Click below for the other "Living and Learning" posts.
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During the month of June I will be posting segments of The Emperor's Teacher (the big business book that will rock the world). Chapter two is called "Living and Learning," and forms (along with chapter one, "Breaking the Vessel") the first section of a three-part book.
If you have read The Art of War, you have arrived at the doorstep. Still, no one ever managed anything in China having just read Sunzi (Sun-tzu), but don't despair. You are now ready for what comes next in leadership. Compiled nine-hundred years ago, it is the greatest management book ever written, and there are only two problems: (1) it is in "medieval" Chinese; (2) it is 10,000 pages long. No worries, though. That's what I am here for. I have been studying this stuff for thirty years, and I have been waiting for you. Welcome. 歡迎.
Let's begin to study real Chinese management together.
|[a] Gateway RF|
So what does it mean to "teach...to power"? I am, of course, playing on a common English saying that is used in all sorts of contexts people have taken little time to analyze. To "speak truth to power" is a significant idea. The phrase has grown hackneyed and a little trite from overuse, but it is not difficult to see just where its very meaningfulness originates. We are already dealing with the hierarchical dynamic that will be an important part of this book's lessons. To "speak truth to power" means channeling one's emotions and garnering one's arguments in pursuit of a higher (and more than occasionally "dangerous") purpose. This is important stuff. It can be used in the pursuit of of ambitions, and it can involve grandstanding. Usually it does not, and this has a great deal to do with fact that it carries risk.
Locked inside that little saying is something else, too. It carries the idea that the "truth" that is spoken is important—that it might well make a difference if the listener ("power") steps back and, well, listens. If this were easy it would get less attention. The very circumstances of speaker and listener make it fraught with difficulty and more than occasionally a bit of intrigue. Usually, listener and speaker have something to gain and to lose—and it is not always clear what those "things" are. And finally, as the saying implies in English, the stakes go beyond the little social dyad of speaker and listener. The consequences seem to matter.
Sounds challenging, and a little scary. What if we were to make a life of it?
I am serious. What if we were to imagine "speaking truth to power" over the course of a lifetime? What if the heart of that truth speaking continued—month after month, and year after year—to influence those in authority? What would that look like?
|[b] One approach RF|
But teaching...to power. That might well be something else. And yes, that is precisely my point. Sima Guang's ideal audience in the Comprehensive Mirror was not necessarily the emperors who would read his text (although surely he understood their importance in the project). In other words, I think that it is a small but serious misinterpretation to think of the Comprehensive Mirror primarily as a text meant to teach rulers how to manage the empire.
This may sound a bit startling after all we've been through together, but stay with me. It will be worth it.
So who was his primary audience? Well, it was certainly not the modern-day historians (Asian and Western) who mine his text for information and are utterly deceived (in Sima's parlance) by grubbing this fact here and that snatch of text there. No, it's not them. They are the ones who search the section that details, say, the year 657 and try to separate—in the memorable phrasing of faulty history primers—the "wheat" (the information, the realpolitik) from the "chaff" (the cosmology, the rhetoric in some of the memorials to the throne). When they are done they have a worthless little pile of facts that have been ripped from their larger managerial and rhetorical context. No, they don't get it at all. Indeed, they have deceived themselves and will soon do the same "for" others.
So if it wasn't the ruler and it wasn't serious, "modern" historians, who might this ideal reader be? It seems clear to me that Sima's ideal reader was the government official who could influence a leader (or leaders) over and over—the kind of person who combined deep learning with an abiding sense of what was important (someone who knew "how to keep the main thing...the main thing"). This person taught his peers and his superiors ongoing lessons that went beyond the daily heartbeat of politics. He "taught" for decades and influenced everything from overall approaches to specific policy issues. This person was a thinker and a doer.
This person was a lot like the author. Sima was Sima's ideal reader.
It is as though Sima was saying that the whole point of education is to teach us that we have a great deal to learn, and then to learn for ourselves (through the practice of life) how much more we have to learn...and then to pass it on to others. Think about that for a while. The Comprehensive Mirror seeks to teach very able readers both the lessons of the past and how to teach, convey, articulate, and further those lessons in the present and down the ages.
Yes, the Comprehensive Mirror—this is my opinion after studying the text for three decades—is a teachers' manual, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Of course it teaches very valuable lessons of great, practical use to managers. Of course. What makes this book so special (and this is precisely the reason why people read it, and not just The Art of War, when they actually had the responsibility of running things) is because Sima Guang is a teacher of teachers. The Comprehensive Mirror is his lesson plan.
Think, again, for a moment. How many business books have you read that stress that the lessons contained therein cannot be applied unless others can be convinced of their efficacy? If you have read many such books, you have heard this a great deal. My complaint is that the authors all too rarely stress that this is the whole point. Understanding the issues and then building a team, a group, a movement—this is the goal, not garnering a few strategies that you alone will use against the big, scary world.
|[c] Pathway RF|
No, this is the whole ball of jade, people. The demands are formidable, but the rewards go so far beyond finding your next batch of fresh cheese chunks that you owe it to yourselves (and the "emperors" in our midst) to stay on the path.
Living and Learning 1 Living and Learning 2 Living and Learning 3 Living and Learning 4
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Living and Learning 9 Living and Learning 10 Living and Learning 11 Living and Learning 12
Part two, the heart of The Emperor's Teacher, begins with a full discussion of the roles we lead, and manage, in both our work and our leisure. Sima Guang began the Comprehensive Mirror in the Warring States period, as we have seen. What I have not mentioned yet is that he began with precisely this topic. Roles. Be there.