Japanese Samurai warriors had a unique practice that undergirded their phenomenal success as soldiers from the 12th Century right up into the 20th century. That concept was called “Dying before going into battle.” This practice allowed a warrior to enter each combat event without fear of death. He did this by simply taking himself through the acceptance of his own death in advance. He psychologically became a “dead man walking” before the fight. Thus, the Samurai was able to unconditionally commit to success in battle without worrying about survival. This freedom allowed him to fight with such berserk fierceness and focus that he was very hard to defeat. What did he have to lose? He was already dead.
That’s how I like to begin my business days, too. By giving up. By dying before I go into battle. By having no expectations for controlling the results of the multifarious tasks that await me in the day. By being fully committed to my goals without feeling I have something to lose. By becoming a modern day Samurai, if you will.
Do I succeed at this? Of course not. But it sure seems like a great way to try to begin each day—to let in creativity, spontaneity, luck, and God. To die before I go into battle.
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell claims he has found success by simply giving up on success, from just not worrying about it. Essentially Gladwell believes your rewards in life are inversely proportional to the time you spend trying to plan for success. Or, as Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and the host of CNN’s Parts Unknown, bluntly puts it, “I succeeded by not giving a shit.”
Much of my belief in this approach to business comes from studying the work of Tracy Goss, author of The Last Word On Power. This magnificent book should be read by all serious executives and, particularly, by entrepreneurial leaders. (I won’t insult Goss by superficially summing up her work here, but she talks about systematically achieving the impossible in life and as a leader. Kinda like the entrepreneur, who commits to creating something out of nothing. Impossible.)
Goss’ approach to the concept of “dying before going into battle” begins with accepting “the end of hope,” the end of your strategic control. And accepting as a gift that very hopelessness. She makes three foundational statements about life:
- Life does not turn out the way it “should.”
- Life does not turn out the way it “shouldn’t.”
- Life turns out the way it does.
She says you can’t control the outcome of your life. In the end the outcome will be the same no matter what you do. It will be what it is and then someone with a shovel will throw dirt over your face. In the meantime, life will absolutely not follow the controls you try to place on it. Man plans, God laughs.
Tracy Goss sees the acceptance of hopelessness as a gift. By accepting that you don’t control life, you create space for real freedom, creativity, luck, and the “impossible.” Her’s is a radical existential process, the goal of which is simply “getting to zero.” That is, letting go of the illusion that you are in charge. That you control.
Lao Tzu says, “By letting go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go.” I simply call this a practical process of daily surrender, of giving up each day before attempting the impossible. Without expectation. Without hope. To me this is the heart of healthy entrepreneurship and makes the creation of something out of nothing (the entrepreneurial company) emotionally conceivable.
Here’s what Victor Frankl says about success in Man’s Search For Meaning:
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued: it most ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: You have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
Thank you, Dr. Frankl.