October 21, 2003 16:35 | Features

The business of riding a board down a slope

In Lao Tsu Sun Tzu's "The Art of War", he speaks of force, momentum, inertia and control. While the book's context is warfare, it can, and has been read and applied to many different things, including business strategy. (Thinking about it, it can apply to any human activity, as action requires all four...)

Here is my attempt at applying these four concepts, through the metaphor of snowboarding, to the task of entrepreneurship. Bear with me: I have been a snowboarder for fifteen years and have negotiated all sorts of terrain, plowed through every condition, pulled every trick; I have yet to be an entrepreneur.

You are control
You are the heart and mind of the enterprise. You have the vision and the desire which drives this excursion. You will choose the mountain, the slope and the line. You will acquire the equipment and learn how to use it.

Your body is your team. You must be in tune with it's abilities and limitations. You must treat it with respect, keep it fit, master it, know when to push it hard and when to let it rest. Listen to everything it tells you. Set goals for your body and trust it to pull you through.

Height & inclination: investment & return.
The higher the mountain, the greater the investment, the force required to acquire momentum potential. Either you hike it yourself: strain your body with time and effort, or you buy a lift ticket; financial investment. Divest some of your value for a quick lift. A wise investor will consider your strength, the height of the mountain you wish to ride, your abilities...

All your body's hard work to get you to the mountain, your investors to get you up it... a buildup of effort waiting to be released. Once at the top of the slope, your potential is quantified: force. How high? How steep? How tuned is your board? How strong your body? Are you ready to drop in? What's your first turn? Your first trick? The force of gravity is pulling you, your body makes a little hop forward, your investors another little push from behind. Ready? Here we go!

The "idea"
In all of this, the "idea" is merely that first little spark you have that morning, as you open your eyes and think: "Hey I wanna go snowboarding today." That's all. It tells you nothing of your stretches, the drive, the ticket price, the conditions, which mountain or which trails you'll ride. It doesn't tell you if you'll land that 540 rodeo flip, or if you'll land on yer head...


Boris. Interestingly, I use snowboarding as an example when I teach at business schools. The two metaphors I use is... Do you become a better snowboarder by reading books about it, or actually doing it? And, when I'm snowboarding down a particularly difficult slope, if I imagine myself successfully clearing it, I usually do. The minute I think, "oh shit, I'm going to fall" I usually fall. Panic in business and snowboarding are both deadly.

I know it's a bit different from your metaphor, but I think all thinks can be explained in terms of snowboarding. ;-)

Do I hear the sound of...a startup? :)

Need some branding and marketing folks?

Lao Tsu wrote the book called "Tao Te Ching". It is not a art of war book altho the principles are fairly broad.

Extract is a discussion I have on Innovation in Singapore last year:

"The Tao gives birth to the one.
One gives birth to two.
Two gives birth to three.
And three gives birth to ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.
By combining these forces, harmony is created.

The most complex things in the world evolves from the most simpliest. Each complex situations may look different from each another, but at the core, all things evolve from the same. So long yin and yang is balance, solution exist. Therefore, when one understand Tao, situations may be different but the solutions are always the same."

Oh my you are right.. it is of course Sun Tzu who is recognised as the author of "The Art of War"... A slip of mine. I will fix the entry immediatly. Thank you.

Thank you for the taoist quote. Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching, as well as the record of his spoken teachings, the "Hua Hu Ching", are deeply entwined in my being. :)

Interesting. Not many folks knows about Lao Tsu :-)

I suppose you read Miyomoto Musashi's Go Rin No Sho too?

"The Book of Five Rings"? Yes indeed.
Went through it again just a few weeks ago.

a) That would be Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings" (to those of us whose knowledge of Japanese is next to nil). It is the code of the samurai warrior that is used in many western movies these days to add a "mystical" feel to gratuitous bloodshed (see Stray Dog, Kill Bill).

b) Many folks have read Lao Tzu, but Chuang Chou is better at illustrating how one can appreciate Taoism without resorting to escapism.

In the hands of pop culture everything can become painfully distorted. Personally I choose not to watch it, and when I do happen across something I recognise as such (twisted, "cheapened", whatever), I merely shrug it off.

Taoism to me is little more than a beautiful, poetic reinterpretation of buddhism. To take that further, every single form of mysticism/theology/religion is almost exactly the same, just using different symbols and frameworks.

Imagine a clothes line, on which are hung many different articles of clothing, each with their own cut and color. The clothes line is "the way". ;)

Lao Tsu teaching is fairly deep and very universal.

Example...most western people would think "give face" is a Asian concept. But fundamentally, all human being wants to be treated like an VIP. So while the form of expression may be different, it is basically the same Tao.

Book of Five Rings is yet another deep book. One that deals dabble on the topic of endless (ruthless) pursue of knowledge, that a warrior is one which master both the sword and calligraphy. While some may focus on the ruthless part, I focus on the pursue of knowledge portion.

Talking about ruthless, nothing beats Thick Black Theory. China and Taiwan actually banned the book for many years. (There may be some translation around but nothing beats the original text in Chinese...)