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10 things Miyamoto Musashi can Teach You about Creative Strategy

Miyamoto Musashi (c.1584-1645) was a Japanese samurai who for his battles and distinct style become a legendary warrior. Musashi wrote on strategy and philosophy in his work “The Book of Five Rings”, and he is today frequently looked upon for inspiration.

1. "Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things."

This is one of strategy’s main principles one has to learn to gain knowledge on how to become more effective in your marketplace. The intuitive thing to do here is to look at the current actions and situations around you from your own stand point. Except your own point of view is limited thus it is essential to see from different views. For starts, begin with switching paradigm by considering how other parties observe the same marketplace. As a designer you see not only through your consumer’s eyes but also through your competitors’ and co-workers’ outlook. By adding different perspectives to your “research category” you are establishing a stronger perception for yourself.

One way not to be blinded by plain sight is to question ideas twice. For instance, a product might be environmentally friendly and your consumer might feel good when using it. Yet if we keep asking questions we will eventually find further aspects to the product. Like, how easy can the competitors copy this product, or will your consumer automatically think the product has less quality because it might be inexpensive?

Being able two zoom in and out from your work will change the way you see problems and through strategy you grow more creative and effective. You got to let your reliance in your first thoughts go and go round a double loop of investigation to widen your insight in the process you’re involved in when planning and creating.

2. “Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

You are first and foremost competing against yourself. To avoid unconscious incompetence we need to understand our own weaknesses and strengths, and this is done by full mastery in our field. It is difficult to figure out competitors’ knowledge and place in the market if you do not know where you are currently standing. Through strategy you are able to understand and plan out where you are currently positioned and this knowledge will keep you motivated to improve your skills. Not knowing your own strategy is not knowing what to improve. So, first go through the process of mastery and then creativity will crop up.

3. “Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death”

When living in a somewhat counter-intuitive world as we do, one must reduce the "me" factor when working on projects and reset a more realistic mode into your working process where your client's needs and wants are prioritized. It is central to constantly remind yourself that they are the ones who purchase the products and services; therefore you cannot create anything that will sell well without research. You need to design the solution your client is longing for; this requires a certain death of ego.

4. "An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. Do not let the enemy see your spirit.”

Set out to do something unique. The lesson to be learnt here is that you need to have a position in which your clients understand and can relate to, but keep "secret" the way in which you reach your results. Outsiders, especially competitors should pull their hairs and get their minds boggled when tiresomely trying to figure out your value chain.

5. "You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you."

Skills are good to have but they should not be kept in your special trophy wall. If you want to be creative, you need to step out of your comfort zone and make decisions that are based on what is happening at this very moment and what was a success last month. Besides if you use the same methods and “tricks” you will become quite predictable. Instead, try new approaches and learn how to fail. Use your skills to break new ground, not recreate beautiful stuff to get self admiration. When really failing, you sure will not forget about it and there is always a lesson to learn from this.

6. "Complementary stepping means that you do not move one foot alone."

Now, we have touched the part that you should not be too predictable and that your results (whether it’s the actual function of your design or your marketing strategy) should be difficult to figure out or copy. But how could you come about establishing this? One great way is through synergy. Everything you for a project ought to be in synergy. This will make it much more difficult for competitors to hack into your system.

7. "Know your enemy, know his sword."

You are always being watched… and the more publicity you obtain, the more carefully studied are you by your competitors. This might sound somewhat intimidating. But usually when things are starting to go well you notice the sense of competition and also how crucial it is for you to keep yourself updated on your competitors and what they are doing. Nowadays, if they cannot read you but you can read them, you will obtain quite an advantage.

8. "Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy."

When you have made up your mind to do something, simply do it. Don't wait too long, but act with calculated speed. People mistake business for busyness. It’s not. Business is systematic.

9. “There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is timing in the Way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this.”

Timing is one of the most crucial parts of strategy. Great timing comes with thorough research. The more time you spend evaluating what state your specific market is in, where it’s been and where it’s going the more rational and specific will your decisions become.

10. "I must say, to die with one's sword still sheathed is most regrettable."

When failing, it's better to do it knowing that you did everything you had set out to do. From here you can truly restart.

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  1. Burke says:

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It is the little changes that make the most significant changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  1. [...] 20. “Aspire to be like Mt. Fuji, with such a broad and solid foundation that the strongest earthquake cannot move you, and so tall that the greatest enterprises of common men seem insignificant from your lofty perspective. With your mind as high as Mt Fuji you can see all things clearly. And you can see all the forces that shape events; not just the things happening near to you.” - Miyamoto Musashi [...]

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