Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paper Dragons

I was inspired by my conversation with Eriko in London last week.
We were a bunch of Japanese (well, not ME, obviously) enjoying dinner at a lovely Japanese restaurant near Holborn in the center of London.

Like many Japanese, Eriko is very loyal to the company.  This is admirable, of course, but my perspective differs.  I explain.

What is a company, after all?
I have set up companies before.  When you do, you receive a piece of paper called a company registration.  That's it. No fanfare, no big deal.  Just a piece of paper (actually a stack of papers).
A company is a legal construct created by society for the purpose of making money in an organized way (I use the term "organized" a bit too freely perhaps).  Legally it exists, but physically it is just a piece of paper.

As I explained to Eriko, I am not loyal to pieces of paper.  Pieces of paper cannot be loyal to me.
Of course, human beings act of behalf of the pieces of paper, and I can be loyal to them (and I am very much so).  However, I never let the paper take the place of the people.  I respect people and their actions, and will never absolve someone who does something wrong by saying "the company made me do it".  Each of us make take personal responsibility for our behavior, and have full accountability for what we say and do, good or bad.

If we argue that companies are made up of people, I contend that this is not the point.  Neither are people simply their resumes.  The paper is no substitute for what it represents.

Since I don't pay much attention to pieces of paper, I find I have more time to focus on the human relationships that the pieces of paper underpin.  In the company, I try to engage people as human beings, rather than business cards, job titles, or powerpoint decks.  I try to solve the human problems, and try to engage my clients person to person, with my goals and theirs aligned, and not caring too much for the pieces of paper behind them. This means that even if someday we were to change companies, we could continue to enjoy and derive value from the human relationship we built and have invested in.

Irrespective of the person's place in the corporate hierarchy, I try to engage everyone as a peer and professional, equally worthy of my time and attention (until they prove me wrong).  Similarly, I try to lead in a human way, not because the org chart says I am the boss.  I try never to focus on the paper more than the person, since it is the human element that I have always found the most interesting and rewarding.

Just as in our weapons work, we try to remember that weapons are not the focus - people are.
When we engage the aggressor, the weapon no longer matters.  Likewise, we learn that almost anything can be a weapon if the attacker has aggressive intent.  Weapons provide context, nothing more.  Paper provides context, nothing more.

In our martial arts lives, too, there are lots of pieces of paper.  I have four black belt ranks (so far).  I am sure no robber or murderer will ever ask to see them.  Likewise, I have never had any of my students ask for them (or about them) after the first class.  In the end, I can either teach or I can't.  I can either do or I can't.  That is up to me, not the paper.  Neither the paper nor the belt can do that in my place.  People obsess over which master (or ultimate great grand pendekar or whatever) is better than whom.  Legitimacy comes from skill and knowledge, NOT from pieces of paper.

Many people spend far too much time worried about those pieces of paper.  So much so that they never truly enjoy the human element, the friendship, the love, the RELATIONSHIPS that in my mind make life worth living.  Humans are amazingly complex, funny creatures.  We have nearly limitless capability.  We are truly born of stars and have their essence within us - we shine brightly.  PEOPLE ARE AWESOME.  Paper is boring.

Please be fiercely loyal to the important people in your life.
Make conscious effort to create, build and sustain the human relationships that are important to you.  Never care more about the paper than the person, especially when that person is YOU.
Spend as much time as possible acquiring knowledge/skills and personal networks that will help you enjoy your life to the fullest.  Keep the papers in the drawer where they belong.

See you at class.

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