Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Featured prominently in Jim Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog, Hagakure (“In the Shadow of Leaves”) is, at its simplest, a manual for the samurai classes in Bushido—the Way of the Warrior. And yet, three hundred years after its creation and far removed from today’s modern pragmatism and materialism, Hagakure still has insights to offer. Its appeal is intuitive rather than rational, and one of its central tenets is that a person can go anywhere he can imagine.
If for nothing else, read this to feel like a samurai. In the meantime, here are a couple of our favorite passages to tide you over.
“Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ Master Ittei commented, ‘Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.’”
“Learning is a good thing, but more often it leads to mistakes. It is like the admonition of the priest Konan. It is worthwhile just looking at the deeds of accomplished persons for the purpose of knowing our own insufficiencies. But often this does not happen. For the most part, we admire our own opinions and become fond of arguing.”
“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”
“Master Ittei said, ‘Confucius was a sage because he had the will to become a scholar when he was fifteen years old. He was not a sage because he studied later on.’ This is the same as the Buddhist maxim, ‘First intention, then enlightenment.”
“In assessing the enemy’s castle, there is a saying that goes, ‘Smoke and mist are like looking at a spring mountain. After the rain is like viewing a clear day.’ There is weakness in perfect clarity.”
It’s no surprise that we’ve got plenty of Ironmen, ultra-marathoners and regular old marathoners on the Fishbird team: adventure shares a kindred spirit with our work. And while people often remark that they could never run one of those races, we’re quick to point out that they most certainly can. For the race, the adventure, is the easy part. The hardest thing takes less than a second and comes at the very beginning. Committing to the unknown. The hours. The training. The conditions. The injuries. The emotions.
Simply put, the future.
In the latest issue of Outside magazine, there’s an article that speaks directly to this (funny how that works). We liked it so much we decided to recap it here.
Last September, a group of five unsponsored kayakers — dubbed Team Beer — made a first descent of Peru’s Río Huallaga: a Class V whitewater, 300-mile canyon deep in the Andes with three unscoutable gorge sections and rumors of a 150-foot waterfall. The team waited until the river was at its lowest flow before setting off into the 7,000-foot-deep canyon with nothing but their kayaks, 12 days’ worth of food, 200 feet of climbing rope, and one satellite phone.
The rubber hit the road on the second day of the trip, when the Huallaga crashed through a Class V rapid and entered one of the three unknown gorges. If the river turned unrunnable, the team would have no way to escape.
“The hardest part was committing,” said Matt Wilson, at 33 the leader of Team Beer. But commit they did. The box canyon they dropped into was barely more than ten feet wide, but it was clean and easily navigable. The following two unknown gorges were the same — beautiful and easy.
The 150-foot waterfall never materialized.
By committing to big, unknown futures, we usually find ourselves in beautiful places that aren’t so scary after all.
In the wake of last week’s tragic tsunami across northeastern Japan, we’ve seen an equally proportionate outpouring of thoughts, words, and images from around the world: some hopeful, supportive, and downright creative; some treading in a strange gray area; and others hurtful, close-minded, and toxic.
And yet, through it all, Japan has continued to move forward, showing a resiliency that can perhaps only be understood if you’re standing in the same shoes. We can’t fully imagine the countless acts of unreported fearlessness and bravery that are being required to overcome such a disaster. But a story we caught here gives us a brief glimpse at what it’s taking to get the job done.
On Tuesday, a small crew of fifty workers remained at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, braving radiation and fire in an attempt to keep the station’s reactors from melting down.
“The workers are being asked to make escalating — and perhaps existential — sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan’s Health Ministry said Tuesday it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for American nuclear plant workers.”
Who the Fukushima 50 are has remained a mystery. Tokyo Electric, the power station’s operator, refused to release the names or any other information about the team, including how long a worker is expected to endure exposure. Still, the few details that have slipped out paint a troubled picture: five workers have died, 22 have been injured, and two are missing.
So how do these noble 50 press on?
How do you work when you have no past to rely on?
No experience to go off of?
The answer is simple, though the execution is seldom seen in our world: you work from your imagination, from a perceived future that is bigger than self. We have no doubt that somewhere, deep in the hearts and souls of these 50, there is a picture of a better future for their countrymen that they are moving toward. Fishbird believes in the possibility of bringing this mindset to our everyday work. We can all learn something from The Fukushima 50 about moving beyond fear to become something extraordinary.
The New York Times posted an article on Friday that piqued our interest and got us thinking. In early 2009, the brand behemoth embarked on Project Oxygen, a data-driven attempt to build a better boss. By the end of the year, the project team unveiled their findings, which NYT titled, Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers. Here’s three of them:
Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
Help your employees with career development.
Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented.
These habits aren’t anything to write home about; while we were excited to see the “clear vision” point make the list, we were even more excited by what we found near the end of the article:
“Google executives say they aren’t crunching all this data to develop some algorithm of successful management. The point, they say, is to provide the data and to make people aware of it, so that managers can understand what works and, just as important, what doesn’t.”
“The thing that moves or nudges Googlers is facts; they like information… They don’t like being told what to do. They’re just, ‘Give me the facts and I’m smart, I’ll decide.’”
Yet at the same time, Google surprised the world in January by announcing that Larry Page, one of the company’s co-founders, was taking over as CEO from Eric Schmidt. The move was explained by writing, “Day-to-day adult supervision is no longer needed.” Point being: we are speeding up decision-making and simplifying management.
Speeding up decision-making and fact-finding are at opposite ends of the work spectrum, and yet the two fiercely co-exist in almost every organization Fishbird has worked with. Google appears to be no exception. As a general rule, fact finders are the slowest to pull the trigger (they’re researching!) and quick triggers are the least tolerant of an abundance of information. The key is finding the balance between these two important, and necessary work functions: supporting fact finders in moving faster and providing quick triggers with enough background to make smart decisions.
Since the completion of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world in 1522, we’ve had experiential proof that Earth is, indeed, a sphere, and not the flat, infinite plane our ancestors first imagined. We’ve learned that there is no direction in space, no north or south, left or right.
So why are we, almost 500 years later, still talking about things going up and coming down? Are we just being lazy with our words? Does it even matter?
We believe it does. So did Buckminster Fuller, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century.
In his masterwork, Critical Path, Fuller explains:
“Around the world nothing has ever been formally instituted in our educational systems to gear the human senses into spontaneous accord with our scientific knowledge… The first aviators flying completely around the Earth within its atmospheric mantle and gravitationally cohered to the planet, having completed half their circuit, did not feel “up-side-down.” They had to employ other words to correctly explain their experiences. So, aviators evolved the terms “coming-in” for a landing and “going-out,” not “down” and “up.” Those are the scientifically accreditable words—in and out. We can go only in, out, and around.”
Fishbird is all about becoming aware of unconscious habits, about questioning the habitual choices we make in our lives. We are only as powerful and intelligent as the stories we tell about ourselves and our world.
Maybe it’s time to change our stories.
One of our team members, Mark, relayed a story to us over the weekend about an old high school Spanish teacher of his. It was too good not to share.
“This guy had done it all. He’d been driven into the Mexican desert by “policemen” and held at gunpoint for sliding down the back side of Teotihuacán, one of the country’s most famous ancient pyramids. He’d taken peyote on a secluded beach and lost track of days, maybe weeks. He knew Spanish inside and out, was something of a genius with languages, and here he was, teaching juniors and seniors how to conjugate verbs in a small Rhode Island town best known for its turf farms.
I’m sure he was bored to death by us.
And yet, he was the best teacher I had in high school. I don’t remember a single thing any one of my other teachers said, but I remember most of Señor’s stories. My favorite was about swearing. He often told us that the hardest thing to do in a non-native language was to swear reactively. The kind of swear where a truck tire runs over your foot and you’ve just got to yell something awful. In that moment of unconsciousness, we revert to our first language, to the words that have been ingrained and are the easiest to recall. Fluency meant swearing in Spanish.”
There’s a connection here to Fishbird. It’s easy enough to learn the concepts of Fishbird, quite another to apply them in real-time. Yet this is the only place that true change can occur, when the rubber hits the road. How many times has your “foot” been run over in the workplace? How many of those times have you unconsciously reacted?
The possibility of Fishbird is the possibility of awareness, to choose another language to operate within. Fishbird is fluency.
We talk about 3M often in Fishbird. It’s a fascinating brand: founded in 1902 as a mining business (the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company), they believed they had found corundum, a mineral ideal for producing sandpaper. Problem was, what they thought was corundum was something quite different. So they decided to buy a sandpaper company instead, struggling for years over how to make it successful.
Finally, they decided to move to St. Paul. And they started finding their footing, inventing masking tape and cellophane tape during this time.
3M’s most profitable invention, however, was perhaps, at the time, their most illogical one. In 1948, they launched the 15% Program, a creation which allowed workers to use 15% of their work hours to pursue “hunch” projects and ideas. The program was open to everyone, from scientists to secretaries, inspiring all to fail and succeed in often exponential ways.
It’s where the Post-It Note, clear bandages, and painter’s tape have come from.
And it’s why the 15% Program still exists at 3M today, not to mention at countless copycat organizations (ahem, Google, ahem. Gmail, Google Earth, and Gmail Labs have all originated from their 20% hunchtime).
The key to this hunchtime for 3M and Google is that outcomes are backed. Many other organizations have tried to use this free time approach only to have failed because of their conservative tack on supporting new ideas. We’ve seen this time and again in Fishbird.
So let’s start advocating for org-backed hunchtime.
One hour for lunch, one hour for hunch!