This is the second post in a series on the VOICE principles and the philosophy of Miyamoto Musashi as written in The Book of Five Rings. The translation of The Book of Five Rings used here was sourced from WikiQuote.
You can start from the beginning of the series here.
We at YP practice the VOICE principles (Velocity, Ownership, Innovation, Collaboration, and Execution), striving to embody each of them in order to become more effective at not only our jobs, but in our personal lives.
In the 16th century, a Japanese Ronin (a lord-less samurai) named Miyamoto Musashi wrote The Book of Five Rings. In it Musashi describes his philosophy, called “The Way” of sword fighting, which is still studied today and can be applied across any discipline.
This series explains how the sword fighting principles of The Way can be generalized to each VOICE principle, leading you to becoming more productive in your life. In the previous entry, I wrote about how we can apply Musashi’s teachings to the principle of Velocity. In today’s post, I’ll be covering Ownership.
The term Ownership is commonly used in reference to property, and many dictionaries define it in such terms. But ownership has a secondary definition that is often used in business, meaning to take responsibility for an issue or problem. It’s this type of ownership, one of taking personal responsibility, which we embrace as a principle and strive to achieve in our work and our lives.
We take ownership because we strive to deliver simple and robust code, we want to fix each customers’ problem and ensure they have the best experience possible. We demand quality in our personal consumption of services and products, and so should we deliver superior quality, through ownership, in our work and personal lives.
Here is what Musashi says about Ownership:
If you merely read this book you will not reach the Way of strategy. Absorb the things written in this book. Do not just read, memorise or imitate, but so that you realise the principle from within your own heart study hard to absorb these things into your body.
Ownership begins with understanding and internalizing. In other words, you must own ownership. You must understand its value and demonstrate it in your actions. If you simply perform the actions of ownership, going through the motions, the result will be significantly less successful. Only by committing yourself to the application of ownership will you be rewarded fully by its value.
The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy
The first is to forestall him by attacking. This is called Ken No Sen (to set him up).
Another method is to forestall him as he attacks. This is called Tai No Sen (to wait for the initiative).
The other method is when you and the enemy attack together. This is called Tai Tai No Sen (to accompany him and forestall him).
There are no methods of taking the lead other than these three. Because you can win quickly by taking the lead, it is one of the most important things in strategy. There are several things involved in taking the lead. You must make the best of the situation, see through the enemy's spirit so that you grasp his strategy and defeat him.
The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy are the fundamental ways one attacks something one owns. When you develop your strategy for approaching a given problem, your attack, or leadership, will initiate by you attacking first, allowing the problem to attack you first, or both you and the problem attacking simultaneously. In every case, velocity, or swift decisiveness, is necessary.
The strategy of going on the offensive first is the equivalent of a frontal assault on a problem, and the most common approach in applying ownership. Whether a technical problem to solve, or an opponent with whom you are arguing, attacking first is a practical approach to many situations. You identify the problem, evaluate the scope, analyze weaknesses, plan your attack, and then execute the plan.
The strategy of letting your opponent, or problem, attack first can sound counter-intuitive to ownership, but it has its uses. For example, in an argument your opponent may attack and you let yourself appear weak, or stay silent, but when the timing is right, you seize on a weakness, countering strongly to gain the upper hand. Being the owner, being responsible, means utilizing the ebb and flow of a problem or conversation, and sometimes the most practical strategy is to let the problem, or opponent, attack first.
Finally, the strategy of attacking simultaneously is when the onset of a problem occurs quickly and without warning, requiring a calm yet strong response. While some problems gain momentum over time, others come on quickly, requiring an equally rapid response. You must always be prepared to take responsibility and ownership of an issue, so you can respond swiftly yet forcefully, powerfully yet with steady determination.
"To tread down the sword" is a principle often used in strategy. First, in large-scale strategy, when the enemy first discharges bows and guns and then attacks, it is difficult for us to attack if we are busy loading powder into our guns or notching our arrows. The spirit is to attack quickly while the enemy is still shooting with bows or guns. The spirit is to win by "treading down" as we receive the enemy's attack.
In single combat, we cannot get a decisive victory by cutting, with a "tee-dum tee-dum" feeling, in the wake of the enemy's attacking long sword. We must defeat him at the start of his attack, in the spirit of treading him down with the feet, so that he cannot rise again to the attack.
"Treading" does not simply mean treading with the feet. Tread with the body, tread with the spirit, and, of course, tread and cut with the long sword. You must achieve the spirit of not allowing the enemy to attack a second time. This is the spirit of forestalling in every sense. Once at the enemy, you should not aspire just to strike him, but to cling after the attack.
To tread down the sword is a strategy that encompasses velocity, ownership, and execution. When an issue arises, you must possess the constitution to take responsibility, do what is necessary with speed and authority, and consistently follow through to completion. You must be quick in your response, taking away the ability for the problem, or opponent, to counter. The deliberateness of your actions in owning a problem, in making it your focus, your obsession, will guarantee your success.
Everything can collapse. Houses, bodies, and enemies collapse when their rhythm becomes deranged.
In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse you must pursue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies' collapse, they may recover.
Ownership is closely tied to execution, and consequently to perseverance. When you own a task or problem, you must be consistent in your perseverance of accomplishing or conquering that thing. Once you own something, don’t relax when you believe the problem is on the path to being solved. Follow it through to completion. Problems can reoccur and arguments can be regurgitated if your ownership wavers, so persist in dominating them to the end.
When your opponent is hurrying recklessly, you must act contrarily and keep calm. You must not be influenced by the opponent. Train diligently to attain this spirit.
As ownership is a function of leadership, when we own an issue, we must not be led by others, particularly the problem or the opponent. If you allow yourself to be influenced by your opponent, becoming frantic or panicked, the problem or opponent has begun to lead you. When your opponent is frenzied, you must fight the urge to be reactionary and stay calm and relaxed in response. This mindset will allow you to think clearly when others do not. It will frustrate your opponents and reassure your team and your allies, demonstrating your ability to lead under stress.
Now that you’ve read how The Way applies to ownership, you need to start taking ownership in new ways, and of things you haven’t before. Begin by applying ownership (decisiveness, obsession, and persistence) to your daily life. Force yourself each day to identify at least one problem, whether it’s within your line of service or not, and own that problem through to its ultimate demise.
Next in the series, we’ll read what Miyamoto Musashi writes about innovation.