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Comparing Classic and Modern Corporate and Personal Development Programs


In the 1990s Stephen Covey’s name became famous through the publication of the “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. As many know the “7 habits” are not a group of new concepts but age-old approaches to success represented in a way that can be clearly applied to modern day personal and corporate development. These precepts are taught in a number of ancient development, and achievement arts which have been practiced for thousands of years. Although many of these concepts have been lost and misinterpreted, they exist and can be translated in non-extreme forms, from such arts as: Zen (which is not a religion, but a path for self discovery and growth), the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu (the classic text on strategy which is often regarded as the most definitive text on the topic), and the Tao de Ching (the “book of change”).

Profound lessons for leadership, change, victory and non-conflict have arisen from bodies of work such as the “Art of War”, because the learnings came from life and death scenarios. Obviously today’s corporate world does not induce a mechanism for change, and success, anywhere near as strong as these ancient arts as the consequence of failure is far less. This is why groups such as the Samurai, and post-war Corporate Japan, adopted highly refined lessons from Chinese Zen and the “Art of War”. However, modern Asia is very different from its past. Today such cultures as Japan often see an environment which is one of the most materialistic and rapid success oriented cultures around, quite a contrast to its approaches of the past. Today many Western corporate cultures are now embracing past strategies to avoid conflict and gain success.

The strategy text “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, is often incorrectly viewed as an aggressive approach to victory. However, it is essentially a master text on “Conflict Management” and “Win-Win” scenarios (“Win-Win”, habit 4 of Stephen Covey). It also discusses partnering in detail (“Synergize”, habit 6 of Stephen Covey), project planning (“begin with the end in mind”, habit 2 of Stephen Covey) and has many direct relationships to goal attainment in corporate and personal development contexts.

Partners, Competition and Internal Efficiency: Managing conflict in a modern organization has an amazing number of ties to the central themes of Zen, the “Art of War” and the book of change (Tao de Ching).They are all about understanding yourself, your organization, your strengths, weaknesses and synergizing with others to achieve positive outcomes. Collectively these things have a direct correlation to an annual company S.W.O.T review (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Furthermore, these attributes and approaches mimic an employee’s annual performance review. In Applied Zen workshops we go through approaches to company S.W.O.T. which include: company self analysis, analyzing the competition, and partnering for best case strategic outcomes.

All the above methods (old and new) are about changing base behavior, beliefs and approaches. These are core values, and are far more important than putting band-aids on problems, or approaching things with simply a behavior change. In regard to the ancient philosophies, they of course must be interpreted, and applied, using case studies in a context that matches the modern corporate world – but the lessons are most definitely there!

Continuing to train ones skills and undergo development both in-house and outside your company is essential.

As the ancient samurai saying says: “Continually sharpen the sword or it will go blunt!”

By Jason Armstrong, Ph.D. Copyright 2005.

About the Author

Jason Armstrong, Ph.D., has worked at CEO levels in Japan, the USA, & Australia. He has also consulted for large multi-national companies in Japan and has specialized in the "Art of War" for more than 20 years. He has worked in both biotech and venture capital industries. Today he runs www.AppliedZen.com , which conducts personal and corporate development workshops in the USA Australia and Japan.


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