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30 October 2022

The Zen of Business

Zen is the art of minimalism. To search for Zen is to find the essence of being and to express it. It comes from insight and the world outside and the world inside become one. As we are ever more searching for solutions in business it is important to draw from these ancient disciplines to discover new insights.

What stands in the way of us achieving our goals – the Zen path may show us a way to think about it.

A sense of duty

Every Zen action starts from a sense of duty. The self-awareness that is implied in realising our duty to another and to the moment is an awesome testament to the power of the now. In realising that you have a duty to others you cast of the pain of the now and live for your duty. The Zen warrior can exercise power or restraint – depending on the moment. It is only because they realise the duty to the moment.

In business we must realise the same sense of duty. Are we doing in every moment not only what is right for ourselves and the shareholders of the company – but right for the world and the moment. Are we able to transcend the barriers of space and time and do what is really right. In doing our duty do we realise the best result, by giving ourselves over to the now – being in it, and expressing it.

A sense of ritual

Yoshida Toyokazu was a great master of Zen Archery and wrote an epic work called the Great Doctrine. A passage from this work is highlighted here. “As for the stance, the positioning of the body, the positioning of the bow, the grip on the bow, the grip on the string, the raising of the bow, the drawing of the bow, the draw length, the extension, the tension, the balance of hard and soft, the stretch, the rainfall release, and the morning storm release: I see that none are needed.”

A Zen master realises that they may practice all their life and never attain perfection. Yet – if they stop practicing they will definitely never attain perfection. The quest is to keep at it. This invokes a sense of ritual, progression and incremental improvement. Only by actively seeking the attainment of perfection can we even start to penetrate its mysteries. Only by knowing the techniques and steps can you let them go and live in the moment.

In business we invoke processes daily, which if we do not improve them every time we do them, in time they become like an unused sword – blunt and without much purpose. The well-made sword, used often retains its edge. We must constantly seek to improve every aspect of business and work towards the progressive realisation of goals. Process and innovation seem to be enemies but they are one and the same.

A process of doing

Whether you are doing a sales presentation, making tea or engaging on a battlefield – there is a process of doing going on. This has within it an art, which if studied will reveal itself and that can be mastered. A zen story tells of a man who once hear a story told by an old woman which he loved. He spent his whole life trying to retell the story like the old women but never could get it right. One day he told the story again, and a friend that was with him that night told him that he did it exactly like the old women.

Only in studying the process of doing, do we get through it to the level of perfection. Contemplation accelerates our understanding of where we have gone wrong. Often however in life, in business and in battle – we only get one change – so our preparation must prepare us to do it right.

Be more than you practice to be and keep at it.

“If I miss one day’s practice, I notice it. If I miss two days’ practice, the critics notice it. If I miss three days’ practice, the public notices it.” – Franz List – famous composer and pianist

A contest with ourselves

Zen doctrine is that the only person that you ever have to surpass is yourself. Your master can guide you – but you will have to find your own path and be true to yourself.

In business we often start focusing on competitors and not to be the best that we can possibly be for our customers and ourselves. Many companies that have “lost their way” became more focused on market share than on quality.

Life and death in everything

Who understands the consequences of their actions? Zen shows us that there is life and death in everything.

Every action has a reaction, every straight path will have a turn, every border will be crossed.

In business if we realise that every action is critical we start changing the way we look at custodianship, governance and delivery. What if this was the last client you ever served? What would you do differently? What if you look at every client as a person and employ the whole company to serve that single person?

An immutable characteristic of life is growth. If we stop growing – we die. We stop growing when we stop living. By choosing not to grow – we often choose to start dieing. This is true in Zen and in business. You always need to look for the next

Aiming at yourself – and possibly defeating yourself

You have mastered an art when you are improving it, taking in everything outside and taking it inside. At the same it requires you to take everything that is inside and put it outside.

This is aiming at yourself and possibly hitting yourself. By becoming the target and the arrow – you become the process, the goal and achieve a link to the universal self in which you are connected with the divine spark that is in you.

In business we are the business and by recruiting and developing people and exploring their best potential we get to the full potential of the organisation. Trying to box everyone in roles and responsibilities denies the contribution that is possible and while searching for the art of the possible in the boardroom – it may be sitting in the ranks, waiting to be discovered.

The goal is spiritual

You may think that the goal is to achieve your mid year bonus. It is not – it is to do the right thing and to truly do the right thing, because you understand what you are doing. If you do the right thing, you are motivated and reach for your dreams, you will achieve spiritual freedom, emotional comfort and financial success.

As soon as you do – the goal will change – this is Zen.


The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art. – Eugen Herrigel

In finding the connection between the inner self, the outer self and the real world – do we move our actions to a higher level than is observable. We achieve real Zen. In business if we have healthy products and processes, have good relations with our customers and we keep on growing and innovating do we start growing and developing in new directions. We achieve the Zen of business.

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