Tao

The simplest overall meaning of the Tao is “the way of things”, “the way of the world”, “the invisible and unknowable currents underlying all things”.

However like many Chinese concepts there are various layers of meaning.  In particular some of these are highly pertinent to the world of business development now. So let’s take a look at the layers.

Firstly In its simplest meaning Tao (pronounced Dao) just means the way.  It’s a familiar word around East Asia. Many Japanese words contain the same character as -do. Thus Judo is the gentle way,  Kendo is the way of the sword, Aikido the way of harmonious spirit, Sado the way of tea, Tetsudo railway… Taekwando is Korean – the way of the foot and the hand.  So in this sense this site is The Way of Business Development. In a corrupted sense Tao is used in many (American) book titles simply as a more marketable/exotic branding (cf Buddha Bar, Ayurvedhic soaps etc).  One recent “Tao of…” book has less than a handful of sentences on the Tao in the entire book, and – as is common in this corrupted sense – just takes Tao to mean some fixed path or formula the author will then lay out.  But this is absolutely not the Taoist sensibility – it is its opposite – Confucianism – where all the rules, roles and responsibilities are prescribed.  The Taoist path is the antithesis … one has to use one’s own innate wisdom according to the context.

To give a simple illustration. Water is a very common metaphor relating to the Tao and we can say there is a rule that water flows downhill.  But what is the path of a raindrop landing on the mountain?  Water will find its own way harmoniously in accordance with the surroundings.  In this second aesthetic yet purposeful sense this website is to help you flow a little more smoothly, to get along more harmoniously in the 21stC Business World, in a way dependent on your nature and your circumstances.  In terms of the blog – there is no “right” way … just a whole bunch of fascinating and valuable ideas that you can choose from like a toolkit and apply as you find useful.

Thirdly, more elusively, the Tao is the invisible way behind all things and the heart of the oldest thread of Chinese philosophy/religion Taoism.  It is better known in the West in its Japanese off-shoot, Zen (via Chinese Ch’an itself something of a marriage of Taoism and Buddhism).  There are a number of books on Taoism in the West, many of them decent, but, like water, it is ultimately ungraspable – the more your try to grasp it the more it slips away between your fingers   Ditto business and business development – if it really was as simple as following some rules then every business school graduate would be a millionaire.  It ain’t so for the simple reason that business and the Tao are ultimately undefinable .. there are no “dot to dot” answers for all situations. The Tao de Ching – the most famous text of Philosophical Taoism – starts (in essence) “Look whatever you can say, talk or write about it, that ain’t it”. So we can only ever sidle up to some of the principles … and at this third, elusive, level I will illustrate from time to time how some of these hidden aspects can be given life.

This is particularly useful in a time when the West is taking a very “Confucian” route … bureaucracy and rules predominate much of life and textbooks purport to make you good at golf or business development.  Many of these books do help – but which of us has got it completely sussed?  Even if we have today then tomorrow is always different.

Fourthly there is an implicit practical aspect to the Tao.  This is perhaps most important point.  You can use this site for “just another click”, for a way to keep up with a whole bunch of stuff that you only have the time to read in precis.  That’s fine. However by far the most valuable angle would be if you ingest, digest and apply some of it – even one post – in your daily business.  Here the usage of Tao in the title reflects the fact that Chinese philosophy has always remained resolutely existential and very different from Indo-Aryan thinking.

Take for example the emphasis on martial arts … to a westerner individual combat and philosophy are two different things.  To the East Asian mindset however intellectual knowledge is, as in the West, prized, however something that you cannot do or demonstrate in action is somehow not something you “really get”, not something you embody, not something you live … whether it be martial arts, making tea, flower arranging, or in this case below a wonderful short case study by Master Paul Wang in calligraphy and the meaning of the character for Tao.  It also relates nicely to our web topic … prosaically you may be involved in BizDev but poetically you can now think of yourself as a warrior-priest moving forwards in harmony and with purpose. Now that does sound like a good precis of what one needs for a right-brain 21stC BizDev job description 🙂

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