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?