Ki is a spiritual energy that exists in the universe. Ki and Management are closely associated with each other. This is the first volume of a column by Professor Tomoya Nakamura who is the Deputy Dean of GLOBIS University and who teaches classes such as Leadership and Globalization of Japanese & Asian Companies. In this series of column, he tries to define the characteristics of Japanese Management based on Eastern Philosophy.
I am teaching Leadership and HRM subjects at both GMBA (Japanese) and IMBA (English) programs at GLOBIS University.
GLOBIS University exists to develop visionary leaders who create and innovate societies. “Creation” refers to starting a venture company or incubating a new business in a large firm. “Innovation” refers to drastically changing the structure of the business to correctly respond to society’s needs.
In this column, I would like to write about the association between Ki and management which I keep in mind if I were creating a business or changing the business.
Association between Ki and management
My father used to work for a Japanese trading firm. Due to his overseas assignments, I spent my childhood in North America, namely New York and Montreal. When I was in Montreal my junior high school teacher asked me what Zen is or what kind of person Zeami was. I could not answer those questions at that time. I felt ashamed of myself for not being able to answer such questions so when I came back to Japan at the age of 14, I started to practice Aikido to strengthen my identity as a Japanese. I furthered my attempt by studying Gagaku, Japanese traditional music and dance. When I was in my college, I visited Japanese farm villages as a field research in my study in social geography.
During the college, I became the president of Aikido club where I had opportunities to take an Uke (to be thrown by a master) from Arikawa Sadateru Sensei. This was like a dream moment for me. I learned so much about martial arts, how to utilize our body and how to find an excellent balance with people and the surrounding environment.
After I graduated from college, I followed my father’s path and entered a trading firm. There I was given an opportunity to study about management at Harvard Business School (HBS). Before entering HBS, I expected that I was to study about how to make money.
The professor of General Management, one of the marquee classes at HBS, was a Professor who actually ran business as the Chairman and CEO. Although he was semi-retired then, he had been selected as one of the best CEO in Midwest United States during the 80s’. His class was full of surprises. He would ask hail of questions to students. “What would you do as the protagonist of the case, the CEO?”, “Then what?”, “And then what? Why would you do so?” As I was trying to answer his questions, strangely, I felt a similar soul awakening which I experienced in the past when I was receiving profound Aikido lessons from Arikawa Sensei. Curious to find the reason, I set up an appointment to meet this Professor.
“I feel a similar Ki in your class which I felt when I was having Aikido lessons from my master Arikawa Sensei.”
“Hmmm, I give you credit for understanding Ki at your age. However, if you cannot associate management and Ki, there is no use to study management at HBS. Come back again when you have thought about that.”
This meeting I had with the Professor was like a striking lightening to me. A western business person knows about Ki and said Ki and management are strongly associated with each other. He even went further to say that it will be useless to study management unless I understand this link. What exactly is “management”? I was intrigued by the deepness of his words toward management.
Ki, a spiritual energy that exists in the universe
What do you imagine when you hear “Ki”? It may be called “Prana” in India or “Chi” in China. In my understanding, Ki is a spiritual energy that exists broadly in the universe. It has some interesting characteristics. Sometimes it concentrates to form something. However, once it spreads out it fades away as we cannot sense it. If you can harmonize your mind and body in a peaceful way, Ki runs through smoothly and the amount of energy that flows in you will increase. On the other hand, if you disharmonize your mind and body, you will not feel Ki at all.
I would imagine people who have gone through extensive training in traditional Japanese arts such as tea ceremony, flower arrangements, or calligraphy would understand about this sense. I believe that without harmonizing one’s mind and body, one could never make a rich tasting tea, arrange a beautiful flower or write a beautiful calligraphy. Also, when playing sports or practicing martial arts, if you could feel the inhaling and exhaling of your opponent and sense the shift in your opponent’s mind that precedes physical movement, it would not be so difficult to stop or throw your opponent. Ki is the basis of these actions.
Then how could Ki and management associate with one another?
There are two perspectives in management. One is the shareholders’ perspective and the other is the stakeholders’ perspective. I don’t think I need to explain about the former type of management as it is known widely. The latter type, stakeholders’ perspective is a management view that encompasses all players who hold a stake at the company. Typically, stakeholders include customers, business partners, employees, share holders and even communities in which the company operates. That is to say, stakeholders’ perspective takes the stance of valuing the relationship with each and every stakeholder that has different interests.
Now, which of the two perspectives in management will be blessed with more Ki?
As Ki is an energy that exists in the universe, it favors any notions or movements that are in line with generating and developing the universe. Take the formation of galactic system as an example. There is a stellar in the center as a core and planets circles around in orbit. By moving in orbit, both stellar and planets keeps the balance of the whole system by standing independently and, at the same time, being in harmony with one another.
Let’s put this situation in the context of management. Since management which emphasizes stakeholders’ value could be supported by many stakeholders, it is more consistent to the universe than management which emphasizes shareholders’ value. I believe if the management focuses too much in a particular group, it would be difficult to produce stable rotation (energy).
Then what kind of intention should management search for in time of business creation and business innovation in order to attract stakeholders? What kind of relationship would enable you to accumulate stakeholders around yourself? How could it be stabilized into a system eventually rotating itself to a higher altitude?
I would like to think through these issues with you and would like to reevaluate Japanese management through Ki in this column. I hope that you will come back to this column from time to time. Thank you for reading through.
(This article was originally published on July 8, 2009)