What can a Samurai teach you about entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is a tough path to follow. Make no bones about it. Most people I’ve come across don’t have a clue about what they’re getting into when they say they want to become Entrepreneurs. The success stories are rightly glorified because the struggle is real. For every single entrepreneur.
True, visionary entrepreneurs are of a different breed, they don’t simply possess bucket-loads of passion. They have a warrior spirit – A firm, unshakeable belief in oneself, an indomitable mentality, and importantly, holding oneself accountable to a different set of standards. Very much like the ancient Japanese warrior class known as the Samurai. Our company name was inspired from Japanese culture – a dojo being a place of growth and learning, therefore I think it’s only fitting that we provide some key take-aways from the warriors who came through such Dojos.
The Samurai were fierce warriors of Japan that were responsible for policing and enforcing feudal laws at the time. They became renowned through the ages not just for their brutal and violent history, but also for their philosophies and way of life. Rather than the romanticized literature of the past that painted them as pure, incorruptible heroes and shed them of their bloody past, I’d like to focus on one particular Samurai – Miyamoto Musashi.
Miyamoto Musashi was a special type of Samurai. Rather, I should say he wasn’t a samurai in the traditional sense. He had no master and did not pledge his allegiance to anyone – in Japan these samurai were known as Ronin. He was a legendary and undefeated warrior, who dedicated his life to the art of swordsmanship and warfare. During his later life, he authored the classic text known as The Book of Five Rings – a treatise on the way of the sword and a breakdown of the spiritual background of the warrior tradition. It’s become a text that is famous to this day for its insights on leadership and strategy. Its timeless wisdom is applicable across the board and holds deep relevance to any budding entrepreneur.
This post is going to briefly cover a few of Miyamoto Musashi’s famous teachings from his seminal work and their applicability to you as an entrepreneur.
“Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
Samurai were fearless warriors who accepted death as an inevitability in their line of work. Putting their lives at risk was but a simple prerequisite. Knowing that death awaited them at any possible moment, they steeled their resolve to make the most of their lives.
At the early-stage, the failure of your startup is almost a certainty if you don’t act fast enough. This is even more so, in the era of the modern digital age, where hyper -growth and super speeds define technology ventures. The case in point being that hardly a fraction of such ventures survive past 3 years. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, living with the blind ignorance and naivete that your idea is untouchable, can be a fatal mistake. You must embrace the same steely resolve as the samurai to make the most of your venture.
“The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight, and the only reason a warrior fights is to win”
As clear-cut as a sharpened katana, a Samurai’s purpose in life was defined with no ambiguity. A samurai is going to fight and he’s fighting to win. And the same should be said of entrepreneurs, who also must have a clear and over-arching vision that they are striving toward. What problem are you trying to solve? What is your overall vision for your venture? You must have good answers to these questions if you’re on this path.
“Becoming the opponent means you should put yourself in an opponent’s place and think from the opponent’s point of view.”
Miyamoto Musashi was a true student of strategy and always believed in studying his opponent in depth. Likewise, as an entrepreneur, it becomes imperative that you are aware of your competition and objectively analyse your strengths and weakness. How do you differentiate yourself? How do you communicate this to your customers? You must know how to properly position yourself in the market relative to your competitors, otherwise it’s a downhill battle.
“Respect the Gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.”
Self-belief was paramount for a Samurai warrior. Hesitation, doubt and fear would spell certain death in any battle. The point being made here is that you cannot depend on luck or any externalities for your venture’s success. While you must make allowances for the critics and opinions of people around you, as an entrepreneur, you must at the same time ensure you do not doubt your own voice. The pioneers and innovators are able to build disruptive businesses transforming millions of lives, only because they challenged and questioned the status quo and believed in their vision.
“In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”
A balanced perspective. The key to most things in life and essential to the samurai when facing an opponent. Useful to gain insight in the heat of a battle as well as in day-to-day life. As an entrepreneur, one cannot take a narrow-minded view to business. For every decision, there are always multiple perspectives. Is my marketing strategy sound? Which channel would help me build the best customer relationships? Would this allow my business to scale efficiently? When considering a strategic decision, a balanced perspective will almost always be the best one.
“The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding”
Samurai and all accomplished martial artists spend hours upon hours working on their craft, perfecting it. It’s a cycle of constant learning which brought about constant improvement. Training is akin to breathing for a samurai. The same can be said for entrepreneurs. You cannot afford to stagnate. You must be focused on continuously building your venture and moving it forward. Test your product, get feedback, improve it. Develop this continuous process of iteration until it works. You can never afford to rest on your laurels and must consistently seek to improve or you risk giving your competition the edge.
“Though you give up your life, do not give up your honour.”
Honour is everything to a Samurai. To betray one’s honour and have his integrity questioned meant a fate far worse than death. For a disgraced samurai, the only way to redeem oneself was through suicide or Harakiri (performing a disembowelment on oneself). This was extreme but it forced the Samurai to live a life without regrets and fight to the death if it meant defending one’s personal integrity. For all entrepreneurs, a business venture should be protected with the same kind of drive. One must conduct business and pursue the venture in line with personal principles, as straying from them, could lead to a dark road of self-doubt and loathing. Therefore, always think twice when you as an entrepreneur are taking decisions that question your integrity, as this could very well derail your entire venture.
I strongly encourage you to read the full book as this is but a drop in the ocean of insight available to you from Miyamoto Musashi.
Sharpen your swords, Startup Samurai, the battle has just begun.