The Two-Fold Way of Pen and Profession

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.”

-Miyamoto Musashi

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…

Source: Self-Direction is the Key to Mastery | Creative by Nature

Advertisements

Unprecedented Change, In Our Time & Musashi’s Time

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?

Source: Bill Ford: The auto industry is going through ‘unprecedented change’ – Business Insider

13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful

 

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.” —

Source: 13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful

Who’s Selling Snake Oil in The Digital Age?

The concept of mass misinformation and false propaganda likely goes back as far as the ability to read and write. Some historians speculate that ancient Egyptian narratives, depicted in hieroglyphics on many monuments are embellished and in some cases inaccurate.

Terms like Snake Oil Salesman has come to be synonymous with any practice intended to deceive the general public. It’s origins date back to the 19th Century in the United States during the Chinese migrations and the building of the Transcontinental Railroads. There was in fact a real product called snake oil but it ultimately became one of the best known examples of false advertising on the American Frontier.

clark_stanleys_snake_oil_liniment
Snake Oil advertisements in the local newspapers are the predecessor to today’s fake social media news. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons

Two centuries earlier, in feudal Japan, the nonconformist samurai Miyamoto Musashi touched on the need to be critical in judgement, analysis and weary of false information. As part of the nine rules laid out in The Book of Five Rings, Musashi states simply to “Learn to judge the quality of each thing“.

musashi-rule-6

In today’s language one would speak of critical analysis, scientific method or a healthy dose of skepticism. The recent US presidential election and subsequent studies like the one discussed in the Wall Street Journal below are potent reminders that the need to judge the quality of things is greater today than ever.  Fortunately these are skills that can be taught and cultivated.

Are you practicing critical analysis daily? Or are you getting fooled by the snake oil salesmen? 

A study of middle-school to college-age students found most absorb social media news without considering the source. How parents can teach research skills and skepticism.

Source: Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds – WSJ

Navy SEALs, Miyamoto Musashi & Early Risers, oh my…

musashi-1-6-17

Recently Business Insider published a post on the value of being an early riser from the perspective of two former Navy Seals (see below). Back in 2011, I had published a similar post as part of the Circle of Physical Excellence strategy (see also below). The idea of “early to bed, early to rise” is not new, in fact the idea goes farther back than that famous phrase written by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th Century.

Additionally, there are many common denominators of excellence, across many fields and professions though out human history. The Habits of Highly Effective People are far more extensive than the Seven that the late Stephen Covey wrote about. Studying, adopting and revisiting these habits are the key to sustaining excellence.

http://wp.me/pM96P-dM Why Be An Early Riser? – Bryan Nann

Former Navy SEALs Jocko Wilink and Leif Babin tell you how to change your morning routine and “get up and get after it.”

Source: Former Navy SEAL commanders explain why they still wake up before dawn every day — and why you should, too

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.

MusashiPhoto 2

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

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.

IMG_0138 copy

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”.

 E21 1-7-16

“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.

DSC04552 copy

“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.

New year, are you learning new skills?

Learning a new skill can yield immediate benefits whether physical, mental or even both depending upon the skill. It can also open up new opportunities for personal and/or professional growth. Developing and mastering those new skills, however, takes time and resolve. Contrary to decades of advertising, very little can be gained in “10 easy lessons” or “20 minutes a day for 30 days”beyond mere introduction.

Some research suggests that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of study or practice to hone a new skill. That equates to three hours per day, 365 days per year for a little over nine years.

This idea, however, is not new. Miyamoto Musashi writes about this during the middle of the 17th Century in The Book of Five Rings. Even before this, the craft guilds of medieval Europe gave rise to a hierarchal learning system that became a basis for modern higher education.

Learners began as an “apprentice” and depending upon the system are required to complete a minimum of seven years of training before moving to the “journeyman” level. To achieve the next level of “master” one could be required to complete more years of training, create a ‘masterpiece’ or both.

Essentially, the only real boundaries for developing a new skill are time, proper practice and the mental obstacles that the learner places in front of themselves.

E21 1-7-16

 

 

 

That Which Does Not Bend

“When a tree branch grows brittle, it easily snaps, whether long or little. An inflexible army seals its own fate.”             -Tao Te Ching, Verse 76

DSC03559

Marcus Aurelius

He reluctantly inherited an empire in chaos when his brother died and left him sole leader of Rome. Tempering action with philosophy and a belief in the discipline of duty, he stabilized a land racked with plague and warfare. History would define him not only as one of the great emperors of Rome, but among the great Western philosophers.

George Washington

At one point he struggled with financial debt. He would lose more battles in the American Revolution than he would win. He came close to being fired as commander of the revolutionary armies. Yet his ability to hold himself and those around him up amidst adversity would allow him to find eventual victory and freedom for a nation.

Mark Twain

He would be forced to work and educate himself in public libraries after his father died at age 11. He would fail at every business venture and be forced to work his way out of bankruptcy. He would battle personal demons most of his life. Yet his ability to find humor in it all and to direct it into written and spoken word would place him among the literary geniuses of the 20th Century.

Franklin D Roosevelt

He would be stricken with polio in his youth and suffer from it throughout his life. He would become president of the United States during the countries worst depression. He would become leader of a nation during a world at war. Yet his ability to smile, focus on action and solutions would allow him to help create alliances to bring the world back to peace and prosperity.

Miyamoto Musashi

He would be born into violent and turbulent times. He would have to duel to the death, 60 times by the age of 30. He would have to fight in six major military battles. Yet he had the intuition to understand that the ability to fight alone was not enough for a changing world. His written paradigm of strategy in all things continues to be studied to this day.

History has proven that strategic toughness is better than either toughness or strategy by itself. The idea of resilience lies in the ability to bend past the weight of adversity yet remain rooted and upright once the storm has inevitably passed.