The title is a reference to the Book of the Five Rings by Miyamato Musashi. It’s book on martial arts and the Dao (way) of the warrior, but Musashi draws upon the four classical Daos that were prevalent in Japanese society, the way of the peasant, the way of the merchant, the way of the warrior, and the way of the artisan. As someone studying engineering management in the context of a technical skill and discipline, this line was enlightening. How do you manage a team or an organization? You first start with managing one person – yourself. Manage yourself and you can manage others.
One of the key concepts of the book The Goal is that anything in a business falls into three categories. These are inventory (stuff you can sell), operational expense (stuff that makes inventory), and throughput (how quickly you can turn inventory into sales). The theme of the book is that you want higher throughput while reducing operational expense and inventory. If you follow your process through, you can identify the bottlenecks and optimize your flow so that the bottlenecks are always producing inventory.
We were out shopping for furniture today and one thing I noticed in the store was that all fixtures had price tags. Literally all fixture. Even in the men’s room all the decorations and the items in the room, minus the sink itself, the toilet, soap dispenser, and the paper towel dispenser had price tags. I found this clever because it right in with the store’s purpose of selling home furnishing and decorations while also using them in useful way. They’re not sitting there in the back room, they’re in the bathroom and it’s easy to see someone admiring it and the ultimately purchasing it. Think how many other stores that just have decorations in the bathroom but consider a price tag on them?
For businesses, the message is clear. Regardless of your primary product, if you look at everything a business owns, there’s something that’s not generating revenue that could be. The same goes for our lives, we surround ourselves in our homes and trappings of success. How much more could our lives be if we looked at everything we owned and asked “How can this help me achieve my goals?”.
One of the common things I find when reading the stories of prominent figures in history is that they are voracious readers. Bill Gates maintains a summer reading list. Churchill was a known bibliophile. The list goes on and on. The message is clear, if you want to do well in life, you need to read a lot.
But that’s not enough. You could read a hundred books on strategy, and if you don’t change how you approach strategy, it was a waste of time. You need to find ways to take action on the books. Take time to digest their lessons, think strategically, and allow these ideas to influence your life.
The Stoics cautioned against reading too many books. That was the sign of an unsettled mind. Always seeking for answers from others. Always trying to find new ideas. Never sitting and allowing the mind to process ideas and plan for the future. Rather, the advocated for finding a select few books and reading, on the premise that a mind that was prepared would find new insights in well worn paths. It’s not a bad strategy. Think of the books that have made history, that have left impressions on generations of people. Meditations, The Art of War, The Prince. A few works that have influenced the course of human history. It’s worth reading less and thinking more.
I’ve been reading the wonderful book Stilness is the Key by Ryan Holiday. In it, he makes the argument that various religious, spiritual, and philosophical schools have made, namely that we need to slow down, survey the inner self, and work to be fully present, engaged, and mindful in our lives and work.
Just this week, I had an incident where I allowed my three E’s – emotions, ego, and expectations – to cloud my judgement, cause me to lose sight of the bigger picture, and let my anger seep into my family life. It has the expected outcomes, hurt emotions, stress, and unnecessary drama.
It was also an important lesson and reminder to me to shut down. Turn off anything to do with work. To remind myself that my current job is just one more step in my career, and my job shouldn’t affect my emotions. I bring my weather with me, so to speak.
How much better would our lives and our world be if we all committed to taking time, each day, to sit with our thoughts and be still and be present? What insights could gleam? What picture could we paint for our lives? There’s a lesson worth learning.
I wrote last about letting go of envy and then I had a much bigger idea talking about strategy. However, I’ve been reading books about habit formation and how to change people’s actions. The conventional wisdom is you can’t, you have to make the person want to change. That’s a nice saying, but it doesn’t help much, as it doesn’t give insight into how to motivate someone to change. There’s a lot here, and out of us do it wrong, mainly because the most behavior change training we get comes from our parents who attempt to use punishment and shame as discipline. This rarely works.
The only way to get someone to change is to make the behavior you want them to do easy and help them feel successful. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if the person is successful only if they feel successful. The more you help with that, the easier it will be for you to help that person be successful.
I realized today I was envious of my sponsor. For background, I am a 1099 independent consultant, and the person who pays for me is called my sponsor. I can now tell the story, as I was once an employee of the company. I won’t go into details, but the short answer is I didn’t take the long view of things and allowed my frustration to vent. I complained about my sponsor in front of his boss and attempted to cut him down and shame him into doing what I wanted. He rightly demanded my resignation but then offered to bring me on as a consultant. There’s a lot of emotion there, and in the meantime, my sponsor has grown as an executive, and made powerful connections that will help drive him forward in his career.
In speaking with another person, I realized I was envious. And then I remembered the stoic approach. There’s no good reason to feel envious. He has chosen his path, and I have chosen mine. Neither is better than the other. We both have our share of problems we must address as well as benefits we enjoy. In the end, the best thing I can do is be happy for my sponsor and commit to working on my own path. When I accepted that, the anger, resentment, and envy vanished. I’m committing to no longe being ashamed or angry as the choices I made or the path I followed. Those were mine, I own them, and I need to make them the best they can be. At the end, that’s all I have.
As I mentioned the other day, I got knocked down. I’ve spent a few days reflecting on what happened and my role in it, speaking with some trusted friends and mentors. They helped me see things in a different light, namely to keep the bigger picture in mind. A career is not a job. Jobs are stepping stones in careers, but in all likelihood, my current job is not one that I will retire from. I shouldn’t take or make the things that happen to me personally, and when I do reflect on them, I should examine them from a perspective of how I can do better, as my job serves my career. Once a job stops serving my career, it’s time to move on. This means I need to reorient myself and start over at my current job, which is painful, but also fundamentally human. We’re emotional and many times our emotions get the better of us and we forget the bigger picture. Having people we trust who can point that out and tell us it’s time to reset is a gift.
I got knocked down pretty hard yesterday. Hard enough to question choices I’ve made regarding my life and my career. Even after a night’s rest and journaling, I’m still not sure what the next step is. That’s ok. We try to certain of ourselves at all time, try to present that we know what to do, how to fix the problem, etc. Sometimes, we don’t know. Sometimes, we simply need to be present and let the path reveal itself. Learning to be comfortable with discomfort, learning to be certain with uncertainty is something we all need to learn. We also need to recognize that our jobs are just part of our life and that we need to find value and meaning outside of them. I saw “we” but I truly mean “I”.
Many times we run away from something when we shouldn’t. It could be a job, a relationship, an area where things aren’t going well for us, but there’s a chance for personal growth and development. We just need to learn to be comfortable with discomfort and seek out ways to grow. In these situations, we should seek to change things only when we know the next move with put another step in the direction we want to go. As someone wisely told me once, make sure to run towards something and not away from something, because otherwise those problems will simply follow. (There are times, however, when it’s appropriate to run away from something without the next step. An abusive relationship at home, an abusive manager, situations where our physical and mental health are in danger.)
I haven’t posted in a few days. That’s ok. I simple acknowledge it and move on, writing this post. No need to chide myself, or try to make myself feel bad. Life happens, and the fault is not with me, but with my systems. Today’s note is remind myself to become a finisher. I sit here in a partially finished home office. The moulding needs to be filled in, caulked, the outlets replaced and new wall plates put on, remove the paint tape and touch up. After words, it’s bringing my bookshelf and another computer desk in. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s easy to let this slip by as the days pass. For a one time activity, it’s best to schedule this and then work it to completion. It’s not a habit, it’s a project. Projects have a definite start, end, and goal, and to avoid relying on motivation, it’s best to schedule, block the time and then work it to completion. Habits, on the other hand, are recurring, and it’s best to start small. For a project, the goal is to “Get it over with” and enjoy the results. For a habit, the goal is the habit itself. Finish projects, keep habits.