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The Warfare of Business - Pursuit of Perfection

The Warfare of Business - Pursuit of Perfection

All suited up. Men and women dressed for business, carrying their business weapons; laptop, mobile phone and maybe a projector, heading to that special meeting. There is a plan, there is a strategy, but will the other side play fair. It can be war in the world of business. We see the scenes played out many time in corporate offices, meeting rooms, conferences and daily life.

So how does a book written in the 17th century by a Japanese samurai and master swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, have any connection to modern business strategy?

Business is a game of strategy.

Go Rin no Sho or the Book of Five Rings was written about the strategy of the Japanese art of Kenjutsu and general martial arts. Miyamoto Musashi was a master in the art of Kenjutsu which is methods, techniques, and the art of the Japanese sword. Mushashi was renown for not fighting fairly because he used whatever was available to him in order to win.

I am sure you have seen the movies where the problem is always settled with a sword fight. The art of the sword was a major part of the story in The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, this movie is a good example of the art of the sword.

The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is Captain Nathan Algren hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the first modern Japanese army. The government attempts to remove the samurai warrior class in preparation for modernisation, Tom (Algren) finds himself taken after a battle by the samurai, he finds the strategy, logic and beauty in the samurai beliefs and martial art, Kenjutsu.

He is befriended by Saigō Takamori (Takanaga) the Japanese samurai and Shogun leading the samurai. Takanaga moves from being his enemy to become his friend and mentor. Using the his knowledge of warfare, spirit of samurai, the art of kenjutsu. but vastly out numbered they fight the modern army. Although defeated they win the moral victory which moves the emperor back to the right path.

This is not exactly the way we want our sales team to work but hey it's a great story. It is about many things but key is the Japanese principle, Kodawari, pursuit of perfection.

You can sometimes succeed by pure luck, being in the right place at the right time. But to be truly successful you need to follow a path or process that is learned behaviour. Another example is John D. Rockefeller, America's first billionaire. Priorities, Data and Rhythm are the three core pillars, there is an interesting article on the Forbes website Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.

Go Rin No Sho - The Book of Five Rings

The "Five Rings" refers to the five books or elements that make up Kenjutsu the martial art of the sword or martial arts more generally. On many levels the book is very spiritual and looks at the issues of good and evil.

Musashi would have made an excellent business person as well as warrior. He believed that to succeed you must use all the weapons' at your disposal and so he was the first to fight with both swords. This was considered an unfair tactic.

The five rings, or books; Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void.

Go Rin No Sho the book of five rings
Go Rin No Sho the book of five rings

Taking the ideas and principles from the book and applying them to business management is not a great leap. There have been many ancient and modern books on warfare that have been used to explain business strategy such as Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Strategy is a basic foundation of business and each step forward needs goals.


Earth is all about creating a solid platform through education, learning, leadership and being prepared. It stresses the need to have a broad set of skills and not rely on one "weapon" or "style" that can be easily learned by your competition. Being prepared in business is about understanding not just the basics but build up a solid knowledge to support decision making. In business as in Kenjutsu you never stop learning.


The meaning of Water is flexibility. Change has to be your friend and you must be prepared for change. You should have the ability to change in accordance with the situation to easily shift between disciplines, methods, and options when presented with new information. Lack of flexibility will lead to failure.


Fire is all about implementation. To be successful you must be able to read the situation and adopt the correct skills and tools. This is all about understanding not just your own capabilities but also the capabilities of others in the team.


Wind is all about being able to understand your own team and capabilities is to understand the way of your opponent with as much detail as possible. Your opponents and elements of Wind can be the competition or prospect/customer. In short terms knowing your own way without knowing what you will confront in the heat of battle will mean failure.


The Void expressly deals with those elements or issues which cannot be seen or the unknown. Musashi says, "By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist". This is about finding the issues that might impact your ability to succeed.

“there is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” - Musashi

Kodawari - pursuit of perfection

The Japanese have a word "Kodawari" it is unique and special that has no equivalent word in English. It means "the uncompromising and relentless pursuit of perfection". This has been used by modern Japanese companies like Toyota to enable change in business and service culture. It is also the way of the samurai.

In the Last Samurai the Shogun was writing a haiku (poem) about the perfect cherry blossom but could not find the last line. As he was dying, with his last breath. he spoke the line "They are all perfect" the five syllable last line of the haiku.

So what do we take away from this?

Most new business start ups fail. Not because they had a bad business idea and not because the business owners are not hard workers. They fail to plan.

  1. Being prepared in business is about understanding not just the basics but build up a solid plan with knowledge to support decision making.

  2. Change has to be your friend and you must be prepared for change.

  3. To be successful you must be able to read the situation and adopt the correct skills and tools.

  4. Understand your own team and its capabilities and understand your customers and competitors with as much detail as possible.

  5. Find the issues that might impact your ability to succeed. Never stop learning from your failures and your successes.

I do hope that you take away some good ideas from this article. Grab the Book of Five Rings online and you will find it an easy read but with intriguing ideas. The Last Samurai is a fun movie if you like action, adventure and specially if you were a ninja fan (excellent ninja scene).

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