Ok, so maybe you have or haven’t read Shibumi, the 1979 fictional thriller by Trevenian, reviewed in my previous posting, here.
Nevertheless, The Shibumi Strategy by Matthew May is a very easy read. You can easily get through it in a day, and get the main message. And it is one of the better books aimed at the business executive self-help market.
A reminder: What is Shibumi ? It is one of a number of Japanese words, denoting the aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Yet, although Shibumi objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity. The same can be applied to our personal development, as strive bit by bit for self improvement and awareness of the world around us.
Andy is a tele-sales executive for an electronics company in a small town in Middle America. He gets fired.
On his way home he decides that he needs to do something, anything, so that he can soften the blow for his family when he tells them that evening. So he goes off to the car dealership run by his friend, Grady Carver, and manages to land a commission-only job selling cars, starting immediately, and with some pretty tough targets. Not ideal, as Andy has never sold a car in his life. Doesn’t know the first thing about cars. But, it is a starting point.
This is a fable about Andy, as he goes from no-hoper to (yes, you guessed it) star salesman at Mainstreet Motors. Follow him through his ostensibly disastrous first few weeks at the showroom, as he crafts a sales strategy rather than waiting for customers to randomly walk through the door, as was happening before.
The book is peppered with inspirational quotations from people you may or may not know. A bit tacky, but there is a thread:
“It is when things go hardest, when life becomes most trying, that there is greatest need for having a fixed goal. When few comforts come from without, it is all the more necessary to have a fount to draw on from within.” BC Forbes
“He who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows out the plan, carries on a thread which will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life. The orderly arrangement of his time is like a ray of light which darts itself through all the affairs. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidents, all things lie huddled together in one chaos.” Hugh Blair.
One of Andy’s mentors in Mainstreet Motors is Axel (who, yes you guessed correctly again, works in the service area, repairing cars). Axel is married to Mariko, who is of Japanese origin, and runs a martial arts and yoga classes attended by Andy’s family. Andy is persuaded to attend, and his corporate journey runs parallel to his Zen journey, in which he learns some of the Eastern philosophies that he puts into practice in his daily life.
Axel teaches Andy about the “After-Action-Review” (AAR) developed by the US Army. It is now used as a verb, e.g. after a particular deployment, the military will make sure they “AAR-ed” it. It boils down to three questions:
- What was supposed to happen ?
- What actually happened ?
- Why are there differences ?
After I stopped sniggering about Iraq, I realised this is quite an effective self-analysis tool, because it is very easy to do on a small scale. You can apply it to small incidents which didn’t go according to plan.
Remember, the whole philosophy of Shibumi is incremental improvement. Indeed, in the book, Axel persuades Andy to keep a “Performance Journal” – “You keep monitoring and reviewing your performance and satisfaction, feeding back from actual outcomes to expectations. Over time trends and patterns show up that point out strengths and weaknesses.”
The trick is to spot opportunity when others see adversity.
“Two shoe salesmen were sent to Africa in the early 1900s to scout the territory. One telegraphed back: “Situation hopeless. Stop. No one wears shoes.” The other telegraphed: “Business Opportunity. Stop. They have no shoes.”” Anonymous.
And this one, by Pablo Picasso:
“Guess how I made that head of a bull. One day, in a rubbish heap, I found an old bicycle seat, lying beside a rusted handlebar... and my mind instantly linked them together. The idea came to me even before I realised it. I just soldered them together.”
Right, that’s enough quotes. You will learn about Kanso, Koko, Seijaku, Fukinsei, Datsuzoku, Shizen, and Yugen, which are the principles set out in the one-liner at the top.
And the good thing: it is like an à la carte menu – you can pick and choose the dishes.
There is no Wikipedia link to this book. The link to the author’s homepage is here.