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Key Entrepreneurship Lessons from ‘The Book of Five Rings’

I am a great fan of eastern philosophy and the way they simplify strategy and life. One of my favourite authors of that time is Miyamoto Musashi, who wrote a book called “The Book of Five Rings”. He was a famous swordsman samurai in 1645, who fought his first battle at the tender age of 9 and fought 60 duels in his lifetime, not losing even a single.

The best part about his writings is that even though it was written during the 17th century, the strategies and philosophy, which he spoke about, are still relevant in modern business and entrepreneurship. Many Japanese businessmen consider this book as one of the Bibles of strategy and business style.

Let’s try and understand these ancient set of strategies and relate them to modern examples in the business today.

  • Earth (Timing)
  • Water (Flexibility)
  • Fire (Methods)
  • Wind (Brand and Competition Analysis)
  • Void (The Unseen/Human Nature).

Earth (Timing)

From one thing, you can know ten thousand things. Timing is everything in business and strategy planning. While launching a new product or a new campaign, timing plays a huge role, you need to know the seasonality of your product/service otherwise your timing will go wrong.

Case in point: Blackberry was an undisputed king of smartphones a few years ago but it lacked the timing to launch better smartphones and when it finally launched Blackberry 10 it was too late to recover.

Water (Balance/Flexibility)

Life is all about balance. An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. You must have a balance between the two.

One of my favourite sub-books from the five rings philosophy talks about the flexibility of a business, if you are too rigid, you’ll die. The market keeps changing, so should your business.

Case in point: Apple started as a computer hardware company, but it has evolved into everything in technology, ranging in phones, computers, software, music, books etc.and that has helped it to not only survive but become a market leader in the category

Fire (Methods)

When you attain the way, what remains in your path to greatness is your ability to implement your knowledge. Always use natural advantages.

A brand must use its natural advantage and not try to be like some other brand or service like every person has a unique DNA, every business has a DNA and if they try to enter a new category without a thorough knowledge they will fail miserably.

Case in point: – When Nirma (detergent powder), which is a leader in the soap category launched salt, it failed miserably because a consumer has always perceived Nirma as a chemical which can be used on clothes and body but it can’t be consumed.

Wind (Knowledge of Self & Opponent)

It’s hard to know yourself if you don’t know others. When you recognize your enemy’s intentions, there will be many opportunities for victory.

It’s important to understand the market dynamics before you get into the Business, this also helps you to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

Case in Point: To influence the consumer brand selection, Paper boat focused on packaging. They hit on the nostalgia of the consumers and worked on the product innovations to capture market instead of promoting on TV which would have been a wrong strategy seeing the Beverage giants they are competing with.

Void (The Unseen/Human Nature)

Trod firmly – avoid jumpiness, avoid indecision, and avoid playing into the enemy’s frame. If need be to become friends with the enemy to attain a larger purpose The number one priority is victory above all else.

Case in Point: – To decrease the cost of production OLED panels for iPhone is made by its biggest rival Samsung in Korea, it’s a perfect example of mutually collaborating by keeping the ego aside for a larger business association.

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