Note: Occasionally I re-read a book published years ago simply for the pleasure of spending time again with a dear friend. That is especially true of this book. I envy those who have not as yet read it.
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The Practicalities of Philosophical Convergence
Yeh is one of several business thinkers who have learned a great deal from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. In this volume, he rigorously examines “five strategic arts,” devoting a separate chapter to each of the five, focusing on those organizations and individuals that best illustrate the values which Sun Tzu affirmed more than 2,500 years ago. Here they are: The Art of Possibility (Medtronic, Grameen Bank, and Southwest Airlines), The Art of Timing (Royal Dutch/Shell, Intel, and Southwest Airlines again), The Art of Leverage (Wal-Mart, Dell, and yes, Southwest Airlines again), The Art of Mastery (Singapore, the U.C.L.A. Bruins men’s basketball team, and indeed Southwest Airlines again), and finally, The Art of Leadership (Coach John Wooden of U.C.L.A, Earl Bakken who co-founded Medtronic, and of course, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines). When discussing his primary objective for JetBlue Airlines, CEO David Neeleman replied that he and his crewmembers (not “employees” or even “associates”) were determined to “bring humanity back to air travel.” That is one of Yeh’s key points in this book. He insists that the best organizations “have a soul and they find a way to make a profit consistently, while also serving the community.” That was a lesson which Neeleman learned during his brief association with Southwest Airlines. It is no coincidence that year after year, the companies identified by Fortune magazine as being “The Most Admired” and “Best to Work For” are also the most profitable in their respective industries.
What sets this book apart from so many others which have addressed many of the same issues is the fact that in it Yeh brilliantly correlates and sometimes blends Eastern and Western concepts of business success and personal fulfillment. Not only organizations but each of those within those organizations has a soul and must find (or be provided with) a way to achieve financial success while also serving the community. In essence, the “art of business” is really the art of having standard of living and quality of life in proper balance. The greatest leaders throughout human history have helped others to do so. Hence the importance of having VPV: vision, purpose, and values. A great leader inspires others with a vision and mobilizes them to pursue a shared future (the Art of Possibility); she or he initiates or responds effectively to change, especially to a crisis (the Arts of Timing, Leverage, and Mastery); and he or she can innovate constantly because values-driven leadership has developed and nourished both talent and integrity throughout the entire organization (the Art of Leadership).
According to Yeh, in addition to having a soul which creates meaning for its people, a great organization must also “know where it is going and somehow always seem to flow with the changing world, arriving at its destiny in perfect synchrony. A great organization cleverly leverages everything in its environment, including competitors, to effectively and efficiently utilize its resources. It is also the master of its trade, constantly treading on the leading edge while maintaining effective balance. Finally, a great organization is made of leaders “who help to actualize the organization’s vision by aligning their dreams to it.” Long ago, a 12th century French monk, Bernard of Chartres, (not Isaac Newton) suggested that all of us are able to stand atop the “shoulders of giants.” Today’s great leaders are those upon whose shoulders we and others will be privileged to stand in years to come.