, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi wrote the “Ground Book” as one of the “Book of Five Rings”. In it he implies that strategy is the, well, ground work of everything that we do. It’s the ‘road map’ we use to chart a course both personally and professionally.
In today’s rapidly changing world however, I suggest that strategy is as much about being the cartographer (the map maker) as it is about charting a course. Our world, particularly in business today, is full of uncharted territory and unforeseen changes to the topography.
Strategy is indeed about charting an accurate course from where we are today to where we want to be but the true strategist keeps an eye on the sudden changes to the map and knows when, where & how to adjust.
“Confusing purpose with strategy is bad news for your firm and your career.”
– Aligning Strategy and Sales, by Frank V. Cespedes (p.56)
ENMEI-21 is a strategy for sustaining excellence in an ever complicated world. Its “Five Rings” are metaphors of the cyclical components of this strategy and their impact on everything we do as humans.
The “Ring of Physical Excellence” is about your personal well-being, health and longevity as well as having the energy to meet the demands of professional life. Current science and medicine is producing more evidence than ever before that these four things help sustain physical excellence;
- STRESS MANAGEMENT
In his book, “The Case Against Sugar”, Gary Taubes makes the argument that there has been a secret killer of physical excellence in our midst for almost two centuries. He suggests that modern disease, the sky rocketing of health care costs and the dominance of the pharmaceutical industry can all be traced back to….Sugar. His evidence is compelling, it’s worth reading.
The fundamental idea behind ENMEI is that there are five essential cycles or ‘rings’ that drive long-term excellence. I suggest that there is a specific order in which these cycles must be repeatedly revisited. Like the planets in our solar system, the orbit and movement of each planet is critical to maintaining a balance for the whole.
At the core of the ENMEI solar system are the circles of mental/physical excellence. Part of the cyclical process often involves the shedding of toxic mental & physical elements. Or in the words of Miyamoto Musashi,
Below is a good post from LinkedIn.com about shedding useless acts.
”Somebody once told me the definition of hell: “On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” —