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 Helping Managers and Salespeople Thrive in Turbulent Times Vol. 3, #3, October 2005 
in this issue
  • My Way or Wu Wei
  • About Jim Schaffer

  • Greetings!

    This month we discuss why struggling and striving may be less effective than working with the way things are.
    As always, just click "reply" to send along your comments at any time.

    Best regards,

    Jim Schaffer

    My Way or Wu Wei

    This is the time of year when the enormity of our goals confronts us, when we traditionally must reach deep within ourselves to summon the capacious reserves of energy, acumen and sheer chutzpah necessary to get us where we need to go.

    And it doesn't seem to be getting any easier to hit these goals. We're all "crazy busy," visibly sweating, and we're secretly proud of the fact. We're even prouder if we feel we're going it alone, against all odds. Our modern culture supports this craziness, full of testaments to ignoring conventional wisdom and racking up our achievements according to our own vision. The record shows, we took the blows. No pain, no gain. That kind of thing.

    The problem is, well — that approach takes its toll! Even Frank Sinatra, who crooned ad infinitum about having gone it alone all those years, often did so by imbibing more than his fair share and slugging it out with his peers — sometimes physically! And Rocky was a great movie, but do you really want a face like that just to make quota or get a good year-end review?

    So here's the good news: it doesn't have to be that way. Followers of Taoism have long believed that the best way to be effective is to observe something called Wu Wei , the Chinese symbol for which appears above. Wu Wei can best be defined as "nonaction."

    The concept does not mean, as many people believe, being passive or just generally "going with the flow." It means being very quiet and acutely observant and using the energy of "what is" in any situation to dictate your next move.

    As actor and martial artist Chuck Norris writes in his book The Secret Power Within :

    "The skilled master of life never tries to change things by asserting himself against them: he yields to their full force and either pushes them slightly out of direct line or else transfers their energy so that it can be used against them. He accepts life positively, and when events must be changed, he negotiates rather than inflicting his will on others."

    That's a nice formula for playing defense, but all of us in business know that not much happens unless we make it happen — that oft-used P-word (proactivity). So how do we use this concept of non- action, or Wu Wei, when our jobs and our incomes depend on producing measurable results?

    It is counterintuitive for us to slow down and "just observe" anytime, especially in the 4th quarter, but it's absolutely vital that we do so! We are caught in a conundrum. Most of us have had our goals handed to us by someone else, who may or may not have used any logic in assigning them other than a need to show growth. We then turn around and attempt to influence our customers and co-workers to try and push what has now become our agenda, and this leads us several steps away from what is really happening in our own world.

    Instead, we need to quiet our minds and become very conscious of that world, both inside and outside our own organizations — and not from our point of view. What clues can we get about what is going on out there that might provide an opening for us — even if it's not the opening for what is at the top of our agenda? Internally, can we see clearly enough what is going on in our own organizations that might provide us an opportunity to have a significant impact?

    I am not talking about analysis here. In fact — quite the opposite. When we are willing to sit and observe, quieting our internal monologues and stories about what might happen or has happened in the past, something new eventually emerges, and often it is something that reveals to us a direction in which we can move.

    Here are some strategies for using Wu Wei in your work day.

    1. Develop Zanshin. Aikido master George Leonard defines Zanshin as "continuous awareness." In business, we tend to be alert at intervals, usually in meetings with clients or colleagues (and then very sporadically — c'mon, admit it). By being aware moment by moment — all the time-- and conscious of what is around us, we increase our ability to face the unexpected and act when the time is right.
    2. Go To Your Power, Not Your Problem. Our days are often spent reacting to problems, both large and small. We can be far more effective if, instead of jumping around like adolescents to meet each and every challenge, we remain calm and centered, in touch with our larger purpose. Most of us on this list have a long track record of achievement on which to draw, and it is important to come from that place of wisdom and not knee-jerk reactivity. When you finally do rise to act, you will be coming from the seat of your power and not the much smaller world of the problem in front of you.
    3. Let It Go. It is only by learning to surrender control that we can stay open to what might be emerging. If we force things or are overattached to our view of what we want to see happen, we risk missing big new ideas or opportunities for ourselves, our companies and our customers. Letting go is the toughest task of all for most people in business; in my career it has also proven the most rewarding.

    We are men and women of action, and I know it's awfully hard to hang back at a time when we habitually "crank it up" the highest. Not that we're so sure what we're doing is right, we're just afraid if we don't do something nothing at all will happen.Trust me: something always does happen, but we're only going to be aware of how we can have a positive effect if we're paying close enough attention

    You don't really have to struggle and strive. Remember, the same guy who sang so loudly about doing it his way had an even bigger hit in which he crooned: "Nice and easy does it every time."

    As Lao Tzu wrote 2500 years ago:

    "In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
    Less and less is done
    Until non-action is achieved.
    When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
    The world is ruled by letting things take their course."

    See You on the Mat, Mamas!

    You should look so good at 65 — click here!

    About Jim Schaffer

    Jim Schaffer spent 25 years selling and managing people in both the software and advertising media businesses. Since 1990, he has shown people how to employ principles of Eastern philosophy to stay focused, keep high morale and get better results at work — regardless of what may be going on around them.

    Copyright 2005 by Jim Schaffer. All rights reserved.

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