The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. We live in a time of extraordinary change, a time when new professions, even new industries, are born every few years; a time of information explosion; a time which demands of each of us, in our work lives and in our personal lives, new skills, new flexibilities, a new way of adapting. Our topic today is "Riding the Waves of Change." With me in the studio is Dr. Beverly Potter, the publisher of Ronin Press in Berkeley, California. Dr. Potter is a business consultant; her clients include Stanford University, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, GTE, and many other corporations. She is also the author of numerous books, including Beating Job Burnout, Turning Around: Keys to Motivation and Productivity, and The Way of the Ronin. Welcome, Beverly.


MISHLOVE: You know, in your writings you point out that if we look at history we can find the period in Japan when it changed very rapidly from a feudal society to a modern industrial power -- about a hundred years ago or so, two hundred years ago.

POTTER: Remarkable change, too. I mean, we've all seen those samurai movies and that strange culture, and to make such progress -- actually, the date was 1867. So to make that kind of progress, that incredible transition into the industrial world -- you wonder, how did they do it. So we're at another time of change, very similar in many ways, and we have to draw upon some kind of reservoir to make this transition to a different way of being and way of working.

MISHLOVE: Now, the Japanese people prior to 1867 had a really closed society; they didn't allow foreigners in. And they're still a very tight-knit group, so there are many parallels that wouldn't apply. But they seemed to draw upon some inner resources themselves that made them very adaptable and very capable of adjusting to extremely rapid, profound changes in their society.

POTTER: Well, I maintain that it was the ronin that was the unusual one. The word ronin was the samurai that had no master -- that's an unindentured samurai; the other ones were indentured, were actually property. They were very important property. But the ronin, which translates "wave man" -- ro, wave; nin, like ninja, man -- was a person that had to go out and was thrown onto the waves of change. And this was considered a horrible thing to have happen. Sometimes the bushi master would say, "Go and do ronin." This was supposed to be a spiritual trial -- to be an individual, to cope, to have to not have your stipend of rice or whatever. And many of these ronin eventually started liking this freedom. They were the freest of all people in that time period, and then they got to be wanting to be ronin. So I maintain that when feudalism collapsed it was the ronins who actually led the industrialization. Mitsubishi, for example, was founded in 1870 by a samurai. Well, obviously it was a ronin, by definition, because samurais didn't deal with business.

MISHLOVE: I see. And if we look, I suppose, at Western cultural tradiation, we have the notion of the freelancer, which goes back, I suppose, to the days of knights in armor.

POTTER: True. Well, it was very similar, not exactly the same time period. Now, there's a difference between freelance -- that's a similar kind of thing, an unemployed lance -- but a samurai and a lance are magnitudes of difference, because a samurai is very excellent, very disciplined and precise and formidable, a high-class warrior, whereas a lance --

MISHLOVE: Is more of a mercenary, I suppose.

POTTER: Yes, and they just didn't necessarily have that discipline or the Eastern -- the meditation, the flower arranging, the education. All these things are part of being a samurai.

MISHLOVE: So what you seem to be suggesting is that if we look towards the disciplines of mindfulness that were cultivated by the samurai and the Japanese, where a warrior would spend time doing calligraphy and flower arranging, and paying attention to a quality of presence, a quality of being, that this is where we can find the kind of inner resources that enable us to cope with rapid change.

POTTER: Yes, that, which you stated very well, as well as the idea of being an individual, of being a person who is a free person, a self-directed person within what I call corporate feudalism, a structured, rigid system that we think of as your classic corporation -- the hierarchy, the systems of control -- that's all very similar to that old feudal culture. So the concept of the ronin is, one, having the mindfulness, the spiritual development, which we think of as Eastern; as well as the individual, which we think of, the maverick, as more Western. So it's a metaphor for how to be a warrior, a person that deals with work and the work situation as a warrior would, where problems are challenges, where one is always at the next corner; you don't know what is going to happen.

MISHLOVE: Well, I think it's fair to say that in our culture, in this general time, this archetype of the ronin, or the samurai warrior, or the shaman warrior, or the spiritual master, is appearing in many, many different forms, from the writings of Castaneda to the popularity of Japanese literature and Zen philosophy, and so on. It's as if there's a need for it.

POTTER: Well, I think there is, and I think that's what it takes to deal with this rapid change -- that we don't know; we're facing an unknown out there. And it's not just that there's a bunch of computers and we have fancier cars or different ways of playing music or things like that. In fact the way in which people work together is changing dramatically. There are a lot of people that are maintaining -- and I think this is true -- that we're on the verge of a corporate renaissance, that we're finally leaving the dark ages of work, thank God, where you slave away and you put in your time; that work is really a place where you go and you develop yourself, and everything you encounter becomes part of this adventure of self-development, and not just self-development, but going out into the world with power, accumulating power, and using power -- not what we think of as the negative, four-letter word power, but power to make things happen in the world. And where is that power? It's in the corporation. I tell you, they've got power.

MISHLOVE: I guess at one time many people -- and I'm sure that I was guilty of this myself, certainly, twenty years ago -- felt that the corporate world was a cultural backwater, that really it involved selling soap or something on television; that it was the least creative, most oppressive part of our whole culture. And I guess we're developing a new understanding of that.

POTTER: Well, I quite frankly felt the same way, and I think in fact that's what it was. There's no denying it -- corporate feudalism, this rigid, controlling system. But it's changing; it's not that way at all anymore. Corporations are referred to in literature as elastic. The first time I read that I thought, elastic? Are you kidding me? Elastic? What a strange concept. But they are; they're changing so fast. And it's across the board. I go into all kinds of different cultures. I recently did a training session in the IRS, and it was happening there too -- these tremendous changes in people's roles, and what they do is becoming less and less defined. People are inventing their work these day. They're doing things -- problems are assigned that nobody's ever done before. In the old system of work, you have a boss; the boss used to do your job; it's very defined what it is; and they know more than you do about what it is, because they used to do it, so they tell you how to do it. That is just absolutely antiquated, because whether you're putting in a computer system, or whatever it is that people are doing these days, the "boss" never did it before. Nobody ever did it before. So they are by definition inventing their work. Bosses are all of a sudden in a very strange place vis-a-vis work, because if you are a manager -- "boss" I'm using to be whatever, the manager, all those people -- in the old days you were supposed to know everything and tell people what to do. Now that's completely out. Even delegating is on its way out. Now you are supposed to be -- Naisbitt quotes in one of his books -- a teacher, mentor, and developer of human potential. That sounds to me like something out of the sixties.

MISHLOVE: But it seems to me that a change like that, so dramatic -- from an oppressive, feudal culture is the metaphor that you used -- to one which fosters personal growth and liberation, even that kind of a change can't occur painlessly.

POTTER: Oh, there are a lot of casualties. There are a lot of people who are going to -- just as in any one of these major transitions. And we're seeing them. One of the major casualties are middle management. Now, it's slowed down a bit, but certainly in the middle eighties, the middle-level managers were just being laid off in droves. These were people who were, say, forty-five, fifty years old, who did what they were supposed to do in school, they climbed the corporate ladder, they were good boys and girls essentially.

MISHLOVE: Pursuing the American dream. They did everything they were told they needed to do to achieve success.

POTTER: That's right. And now when they reach the middle level, they're supposed to be able to coast, skate. They have some security; that's what people were promised -- security. There is no security. These people, if they were lucky, they got early retirement and pensions. If they were unlucky, they simply got laid off and they have nowhere to go. And companies became lean and mean. Now, that's one casualty. Another are all the people who have computer phobia; I mean, you have to be computer literate these days. So you have to make such an incredible transition that the whole field of self-management -- in my training I often ask people, "How many people here have ever had a class in high school -- that's where it ought to be, or maybe grade school -- in self-management?" I've never had anybody raise their hand. How do you set goals? How do your break down your work? How do you build your motivation? This is an essential job skill. You don't know what you're going to be doing; I don't know what I'm going to be doing. Nobody really knows what they're going to be doing in a couple of years, what kinds of issues they're going to be confronting. We have to keep teaching ourselves while we're doing it.

MISHLOVE: I think kindergarten is like that a little bit.

POTTER: They do it a little bit there. We put little gold stars up there, something like that.

MISHLOVE: Someone has written a book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and I think it does deal with self-management, but we stop there.

POTTER: Right.

MISHLOVE: And we tend to focus on you need to be a specialist. We're all taught that this is the age of specialization, and you and many other writers have pointed out that specialists today are the ones who are becoming obsolete.

POTTER: Exactly. You can be so vulnerable as a specialist. What if all of a sudden your specialty becomes computerized? You know -- what happened to all those operators who used to operate that thing where they put -- you know? Gone!

MISHLOVE: Switchboard operators.

POTTER: Right, switchboard operators; I can't even remember what they're called anymore. So you're just tremendously vulnerable. Not only that, if you're a specialist you're only developing a small sliver of yourself. People are not willing to tolerate that kind of workplace anymore, either. We have a tremendously educated work force now. If we think about when we left the agrarian and went to industrialism, what we had were people on a farm, and we brought those people from the farm, they were labor, and we put them into the factories. Look what was accomplished. Now we have all these educated people who are creative and have incredible skills. What if we could mobilize all of these people, all moving under their own self-management somehow in the same direction, what could be accomplished? It's really overwhelming when you think of what's happening at work. It's a very big, exciting place all of a sudden.

MISHLOVE: Well, clearly, our greatest resource are the human beings that we have, and it would seem to me that if one looks at the technologies available for developing and fulfilling the potential of a human being, one cannot really ignore the esoteric traditions, because they're very powerful in this regard. You've been in the forefront of introducing these esoteric teachings into the workplace.

POTTER: That's right, and I think it's vitally important, because first of all you have to deal with change that's extremely stressful and disruptive and frightening, those kinds of things -- just dealing with it, and being able, like you were talking about mindfulness, being able to bring yourself down, center. Where does a person who's inventing their work get these creative ideas? Where is this reservoir that they have to reach into? And how do they know what direction to move into which is right for them? All of this is what you're describing, the esoteric traditions, bringing these into work. Work is not a separate thing. That's one of my problems with the sixties. It was like, well, you go off to work, you put in your time over there, and then in the evening and on the weekend you go to your T group or you meditate or you expand or something. No -- you do it at work. And it's at work where you have the challenges, or the difficulties, to apply these kinds of -- Let me tell you a little story that I sometimes tell people. It's a Nasrudin story.

MISHLOVE: Sufi tale.

POTTER: Yes. Nasrudin was on his donkey and he was riding out of town, and his student saw him and he said, "Where are you going, old man?" And Nasrudin just kind of grinned at him and rode on by. So the student says, "Oh, I know he's up to something! I'll catch him this time!" He jumped on a donkey and started going after him. Nasrudin looked back, saw him, and thought, "Ah!" So he kicked his donkey and the donkey started trotting, and the student thought, "I knew it!" and he kicked his donkey. So Nasrudin takes a shortcut across the cemetery, and he jumps off his donkey and gets down behind a gravestone, and he's hiding down there, and the student jumps off and he runs over, and he's very upset. What is his teacher doing hiding down there? And he says, "Why are you running away?" And Nasrudin says, "Well, why are you chasing me?" So what is the point of that story?

MISHLOVE: It seems to imply -- my first take on that is it's like work is a rat race. Somebody's chasing somebody, and somebody's running, and not one of them really knows why they're doing it.

POTTER: Right, exactly. To me, I always use it to exemplify a knee-jerk response to things -- you go to work, somebody across the hall does something you don't like and you're irritated, so what do you do? Jump on your own donkey, chase on after them. Do you stop and say, "Well, wait a minute," like the warrior would, "what is the excellent action? What is the right action, the right response at the right time? What is going on? What is my optimal response to this person, whatever it is?" No; jump on that donkey and just tear on after them. And so that's an opportunity every day. Of course we keep forgetting, I keep forgetting; I jump on my old donkey too, you know. So that's a challenge, just that one thing alone.

MISHLOVE: But the traditions that we're speaking of -- the art of the ronin, of the samurai, of the shaman warrior, of the Sufi master -- all of these seem to be geared to enable us to override some kind of automatic behavior function and act with consciousness.

POTTER: Yes, that's right. And that is basically what being a warrior is all about. For example, there are enemies of the warrior. Don Juan talks about enemies of the warrior.

MISHLOVE: Don Juan is the Yaqui Indian teacher of Carlos Castaneda.

POTTER: Yes. And the first enemy, he says, is fear. Fear is a terrible enemy. And if you give in to fear, then that's it. He says your striving is ended, and the person just -- they don't get anywhere, they don't learn anything. So Carlos says, "Well, what do you do if you're faced with fear?" He says, "You must be be fully afraid and not give in, just move forward. And if you do that, eventually the fear will subside." Well, everybody has experienced being afraid of something or other. I for example used to be terribly shy. Even two people, I wouldn't talk. Now I make my living getting up in front of hundreds of people. I wouldn't be able to do that if I didn't get over the fear, the number one fear in the nation, of speaking. How did I do it? I was fully afraid. So then you come to: once you get over fear, what is the second enemy? What is it? Confidence. Confidence -- you know, swaggering around.

MISHLOVE: Now that you've overcome fear --

POTTER: Oh yeah, I'm on top, I don't have to prepare.

MISHLOVE: Sort of a pendulum effect. Once you've conquered one you're going to swing over to the opposite side.

POTTER: Exactly. And so that becomes the challenge, of being self-confident but not cocky, or -- I don't know what it would be. But this becomes a whole challenge, of dealing with that. We all know people at work or in other places that are stuck in that swaggering thing. And so when you get over that --

MISHLOVE: It's called the stink of enlightenment sometimes, isn't it?

POTTER: Yes. So when you get over that, then you have to face power. And I think a lot of people now, the hippies who became yuppies, who are now taking over power, they're taking over the institutions, are stepping into power, and that is going to be a tremendous challenge, for them not to become, whatever -- power mongers.

MISHLOVE: Seduced by power.

POTTER: Seduced by it, or somehow knocked off the path of this, not using it in a negative way.

MISHLOVE: And what is the key to dealing with power?

POTTER: Hmm. Well, I haven't solved that one yet.

MISHLOVE: But you do have a wonderful story about a samurai who uses chopsticks.

POTTER: That's right. I'll tell you that story. It's a ronin, actually. He goes to the bushi master, and his teacher says, "Well, you haven't made much progress since the last I saw you." And the ronin says, "What do you mean? I've fallen to no man's sword." And the master says, "Yes, but you've fallen to your own sword. The highest skill is not draw your sword at all." The ronin says, "What do you mean? Without a sword I'll be killed. Are you crazy?" So he goes off to the inn, and he's sitting there and he's eating his rice and he's drinking his sake, and there's this fly that's buzzing around and bugging him, and he's irritated. He looks over there and here's these three punk samurais over there. They want to take him out, and they're taunting him, and he feels his sword, and he could just -- then he remembers the master, and he says, "The highest skill is not draw your sword at all." And he's wondering how he can win without drawing his sword, and then he suddenly pulls his chopsticks and plucks the fly from the air, and then the other three pests make respectful bows and quickly withdraw. I like to use stories; I figure that people like these stories because it gives them something to remember and think about. They're like Zen stories, although that isn't what it is.

MISHLOVE: But it suggests a nice lesson with regard to power, and that is that the proper exercise of power isn't in the crude display or use of power, but in understanding the subtleties of working with power.

POTTER: That's right. And I always use it to talk about excellence. What is excellence? We hear a lot about excellence -- striving for excellence, passion for excellence -- but what is it? The definition I use, that I got from Aristotle, so if you don't like it you can take it up with Aristotle, is based on the golden mean; that's the mean between extremes. He basically says that either extreme is suboptimal; that excellence, or goodness he calls it, is the right action, at the right time, to the right degree, with the right person. So when the ronin pulled those chopsticks, you see, it was the right action at the right time. He couldn't instruct somebody, "Now look, if somebody's hassling you, just pull out your chopsticks."

MISHLOVE: It's interesting, because we're talking about a kind of knowingness that truly transcends rational, linear explanation. When we think of a concept like being in the right place at the right time and the right action, total appropriateness, it comes from a way of being rather than from a way of comprehending or understanding. And that again, I suppose, is where the esoteric disciplines, whether they be Eastern or Western, become valuable.

POTTER: That's right. And not only that, one thing that the Japanese are very good at is working in organizations. And they were very good at surviving in a feudal period. How did they do it? They had tremendous skills from the esoteric, from all of the Zen and so forth. And so it's time to blend these things, to bring these -- these are tools that are very valuable for dealing with the kinds of problems that we are running into every day at work and everywhere else.

MISHLOVE: Well, I think if we talk about the enormous transitions that are going on today in the workplace and in daily life, the word that comes to me, Beverly, is teamwork. The archetype of the ronin, or the warrior without a master, is quite interesting, because it represents our own inner power in a way. And yet we can't all be exercising that power independently of each other. It seems to me we're at a time now when we see teams of people working together and really excelling.

POTTER: That's right. But basically, before you can be a member of a team you've got to be an individual player. And I totally agree -- first a person has got to break away from the sheep plodding along mindlessly, to become the individual. But then the next transition -- that's not the end point, it's a continuous process -- is, how do I become an individual and a team player both? I like to say it's like first there was a mountain, and then there was no mountain, and now you're back to the mountain again. And be a member, because working in a corporation -- most people work in some kind of corporation or group situation -- is about working with people. It is people who create things, and it's people working together.

MISHLOVE: And I guess what we're seeing are teams that are operating under new models, where they're no longer feudalistic in the sense that you described.

POTTER: That's right. There's a whole new -- people are working across boundaries. Most people have got to rely on other people's work and output, but they don't report to them. They can't be the boss and say, "Have it on my desk at two o'clock today." So there's a whole new job skill that is an absolute requirement for success. I call it schmoozing -- well, maybe I should come up with a better title, but I kind of like that. You've got to go out there and somehow get people on your team -- build allies, figure out who's going to resist, where are they coming from, how can they win -- just to get your job done. Some people call it corporate politics, but that's really inappropriate, because it's through that process of interacting with these other people that work is happening now.

MISHLOVE: And again, I imagine that it's a very delicate balance; there are subtleties to the art of schmoozing or it becomes finagling, or it becomes seen as being subversive in some way.

POTTER: Right, or just wasting time. Exactly. And who knows where this schmoozing is going to go, because there is no blueprint out there -- are we on track or aren't we on track? The fact is that virtually every company that I have run into is inventing its future, and there are experiments, and some of them are disasters. I've been in some places that are disasters. And some of them are quite exciting, and we're inventing the workplace of the future.

MISHLOVE: Some of the most exciting things in our culture today have developed out of schmoozing, I'm sure.

Well, Beverly Potter, it's been a pleasure being with you. I think in your own career as a writer and publisher and consultant you exemplify the ronin archetype, and I'm delighted to have had this time with you. Thank you for being with me.

POTTER: Thank you.


Index of Transcripts      Intuition Network Home Page    Thinking Allowed Productions Home Page