Unleashing the Eastern Philosophy of Business Strategy
Great Books + Great Minds is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
During my 10 years in healthcare Human Resources, I found myself a part of organizational settings that were rife with conflicts, mystery, and stress enduring drama. Looking back, what helped me navigate these often turbulent waters was my non-confrontational style, one where I often allowed conflicts to naturally resolve themselves as opposed to interfering with the entanglement.
My efforts at pursuing a calm and thoughtful approach were largely influenced by having been a longtime student of Taoism, ancient Eastern philosophy and religion that offers its adherents direction on how to flow in harmony with the universe.
As Taoists, we seek to stay open to infinite possibilities and new experiences by "unlearning" things that we may have become stubbornly attached to. In this way, the aim is to align with life’s natural flow and rhythm versus forcing our peculiar notion of how we think life should work on the world.
Taoists embrace inquiry on the path of staying open to how life will unfold. In other words, it’s living fully on the journey not a destination or expectation of results that becomes meaningful in a Taoist’s life.
Ultimately, this Eastern philosophical quest involves simply accepting yourself for who you are, who you’re not, and who you hope to become. It’s a recognition that your nature is forever changing and worth accepting as opposed to attempting to resolve the various contradictions of life.
At a recent visit to a Barnes and Noble, I stumbled upon the book The Tao of Strategy: How Seven Eastern Philosophies Help Solve 21st Century Business Challenges which in many ways captures the essence of my professional and personal journey.
This well-crafted book takes a fascinating look at the Great philosophers of the Eastern world and how their lessons intersect with those of modern-day business leaders. Readers gain an innovative set of approaches for fueling strategic thinking and problem solving on both a macro and micro organizational level. As noted in the introduction:
“The book presents the nature of strategy and the way of strategic thinking through the lenses of seven Eastern philosophies: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War — competitive battle — warfare and the game of Go, Hinduism, Buddhism, mindfulness, Taoism, chi (energy), and Confucianism. The intersection of Eastern philosophy and Western strategy-making.”
Tao of Strategy is a collaboration of three thought-leaders who originally crossed paths at the L. (Jay) Bougeois III who is the Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Initiatives at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia: Siege Eygenson a Washington, D.C. - based consultant at a leading strategy consulting firm, and Kanokrat (Mint) Namasondhi a Bangkok Thailand based global management consultant and CFA charterholder.
Because the three come from varying parts of the world — Jay (French Christian), Serge (Jewish-Russian), Mint (Thai-Chinese-Japanese Buddhist) — they bring diverse cultural beliefs and perspectives to the table. Says the authors in an exclusive interview with “Great Books, Great Minds:”
“The three of us have a common interest in Strategy and also in Eastern philosophy, namely Arts of War, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. We found that all strategies are emergent. From creation to execution, unpredictability – caused by external factors, internal turbulence, and interpersonal interactions – does happen and disrupt our planned or intended strategy. Eastern philosophy, which is grounded in flexibility, nature, and balance, helps shape one’s mindset and prepare people to handle the unpredictability and adjust planned strategy to adapt and emerge from the challenges, unexpected surprises, and changing circumstances.”
Asked about the intent and purpose behind their collaborative effort to write “The Tao of Strategy,” they had this to offer:
“This book is for leaders facing tough strategic challenges. We would like to offer another approach for business strategists, decision-makers, and general readers – who make plans and live in this volatile and chaotic world – to perceive and effectively handle the unpredictability with less stress, more happiness, and a higher chance of success by leveraging on Eastern philosophy – the topic, although ancient, is increasingly relevant in modern, fast-paced, and materialized world, as it will arm you to manage the unpredictability which happens more severely and more frequently in this century.”
The Tao of Strategy is comprised of three parts: the external competitive environment (part 1, “Strategy”); the intro psychic world of the decision-maker (part 2, “The Inner Mind”), and lateral relationships with colleagues, organizations, and societies (part3, “Relationships”). Added to this are thoughts and perspectives from executives in Asia, America, and Europe who’ve applied these philosophies in the leadership of their organizations.
According to the authors, ancient Eastern philosophy survives through times and changes in our cultural, political, and economic developments because it is grounded and built around the impermanence of nature and of our lives.
“Our book leverages this quality of eastern philosophy and introduces it to the readers so that it provides a fresh and original perspective to shape strategic thinking and innovative breakthroughs. 95 cases and stories from business and non-business leaders around the globe in the book are practical examples that illustrate how these theories have been implemented and how breakthroughs happen in real life.”
According to the authors, the book aims to address the fundamental challenges everyone is facing and that it is applicable to all sources of uncertainty and unpredictability – from COVID-19 pandemics, volatility in financial markets, and war – from which much more uncertainty will come. The book, they say, perceives all of this as inevitable with the belief that ancient eastern philosophy that has guided our ancestors for centuries can now also guide us through turbulence in life.
In a concluding thought, they had this to offer:
“We hope they will have a new and fresh perspective to accept unpredictability in life – both in business and non-business contexts – and well handle it with ego detachment. Our advice would be:
“All strategies and things that life brings are emergent.
So, train for it. Be ready for it. When strategic insight arises … grab it!”