Many treatises, reflections and words of advice have come from the world of warfare. Numerous historical pieces are mandatory reading and re-reading in leading military schools and academies.
But what of the world or work, notably one where collaboration is not the norm?
Many of those principles apply more than ever in a work world where adversarial, hyper-partisan and, in some cases, physically violent environments exist. Although the later is thankfully rare, the level of mental, emotional and verbal aggressive behaviour – what would be called bullying by any other name – remains all too prominent. Just watch a few minutes of any modern democracy’s parliament or seat of power to get a flavour of what is considered “normal” behaviour – behaviour that would send any child to the principle’s office or in suspension for a week.
Such aggressiveness in our common moments at work leaves one wondering : what classics can one consider to becoming a warrior in a business suit, a warrior who does not become part of the problem, but rather brings stillness, harmony and peace to every moment.
A few books I’ve found inspirational range from the spirit of war to the spirit of peace – yet are all routed in the spirit of victory over an adversary – which in all instances, once you’ve removed the focus on the external enemy or adversary, leaves one facing the most daunting adversary of all – ourselves.
The Art of War
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the quintessential war literature classic. Covering the breadth of warfare, it is rooted as much in philosophy as in strategy and tactics, if not weighted more on the former. Somewhat difficult to approach for the non-initiated, repeated visits to this historic text will slowly pay off in broadening one’s toolbox of stratagems, tactical approaches and principles for honourable victory. A definite must have in any leader’s library.
The Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings is less well know than Sun Tzu’s Classic, but no less influential. Musashi is considered Japan’s greatest ever swordsman, and his reflections on conflict, strategies and tactics reflect a more philosophical core than one of battle stratagems. As with The Art of War, The a book of Five Rings is ultimately a treatise of philosophy, and will require multiple visits to begin to fully appreciate Musashi’s insights into the art of the sword – the soul of the samurai.
Clausewitz is the modern Art of War, routed in Clausewitz’s extensive experience, and deep knowledge of the art of strategy and tactics. Although, like the other works, it can be mistaken as a technical text, Clausewitz does commit considerable attention to the moral and political aspects of conflict – in essence acknowledging that peace is the ultimate aim of war. His most famous quote remains “the best developed plan never survives first contact with the enemy” – a core stratagem in any strategic context – and one that merits much study in our modern age.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo drafted this as a “guide for life” for the samurai partly in response to their slowly eroding role from warriors to servants. Quite difficult to approach at first, the Hagakure is filled with many concise, yet deeply reflective, almost koan-like passages that can keep one contemplating the deeper meaning of life, death and service. Although more typically reserved for the martial artist seeking a treatise from a zen-routed samurai, it does present some valuable insights for the executive seeking guidance in balancing life and conflict-laden work.
The Unfettered Mind
Yagyu Munenori, major samurai rival to Miyamoto Musashi, was provided by a zen monk named Takuan Soho, what some consider the least known, but arguably the most relevant book on warfare. Although it does not come across as a text book on war and strategies, it is effectively the most important treatise on warfare – a guide to how to master the self, the mind – the ultimate challenge in any time of conflict and adversity. The Unfettered Mind requires, like many comparable works, repeated reading and subsequent introspection, but the results of ones efforts in learning to master the mind in times of conflict are nothing short of life altering. The Unfettered Mind remains of the few classics on self mastery yet to be discovered as a classic.
The Art of Peace
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the art of Aikido, was, in the end a man of peace, a philosopher and one who embodied peace – in the true sense of one who lived peace by way of harmony of mind, body and spirit. Although many of his writings and reflections have been captured in various forms, Ueshiba’s the Art of Peace is the antithesis of the Art of War, not only in title, but from the basis that ultimate victory is about self mastery, self control, self victory. The Art of Peace is, like Aikido, short on content, but deep on substance and meaning, with each passage first appearing harmless, yet filled with koan-like brilliance. If the Art of War is about warfare facing outward, the Art of Peace is about warfare facing inward – providing a way to masakatsu agatsu katsu ayame : true victory is self victory right here right now – the answer Ueshiba would share when asked “why do you practice Aikido”?
Although many other classics could be included, such as Machiavelli’ The Prince, the above amount to my personal “desert island” picks which would keep one reading, reflecting and re-visiting for many lifetimes, all in the pursuit of masakatsuagatsu.