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Want to Be a 'Zentrepreneur?' Get Out of the Way and Lead

Want to Be a 'Zentrepreneur?' Get Out of the Way and Lead
Applying Buddhist philosophy to running a business is the key to success, one author suggests. / Credit: Zen garden sand image via Shutterstock

What does Zen Buddhism have to do with running a successful business? For John Murphy, president of Venture Management Consultants in Grand Rapids, Mich., the answer to that question is simple: everything.

Murphy is an international business consultant and speaker who believes that today's business leaders have a lot to learn from the ancient art of Zen, which encourages self-reflection and positive change as a means to enlightenment. Murphy applies this spiritual practice to the business world, encouraging leaders to question their practices and implement meaningful changes within their organizations.

Murphy's new book, "Zentrepreneur: Get Out of the Way and Lead," (Career Press, Sept. 2013) serves as a guide for entrepreneurs, business owners and employees alike. In it, Murphy shares practical advice for turning great ideas into new businesses, finding solutions for common startup woes and rejuvenating established enterprises.

In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Murphy explains why the modern business world should take a page from the ancient practice of Zen.

BusinessNewsDaily: What made you want to bring the art of Zen and the practice of business together?

John Murphy: I see a need for more awakening and presence in the workplace. Put simply, many people in leadership roles need to "wake up" and pay attention to what is really going on. I have been practicing spiritual presence and entrepreneurship for most of my life – combining the art of positive thinking and well-being with the discipline of turning ideas into action and results. They just seem to fit.

Zentrepreneurs make good change, a practice in Japan called "Kaizen." I have been facilitating kaizen events for well over a decade and I love to see people come alive when enlightened leaders step up and get barriers out of the way. Life is meant to flow. The problem is we often get in our own way.

John Murphy.

BND: Why do you think so many good ideas are never brought to fruition?

J.M.: Fear and insecurity get in the way. It is as if many people are going through life with the brakes on. We certainly would not want to drive this way in our car. It would be unsafe, inefficient and wasteful. The same is true with people. We stress over things that do not matter. We jump to conclusions. We treat assumptions as if they are factual and true. We talk ourselves out of things. We fail to speak up. We hesitate over simple decisions.

We resist the one thing in life that is certain — change. We actually forget that we are designed for change — physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. We are ever-changing. It is not that we do not have good ideas. We all do. It is that we doubt ourselves, the ideas and the world around us. 

BND: What are some tools that aspiring entrepreneurs can use to turn their ideas into results?

J.M.: There are a few critical success factors here. First, we have to admit we do not know everything or have all the answers. It does little good to ask questions if we do not open our minds to alternative points of view. We have to let go to let flow.

Next, we have to ask simple, profound questions to explore our ideas from multiple points of view. We have to ask why and why not. We have to ask what if and how. We have to ask who and when. These simple, practical questions help us contemplate ideas from multiple perspectives.

I give many examples of this in the book "Zentrepreneur." These questions help give us more depth and understanding. They build confidence and help us prepare for the "yeah, buts" that inevitably follow. Resistance exists for a reason. It helps us think things through and plan ahead for risk. Since fear and doubt are formidable forces against us, we need countermeasures to address these forces intelligently and effectively. We do not gain intelligence and knowledge without opening our minds and asking good questions. The wise pay attention to the wise. 

BND: What is "zenergy?"

J.M.: Zenergy is what I call the energy I witness in high performance team events — like kaizen events. It is amazing to see a team of timid, skeptical, hesitant people come into an event on Monday and leave excited, enthusiastic and genuinely passionate about the changes they have made by Friday. These highly disciplined, focused events represent in modern day business what Gandhi said so eloquently years ago, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Talk is cheap. When people see their ideas being taken seriously and acted on, there is a surge of energy. We feel inspired. Life force is flowing through us. Fear and doubt take a backseat. This is where true imagination and innovation reveal themselves. It is within us all, seeking expression.

BND: Conventional wisdom dictates that competition is good for business, but you encourage leaders to let go of competitiveness. Why is that? What's the alternative?

J.M.: Competition is often misunderstood and used to divide rather than pull together. For example, it may pit people against one another rather than against a meaningful standard. This creates a never-ending, win-lose perspective and paradigm. Often, we forget there is an alternative.

The more enlightened leader and business competes against waste and ignorance and inefficiency. This cultivates more ownership and accountability. Cooperation is a much more powerful force than competition. At the end of the day, we are one planet, one universe, one community. We are wise to work together toward common interests and goals.

The ego does not see it this way. This "false representation of self" views the world as dualistic and scarce. In order to win, someone has to lose. There is not enough for all. As a result of this belief, we throw things out of balance and create unhealthy anxiety, tension and stress in our lives.

BND: What's a "Causal Circle?" How does it help bring about meaningful change in an organization?

J.M.: A Causal Circle is a tool we use to examine the relationships between "undesirable effects" (UDEs) in our lives and in our businesses. We start by listing the top eight to twelve UDEs we struggle with around a circle. These are measurable facts that we do not like. They could be financial, operational, physical, emotional, social, client related, legal or any number of "symptoms" we are experiencing.

We then work through each one, testing whether it causes or contributes any of the others. This analysis essentially allows us to identify the top two to three UDEs that are more than just symptoms. They are actually responsible in one way or another for several other problems we have, perhaps revealing a perpetual "vicious circle" that will continue indefinitely until we break it.

For example, I might discover that the reason "I do not have enough time" is because "I am constantly putting out fires" and the reason I am constantly putting out fires is because "we do not have good prevention techniques."  We do not have good prevention techniques because no one has time to work on them. These cause and effect cycles must be broken for any meaningful change to be sustained.

BND: Why is the question "why?" so important?

J.M.: "Why" is an intuitive question. It teaches us to exercise our whole brain, bring more meaning and purpose to whatever it is we are considering. It gives us context for the content. It challenges us to think at a deeper level, especially if we ask it multiple times.

A common tool in business today is called the "5 Whys." By drilling down to the fifth level of why we learn things, we see opportunities we might never have seen before. For example, why won’t the car start? The battery is dead. Why is the battery dead? I left the lights on. Why did you leave the lights on? I forgot. Why did you forget? I’m human — there was nothing to remind me or alert me.

Today, we have automobiles that turn the lights off for us, or at least remind us. This is referred to as "poka-yoke" in Japan, or mistake-proofing. Essentially, we are using questions like "why" to design in prevention techniques for safety, efficiency, economy and more user-friendliness.

BND: In Chapter 4 you write, "the wise pay attention to the wise." Who should entrepreneurs and business owners turn to when they need a little wisdom?

J.M.: We are all surrounded by wise and sage leaders. Sometimes we overlook or forget this. All we really have to do these days is ask, or search and click. The Internet opens up vast opportunities for us to listen to credible masters of the ages in any field we want. Books and audios are widely available. I learned to write and publish my first book by reading a book on how to do it. I learned to start my company by reading a book on how to do it.

For years, I traveled in my car, listening to great minds share their wisdom and advice. I still do. It is also important to pay attention to the very people surrounding you. They might be teaching you very valuable lessons about what to do — or what not to do.

Pay attention to who is telling you what. Are they credible? Do they walk their own talk? Are they basing their advice on assumption or fact? How do you know? What evidence is there that suggests this advice is worth considering?  

[See also: Sage Advice: 7 Entrepreneurs Share Their Words of Wisdom]

BND: What does the Law of Attraction have to do with business?

J.M.: The Law of Attraction has everything to do with everything. Business is no exception. We draw into our lives that which we dwell on. Like energy attracts like energy. We reap what we sow. And misery loves company.

Pay attention every day to what you are thinking and how you are feeling. With every thought and feeling you hold onto, you are energetically vibrating at a "frequency."Think of this like tuning into a radio station. There are many playing, but you only hear the one you are tuned into (using a receiver). We are receivers.

We call into our lives, personally and professionally, what we expect. We find what we are looking for. If we approach our business with insecurity and doubt, we will find plenty of evidence indicating we are right. If we approach our business with optimism and spirit, a different picture will reveal itself. This is the Law of Attraction. Understanding this is a critical success factor to growth and prosperity.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University.