From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Art of Warning—Introduction (a)

[a] Art RF
The next few posts will introduce a new series on Round and Square—one that is intimately linked to my large project called "The Emperor's Teacher" (the management book that will change the world. This series focuses intently on the ways in which Sima Guang's great historical work, the Comprehensive Mirror, "works." You've read the Art of War, perhaps. Now get ready for the main course—the Art of Warning.

Click here for other sections of this introduction to The Art of Warning.
Warning 1          Warning 2          Warning 3          Warning 4          Warning 5          Warning 6

A Great, Big Book
[b] Big RF
Imagine a management text with advice that has been tested through the ages—one that can make you a better parent, sibling, daughter or son, as well as a stellar employee (or employer) who thinks both inside and outside the box. Imagine a book that will guide your financial thinking, your relationships with co-workers, and even teach you how to manage those pesky people higher in the chain of command. It is jam-packed with management advice from China, and every emperor and minister of government read it right up until the end of China’s imperial era. Want more? They kept on reading it. Mao Zedong, the storied and problematic leader of China in the twentieth century pondered it, page-by-page, while riding on the back of a donkey during the Communist Party’s Long March in the mid-1930s.

Chinese leaders from across the political spectrum have read it, learned from it, put it into practice, and, more than occasionally, forgotten its lessons in the heat of the moment. A recent poll of historians in China ranked it first in importance among all historical works in their profession.

And yet…almost no one beyond East Asia has even heard of it.
[c] Precision RF

Well, I have spent the better part of thirty years studying one of the best books almost no one in the West has ever read. But before I tell you more, let’s compare what I have just said to a book you very well may recognize. If you walk into your local bookstore or spend a little time on a books-and-media website, it will not be very long before you encounter a title called The Art of War. This little gem from China’s Warring States period (it dates to about 500 BCE) is attributed to a military thinker named Sun Wu, who is known to English readers as Sunzi or Sun-tzu.

If you have ever read a few passages from The Art of War, you’ll know that it is an impressive work. It’s pithy lines are just the right balance of precision and ambiguity to unleash creative thinking in areas of life well beyond warfare. Let’s take just one example of this—Bill Belichick, head coach of the NFL’s New England Patriots, carries a dog-eared, translated copy with him as he plots offensive and defensive strategy for his gridiron troops.

It has also become a staple in American business schools. It is the rare MBA today who has not read The Art of War, discussed it in class, and pondered its advice in such entries as this:

          If you are equal, then fight if you are able. If you are fewer, then keep away 
          if you are able. If you are not as good, then flee if you are able.

This is excellent advice, and it reminds me of an advertisement I saw a few years ago. A sharp sword dominated the display and the caption read “Does your consultant quote The Art of War, yet shy away from battle?” Well, if she has read the book, that is exactly what she does—and the advertising agency apparently hadn’t read it very carefully. There is a reason why the text has spanned the continents and the centuries. Its messages are useful.
[d] Spanned RF

There is only one problem with this Western glance into the art of Chinese management. No one ever managed anything in China having only read The Art of War. No one.

What they read along with it was a book I sometimes like to call The Art of Warning. By the time we are done, you’ll see exactly why. The actual title can be translated as The Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Ruling, and we’ll call it the Comprehensive Mirror from here on. It was composed by a Song dynasty scholar-official named Sima Guang, who presented it to the throne (after twenty years of labor with five trusted assistants) in 1085. The Comprehensive Mirror was immediately hailed even by his political opponents as a rare work of insight, and has been read ever since. If you ask people about it anywhere in China today, they will often take on an expression of mixed admiration and academic terror. They will tell of the toil they experienced reading portions of the challenging text in high school, but almost immediately follow that with a memorable story or passage from its pages.

Everyone in China knows about the Comprehensive Mirror; almost no one in the West does. To make matters more difficult, the book is 10,000 pages long, and is written in classical Chinese.

I’m here to help, and in this lecture I’ll start by discussing the author, what’s in the book, and why it has had such a lasting influence on “management” thinking in China over the last nine centuries. Then I’ll highlight three key lessons that weave throughout the long narrative—roles, hierarchy, and a fascinating little concept called “remonstrance.” We’ll conclude with a look at ways in which the Comprehensive Mirror and its powerful message about the art of warning provides the vital next step in understanding management in today’s complex, global marketplace.

Click here for other sections of this introduction to The Art of Warning.
Warning 1          Warning 2          Warning 3          Warning 4          Warning 5          Warning 6
[e] Lasting RF

No comments:

Post a Comment