The Martial Path to Peace in the Board Room…

IMG_1237Out of the corner of my eye I saw the glint of one of those sharp tools that dentists use to probe at suspect cavities. “Open wide…”, he said.

“Upper left 7, upper left 6, ok“, he said. “Hmm… looks like you’ve been biting your cheek. Lower left 6, lower  left…Incidentally which way did you vote in the referendum?”

“Ung?!” I said

“Brexit”, said Marcello, waving the sharp sickle probe in the air. “Which way did you vote?”

“Unnng…” I wavered.

“It’s just that I don’t think you normally bite your cheek. Maybe you’re stressed… maybe…well, you know a lot of people have got Brexit Jaw.”

I made throat noises of surprise. And Marcello, as he speared gums, and chiselled at molars, shared news about this unfortunate condition. It seems that Brexit has provoked a nationwide outbreak of aching facial muscles and tendons; A consequence of three years of clenching jaws and grinding teeth. It’s been a mini boom for dentists. Maybe they’re behind all that chaos? Someone had to be profiting. 

Actually, there’s a few. It’s not just Brexit Jaw, there’s also Brexit Bones (the stress of it all has caused the afflicted to lose bone density which is good news for calcium suppliers); there’s Brexit Brow (the demand for dermatological wrinkle fillers has shot up to address the permanent crease of fury in the foreheads of the electorate) and needless to say there’s Brexit Heartburn (Reflux acid is at flood level and manufacturers of chalky tablets are rejoicing).

But you know all this. You probably have Brexit Throat (And Brexit Eardrum) from screaming so much. That’s why I’d vowed never to write about the dreaded B-word but then this book landed. “Look, man”, it argues, in the hippy voice of Neil from the Young Ones. “There must be another way, yeah?”.

The other way that it proposes is the way of Wing Tsun, an ancient Chinese martial art. It’s presented first and foremost a business book but I think the lessons can be safely extended to the B-word. The promise of “Winning Not Fighting” is that by incorporating the central tenets of Wing Tsun into your business –  or your national psycho-drama – you can achieve your ends without conflict. If so, I’m in. 

Wing Tsun, one learns, is a martial art that strives not to create conflict. Think of a a restaurant that doesn’t want to serve food but if it is forced to then the food’s amazing. It seems to be something like that.

The world of business is harmfully possessed by the idea that business is engaged in a war, say the authors. The mental models and the language used in business at large are based more on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt”) than anything collaborative and constructive. Competition must be annhilated, markets must be conquered and targets must be smashed. This approach fuels tension, conflict and fear and results in unecessary pain, waste and destruction.

And Brexit Jaw. 

What if we could approach business, negotiation and management differently? If, just imagine (and pass the peace pipe) it could be pursued without conflict. This seems naive, 51.9% of referendum voters will tell you so. And so will a further 48.1%.  The solution is philosophical and much stems from the definition of winning created by the Wing Tsun masters round about 500 AD. It’s a combination of:

1. Enjoying the present

2. Achieving longevity

3. Being yourself

Alas, this seems to have little to commend itself in the heat of battle, business and B-.  However, I think the authors have a point. One is a master of Wing Tsun and the other is a co-founder of the “healthy fast food” chain Leon. This philosophy has been applied to Leon apparently with success and many examples of how it has been applied in practice abound.

Of course, applying the eight wisdoms of Wing Tsun in a healthy food chain may be a different kettle of fresh fish to say, running a courier firm or construction company.  To me this feels more like a manual for living a peaceful life than a business book. And that’s no bad thing. Unless your business is reliant on a stressed out populace. I’ll recommend Marcello leaves the Art of War on the waiting room table, not this one. 

I read: Winning Not Fighting

By: John Vincent and Sifu Julian Hitch

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