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] Of its own accord RF|
So what do you do when you have found the Way—when you have chiseled, or cycled, or ironed, or cash-registered your way into harmony and oneness?
There is no need to tell me how ironic it is that in this essay I will follow those profound statements with a thousand or so words about doing nothing. The early Daoist thinkers understood the irony, too, yet they kept writing, and kept explaining that just going with the flow and doing little was the whole point. Many words. It is one of those things that makes all of this as complicated as it should be. Yes, even the parts that are supposed to be uncomplicated (just...flow) really are.
This is the extreme political statement in the Warring States period that a good ruler does not act. How would we lead our lives like that? Strangely enough, the idea had a resonance in early China that has not diminished with time. According to this position, it is by not categorizing, not making rules, and not ordering the people that order will be achieved. It is an elbow into the nose of both the Confucians and the Legalists. There is a fair dose of contempt here for those who argue that the people must be forced to be ordered, of course, but also a hearty disdain for doctrines of goodness and caring. It is as though the Daoists were saying "stop doing anything; just leave everything alone!"
In fact, that is precisely what they were saying. "Therefore the sage says:
I am fond of tranquility, and the people are naturally upright.
I have nothing to do, and the people are naturally enriched;
I have no desire, and the people are naturally simple.
|[b] Flow PD|
Although there are elements of argumentativeness and even in-your-face obtuseness directed at Confucians in such rhetoric, many people have found truth in it throughout the ages. Most everyone has seen the results of a competent manager who lets members of the organization work within the "flow" of their jobs—the kind of leader who seems to do little, yet the work is accomplished, and well. This is easy to see on the part of managers and coaches of extremely successful teams who need only make the slightest moves to "fine tune" the flow of championship play. Its opposite is also readily apparent—the micro-manager who seems to have all of the details and none of the harmony that is necessary for success. Changing lineup cards every day and benching players for poor performances, his team still plays like it is in the minor leagues.
|[c] Flow PD|
Once action is made into "phrasing," (and when "everybody knows") it becomes something else—and all too often its opposite. Once we articulate it and create a net of rules around it, we have lost whatever "it" is...or was. We catch the idea of wheel chiseling in the butterfly net of "how-to manual" writing, put it into print, and sell copies. The magic of the chiseling is lost. Gone.
Legalists and Confucians will always fail, according to the Daoists, because by trying to mold it (the family, the state, the world) they will break it. They will take something that "works naturally" and make it brittle—a museum piece to be pondered, but not a thing (or Way) to be lived. It is as though the "order types" want to take the flowing veins of jade and freeze them into form. For the Daoists, they will fail every time, over-and-over, into eternity.
Should you want to take the world
And contrive to do so
I see you won't manage to finish.
The most sublime instrument in the world
Cannot be contrived
Those who contrive spoil it;
Zhuangzi is especially apt with his mockery of Confucians, who (in his telling) wish to imprint all that is flowing and natural into rigid structures. One of his most memorable examples brings together government officials, a reclusive hermit (is there any other kind?), and talk of a turtle. It is justly famous in Chinese culture, and beautifully states the case for flow.
"It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud," said the two officials.
Zhuangzi said, "Go away! I'll drag my tail in the mud!"
|[d] Patterns RF|
 Cleary, Tao, 9.
 Cleary, Tao, 26.
John Minford and Joseph Lau, Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2000), 215.
Cleary, Thomas. The Essential Tao. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993.
Minford, John and Joseph Lau. Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2000.
Living and Learning 1 Living and Learning 2 Living and Learning 3 Living and Learning 4
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Losing the Way
We do, and they will.