7 Samurai Virtues for the Modern Entrepreneur
Originally appeared in Forbes, October 8, 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2012/10/08/7-samurai-virtues-for-the-modern-entrepreneur/#3384f58d714e
Samurai culture is celebrated in history and revered in popular culture. Although the samurai may appear barbaric to the casual observer, the samurai were in fact intensely diligent in the way they lived their lives. The virtues of the samurai influenced the evolution of Japan as a society, and ultimately affected the course of global affairs in the 20th century.
What most pervaded the samurai philosophy and way of life was the recognition of life’s fragility. Danger was omnipresent and mortal combat frequent. In the book Samurai Strategies by Boye Lafayette De Mente, the author explores the seven samurai virtues that defined their way of life, and how we can apply them to our own lives. I believe these seven virtues possess special wisdom and application for the modern entrepreneur as well. Here’s how:
- Kennin: The first of the seven virtues, kennin, translates to fortitude and perseverance. There is perhaps no greater attribute that can be ascribed to the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs must confront myriad challenges when starting and sustaining a business. The samurai training centered on martial arts as well as the development of mind and body. It is equally important for the entrepreneur to maintain a healthy body and train the mind to develop concentration, judgment and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the midst of great challenge.
- Shinnen: This virtue refers to conviction and faith in oneself. The samurai were said to possess a resolute self-belief, so much so that they believed they could accomplish anything. Certainly, when confronting a battle scenario and the prospect of death, self- belief would be paramount. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the spirit of shinnen helped repair a war-ravaged Japan and allowed it to become the world’s second largest economy. The entrepreneur must also possess self-belief, particularly when confronting the obstacles (and sometimes discouraging statistics) that are part of startup life.
- Shincho: This virtue is defined as care and discretion. The samurai and Japanese society as a whole were very careful about how they treated others. They possessed a highly ritualized form of etiquette that was ubiquitous in all personal transactions. It is important for the entrepreneur to demonstrate respect and a sense of etiquette too. Perhaps not as formalized as the samurai, but entrepreneurs face many situations where decorum is critical — for instance, when meeting with potential investors or important clients.
- Seigi: Seigi refers to the samurai moral code of righteousness and justice. Despite the violence that plagued the samurai way of life, there are many historical examples of samurai benevolence and integrity. Ultimately, the samurai cause, even in its violent manifestations, was based on honor. The entrepreneur must display such morality in his or her conduct. It is important to maintain integrity and loyalty in all business relationships.
- Sessei: This virtue underscores moderation and temperance. This applies not only to consumption of alcohol and various indulgences, but to something that’s of particular relevance to the entrepreneur: the need for balance in work and lifestyle. Excessive work in the absence of a more complete lifestyle can be deleterious to health and personal relationships.
- Jizen: Jizen promotes the importance of benevolence and charity. This is an indispensable part of an entrepreneur’s character as well as business operation. Particularly in this economic climate, consumers are more thrifty and selective in their brand alignments. Companies that manufacturer safer, healthier products stand to perform better, and entrepreneurs who manage such companies sleep easier and lead a more fulfilled life.
- Kibo: Finally, kibo essentially means hope. This hope was founded on the appreciation of life and the celebration of its more basic elements. Humor was and is an important part of Japanese culture, as are celebrations throughout the year. No matter how difficult and trying things may become for the entrepreneur, he or she must remember to laugh, take a walk, and seek happiness in the here and now.