Friday, October 14, 2005

THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI for Millennium Executives by Khoo Kheng-Hor.

There's much we all need to about everything but sometimes someone comes along to elaborate about matters like the Code of Bushido and how its principles can be applied in the world of business. Before you rush off the front door and never look back, pause and think about the little voice inside your head: "everything comes with a purpose." On that note, I leave you to your thoughts.

PICTURE this: you are in a life-and-death situation. You are totally
focused. You have nothing in your mind except your opponent. The only aim
is victory; death is insignificant because you are prepared for it. In
such an event, victory is but a cut-and-thrust away because you are the
living embodiment of the Code of Bushido.
As Khoo Kheng-Hor sees it, the Way of the Warrior (Bushido) is
applicable to the world of business. He draws lessons from the samurais of
16th century Japan for the benefit of modern-day executives. His points
are not original, but the manner in which he has submitted his
observations is distinctly his own.
Anyone familiar with samurais of the bygone era will recognise names
like Miyamoto Musashi or Yagyu Munenori. These are but two of a long list
of warriors to emerge from the Land of the Rising Sun and enter the
management hall of fame.
Khoo quotes generously from Musashi's well-known text, The Book of Five
Rings. `The carpenter is like a low-ranking warrior,' says Musashi. `For
example, the carpenter sharpens his tools himself, maintains various
tools, and carries them around in a box. He follows the instructions of
his chief ... Personally learn well the techniques of the carpenter. When
you comprehend the plans well, in due course you can become a chief.' In
the corporate domain, the methods of gaining advantage over your opponents
are found in the blood-stained chapters of Japan's samurai annals. In
those pages of history where serious issues were very often settled at the
edge of a very sharp sword, foreknowledge of an opponent's terrain and
circumstances surrounding his life are deemed essential to success.
For students of military science, Sun Tzu is often the name, and war is
the only game. Khoo, an authority on Sun Tzu as his numerous books will
testify, now plunges into the battlefields of the powerful shoguns to
bring forth what 20th century Japanese executives have known for decades.
To them, business is war. They have been mentally and culturally
prepared for it for eons. To the chagrin of other corporate figures
elsewhere, this realisation dawned on them only after Panasonic, Honda,
Mitsubishi, Aiwa and Sony had entered their living rooms and bedrooms.
With such seemingly simple credos like `the best defence is attack,'
Japanese companies have managed to cut and thrust their way into
consumers' minds the world over.
Four hundred years ago, the legendary swordsman Musashi, whose prowess
was unequalled, postulated, `No matter what happens, the preference is for
a position where you can move freely to lead the opponent around, that is,
to be on the offensive.'
The uninitiated may find this kind of talk gobbledegook. But in the
Samurai Way of Management, this type of mindset gives the predatory firm
an advantage in almost every scenario.
Ponder the words of Musashi about following through with the attack:
`Now, in actual battle, one should try to chase the opponent around by
going to the left, in order to force him into a weak position. Once
cornered, the opponent should be chased so that he does not have the
opportunity to look around, that is, not know where he is.'
It would be, of course, too simplistic to attribute all the glory of
success to the shogun or samurai. For a battle to be won decisively, one
must have able troops. Hence, it is necessary, even imperative, to recruit
the right people with the correct skills in order for operations to flow
Very quickly then, these are some principles which must be observed in
the hiring of `soldiers':
1. The right attitude is often an indicator. It is recommended that a
potential candidate for a job be one who is filled with enthusiasm, for in
such a person will the firm often have an able worker.
2. Practise open-mindedness. Bosses be advised that it is no shame to
hire people cleverer than you. Clever people, treated with fairness and in
the right way, often save bosses from looking stupid, be it in the
immediate term or distant future. Surrounding oneself with `yes-men' is
often a prelude to self-destruction.
3. Get the right number of people. In other words, don't over-employ. It
is fine to have many hands making work light, as the cliche goes, but the
company's budget can only stand so much strain in hard times. This lesson
has been learned most painfully by many troubled firms in current
turbulent economic times.
Khoo, who was the director of operations of Kentucky Fried Chicken in
Singapore before he embarked on a career of his choice, speaks from
experience on various aspects of management.
On his advice for the employer `to perceive that which the eye cannot
see', Khoo suggests that employees must be aided in fulfilling their own
dreams. It is unrealistic to believe that every worker wants to be
employed by the company until retirement. There will always be some who
harbour thoughts of venturing out on their own in a big way. These
employees must be given every opportunity, for it is giving opportunities
to its workers that the company gains in stature and wealth.
Another piece of advice concerns care in handling minor matters like
manners and courtesy. `If you are observant, you will find that the little
things often tell the big story,' says Khoo. `Indeed, it is the small
details that really matter. For example, I have met people who greeted me
with nice words, like "I'm so delighted to meet you," etc, but because
their facial expressions did not seem to show their delight and as their
eyes were not looking at me but diverted to someone else, I did not take
their words very much to heart.'
The Way of the Samurai for Millennium Executives is chockfull of guiding
principles for the Malaysian corporate people. Even though it lacks
literary finesse, it proves its worth with its magnificent spread of
anecdotes which both inform and entertain.
Unlike other management tomes which frequently weigh heavily on one's
mind and on one's hands, this book shows its mettle not unlike how a
samurai handles a quarrelsome rival: a straight thrust to the heart with
the katana (long sword). Its examples derived from colourful characters
like Takeda Shingen, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu
leave more than a subliminal effect on an eager mind.
This book is best read without any expectations. If one's aim is simply
to be informed, one may be delighted to feel the touch of zen that writer
Khoo has left behind in some unobtrusive parts of his book.

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