Matt Aaron reached out to me and noted that most books that apply aikido principles to business are either for large corporations -- or aren't very good. With a background in aikido and client management, Matt brings us some more small-business-oriented insights.
“Stay in control and exude stability, even if you don’t feel too sure of yourself just yet.” - Stuart Wilde
Many business books and articles talk recommend the philosophy of Aikido: Use the force of the enemy against him.
The content of “Business Aikido” is either vague and not very good (like this one) or it focuses on big business.
It is not an easy concept to apply. After all, most people you will deal with are not exactly your enemies.
For our purposes, let's interpret the word enemy to include anyone that becomes an obstacle in your work. The point of contact at your client's company that rarely responds to emails or phone calls. Or perhaps a programmer who fails to complete the work you need done.
How do you take a Japanese martial art and apply it to managing clients?
Let them know you are paying attention
One thing that stands out in an Aikido class are the behavioral differences between advanced and beginner students.
(Note: everybody is a student, including 6th degree black belts who make a living teaching seminars around the world. Think about that).
From posture to movements to tone of voice, the advanced students exhibit a higher level of awareness.
Ready. They also tend to anticipate things that need to be done. Maybe a flaw in the footwork of students that needs to be addressed.
Beginners often zone out or lack attention to the key details when being taught a technique by our Sensei.
When it is time to practice the technique, the lack of attention shows in their difficulty to perform it.
Now imagine you are on an important conference call with your client: Are you surfing the web/checking email during the call?
Let's say the client plans to launch a new product. Are you proactively making suggestions on the launch strategy?
The client needs to know that you are looking out for them. Really pay attention to what they say; to what they want. And show them that you are doing it. Perception is everything.
Sending monthly reports and keeping frequent contact correlates strongly with client retention and expanded budgets.
To receive an attack in Aikido, you must blend to the opponent's energy. If you try to fight back and tense up, you lose your balance. You become weak; susceptible to defeat.
We can keep the Aikido example pretty short here: Almost all broken bones in Aikido occur because of someone tensing up their body.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from the CEO (let's call him Javier) of a client. This was in response to an email I had sent out to someone else at the company proposing an in-person meeting.
Javier has the power to read any emails sent on the company's domain (I know, right?). He responded to the email, CC'ing 5 other people and said that “Without reviewing statistics, I think the project is going quite poorly. I thought you promised that we were going to be the envy of our competitors.”
Man, that pissed me off. First off, while Javier is the ultimate decision, he has had just about zero awareness of what is actually going on. Second, the project is going really well. And third, I never made such a claim.
I started to craft my response almost instantly. The project IS going well. Please review the facts, etc. contentious tone. Because of my own shortcomings in self-control, I was off balance and in danger of making a costly error.
Luckily, the email was discarded. I went for walk and a cafe breakfast. I regained my balance.
Back at my desk, I sent an email in a calm, positive tone asking if he had received the February report and here was an attached copy in case you haven't (he is CC'd on every email, so he had received it)
Without addressing his baseless claims or taking a hostile tone, my reply blended his email and turned it against him so to speak. His attack was deflected the indisputably positive report.
And by using the common “reply-all” feature, the the 5 other people went from being witnesses of a poor consultant to an asset of competence and value.
If you want to explore this subject in greater depth, I highly recommend:
The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei by George Leonard
Silent Power by Stuart Wilde
Terry Dobson wrote a book about Aikido and conflict resolution some years ago: http://www.amazon.com/Aikido-Everyday-Life-Giving-Edition/dp/1556431511
Great example of how aikido helps one regain composure and respond tactfully instead of responding impulsively and emotionally. You showed Javier up without creating a scene and losing your client!
Related to the first quote:
"Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are" - Steve Jobs
Good post. Are you a Aikido Practitioner?
Quick request - a reader asked me which martial art he should study. If you're a martial artist or researched on the topic, please share your thoughts in the comments.
I got an email from a reader asking me about martial arts. I don't know all that much on the topic - I did some research, I practiced Krav Maga for a few months, and a lot of my friends art martial artists. But after I replied to the email, I realized I don't know exactly what would be best, so let's see if we can get more suggestions here.
Here's the parameters -
Also, a more personal question, and frankly the biggest reason for this e-mail: I've been meaning to learn a little self-defense and I want to know, what martial art do you recommend? I'm looking for something that emphasizes mental discipline, relaxed awareness and control, rather than raw strength, athleticism or physical toughness. Or do you recommend otherwise? I'm in my twenties and in Ok shape, although I don't exercise much (my height is 1.87 and my weight is around 85kg, if that's important).
Here's my original reply -
I recently started taking aikido classes again. I took a class on “Conflict Theory and Aikido” in college, which was years ago now. With this new blog I've been thinking about whether I should focus on “Writing for myself” and just writing about whatever I find interesting and amusing and in whatever way I find interesting and amusing (at the risk of not writing anything that's interesting to anyone but me) or if I should focus on writing things that other people might find interesting, amusing and helpful (at the risk of sacrificing authenticity). At first glance, these two choices seem exactly contradictory. However, this contradiction is illusory, the same as thinking that two practice partners in aikido are fighting against each other. In reality they are working with each other, one practicing their attack and the other practicing their defense (and what is attack and what is defense is not always clear). They are like an arch where each side supports both itself and the other. Some strains of aikido have a massive focus on this unity. In fact, the founder said, “Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family." which has lead many people who practice other martial arts to downplay aikido's effectiveness in an actual fight. Whether or not that is true, this can lead people to ignore the fact that aikido, and other “slow” martial arts are extremely dangerous. Because it focuses on using the construction of the other person's body, like the elbow and shoulder in ikkyo, or the wrist in yonkyo, aikido doesn't just have the possibility of causing pain, but can tear tendons, rip someone's joints out of their sockets, and do permanent damage to their nerves. When someone is practicing a move on you, you're practicing how to safely take a fall with them. There is no one person acting on the other person as an object, but a cohesive interaction. Neither could do what they're doing without the other. I suspect something similar exists for any relationship. If there's a relationship we don't like we're probably doing something to support that relationship in its current form. If you remove that support the relationship the other person in the relationship will have to change for it to continue. Either the nature of the relationship will change or it will stop. For instance, if you have a friend who's always complaining to you, (not constructive criticism, but complaints about something in their life) you're probably listening to those complaints. If you stop the complaints will stop one way or another. The people in a relationship act the way they do partially because the other people in the relationship are acting in the way they are. If someone in a relationship changes the way they're acting the other people in that relationship can continue acting in the same way, but they won't get the same response as they did before. (And this means the incentives about how to act change.) This is again like an arch, but where we slightly move one of its sides off-center. It's possible that the other side will slightly move to maintain balance, but it's also possible that the arch will just collapse. If the moving side moves a small amount, and the other side adjusts, and the moving side moves just a touch again, and the other side adjusts, and they do this for a while, it's possible that the shape of the building will be changed over-time. (and earthquake-prone Valparaiso has a few examples of this.) On the other hand, if the moving side makes a drastic change the other side will not have an opportunity to adjust and the arch will simply collapse. So the beginning of a blog, or any endeavor where you're working with other people, is important to find people who are complimentary. I suspect this is a big hole in mass-media. A blogger can really dig deep into a subject, and people who want to learn about that or read about the person's experiences will stick around, while people who are not as interested will move on. Mass-media tries to appeal to people who are not all that interested, and has to present a watered-down version of whatever subject. It's like an arch where one column isn't pushing very hard, if the other column pushes back with a lot more force the arch will topple. But if two sides of an arch are pushing against each other with a lot of force, not only is it very stable (assuming it's not pushed to the side) but it's even stronger than an arch with less force. One of the awesome things about the Internet is that it allows people to find other people who are as passionate about things as they are. If someone isn't really into eating healthy and exercising, but feels like they “should be” there are thousands of articles to the effect of, “10 things to lose weight NOW!” If someone is kinda interested, but is just looking what's out there they can find blogs on veganism, the paleo diet, vegetarianism, advice on weight lifting, cardio, yoga, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And then if someone is REALLY into fitness and health they can find extremely detailed information and scientific studies (along with information about statistical methods so they can knowledgeably read those studies). So then for this blog, like any relationship, I think I should be honest and see what happens. Honesty is key. If you don't like the results you can always make slight changes, or even drastic ones if you really don't like the direction something is going. People who "click" with you will stick around, and people who don't will move on, which is fine. They'll find what they need. Find what you need.