Tao of Management Verse 28

Today we look at the notion of “The Uncarved Block” and the saying “The Great Tailor does little cutting.”

Verse 28
Know the masculine,
Keep to the feminine,
And be the Brook of the World.
To be the Brook of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without swerving from it,
And to return again to infancy.

Know the white,
Keep to the black,
And the Pattern of the World.
To be the Pattern of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without erring a single step,
And to return again to the Infinite

Know the glorious,
Keep to the lowly,
And be the Fountain of the World.
To be the Fountain of the World is
To live the abundant life of Virtue,
And to return again to Primal Simplicity.

When Primal Simplicity diversifies,
It becomes useful vessels,
Which, in the hands of the Sage, become officers.
Hence, “a great tailor does little cutting.”

My Take:
This is the verse of “the Uncarved Block”, the importance of the giving side of Tao and the ultimate power of simplicity.

This translation calls the Uncarved Block the “Primal Simplicity”. Which is like a stem cell – it can become anything and contains within it the makings of everything. So too is the Sage supposed to be an “Uncarved Block”, a font of knowledge on many things, a generalist, rather than a technician. The “officers” referred to in the verse are the technicians.

I think the idea of the verse is to emphasize the giving, yielding nature of leadership, the nurturing and developing side of what we can now being a mentor. Also, I think it tells us that there is no weakness in this, but rather the development of a team of experts who surround a generalist; someone who knows how to get things done, how the wheels of the larger mechanism turn, perhaps how the larger design of the cloth comes together.

The phrase “a great tailor does little cutting” can be read in two ways. It means the tailor sees the whole, final product at once and creates neither unnecessary action nor waste. It also means the great tailor is not the one doing the cutting, that is left to the technicians.


Tao of Management Verse 27

Verse 27
Good walking leaves no track behind it;
Good speech leaves no mark to be picked at;
Good calculation makes no use of counting-slips;
Good shutting makes no use of bolt and bar,
And yet nobody can undo it;
Good tying makes no use of rope and knot,
And yet nobody can untie it.

Hence, the Sage is always good at saving men,
and therefore nobody is abandoned;
Always good at saving things,
And therefore nothing is wasted.

This is called “following the guidance of the Inner Light.”

Hence, good men are teacher of bad men,
While bead men are the charge of good men.
Not to revere one’s teacher,
Not to cherish one’s charge,
Is to be on the wrong road, however intelligent one may be.
This is an essential tenet of the Tao.

My take on this:
At work, and especially as managers, we are our brother’s keeper.
Cherish the opportunities you have to teach, guide and learn.
The trick is, of course, to lead without being heavy handed.
The trick is not to give up and leave somebody behind.
The trick is to get the best possible result with the least possible effort.
The goal is to make the way so clear they don’t realize it was blocked.
To do the most important thing without seeming to do anything.
This is an essential challenge of a Tao of Management.

Tao of Management Verse 26

Verse 26

Heaviness is the root of lightness
Serenity is the master of restlessness

Therefore, the Sage, travelling all day,
Does not part with the baggage-wagon;
Though there may be gorgeous sights to see,
He stays at ease in his own home.

Why should a lord of ten thousand chariots
Display his lightness to the world?
To be light is to be separated from one’s root;
To be restless is to lose one’s self-mastery.

My take on this:
You know how Jim Collins in “Good to Great” talks about the Hedgehog Concept”:

The essence of a Hedgehog Concept is to attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, and then exercising the relentless discipline to say, “No thank you” to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test. When we examined the Hedgehog Concepts of the good-to-great companies, we found they reflected deep understanding of three intersecting circles: 1) what you are deeply passionate about, 2) what you can be the best in the world at, and 3) what best drives your economic engine.

That’s what this verse is about. Know your stuff. Chill. Focus.
Don’t be a show off, don’t take every opportunity. Say “no”.
Realize that busy work is a waste of time,
and that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.


Tao of Management Verse 25

Verse 25:
There was Something undefined and yet complete in itself,
Born before Heaven and Earth.

Silent and boundless,
Standing along without change,
Yet pervading all without fail,
It may be regarded as the Mother of the world.
I do not know its name;
I style it “Tao”;
And in the absence of a better word, call it “The Great.”

To be great is to go on,
To go on is to be far,
To be far is to return.

Hence, “Tao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
King is great.”Thus the king is one of the great four in the Universe.

Man follows the way of the Earth.
The Earth follows the way of Heaven,
Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
Tao follows its own ways.

My interpretation
I’m going to do a commentary instead of a colloquial re-write. This verse is pretty straight-forward. The writer, Lao Tzu, first gives us one of the “big ideas’ behind Taoism. Tao is the everything and nothing that precedes and will succeed everything in the universe. At one point he gives us a little mantra: “Tao is great, heaven is great, earth is great, king is great.” I smile a little bit and think even Lao Tzu knew when to kiss a little butt by adding the king in there – a smart move in fourth century BC China, just as much as it is today.  What I love about this verse are the two little kernels of wisdom packed in between.

The first is:  “To be great is to go on, to go on is to be far, to be far is to return.” I liken this to mean one should go out, be discriminating but considerate, be universal in your care and consideration of what you find; take it all in and complete the cycle by processing it and bringing it back for others. I think this represents and eternal cycle of birth, learning, sharing and rebirth.  How do we relate this to management?  Well, don’t go chasing after every new flavor that comes along, nor every new trend or hot topic. But do be considerate of all, read, listen, ponder. Even the most foolish are educational in that they help you strengthen your own beliefs. It also means don’t be stuck in one place intellectually, take in what works, discard what doesn’t, bring back what you find to others. If you really want to get down to the ticky-tacky, invest in yourself and your people – send them out into the world to learn and bring back what they learn to you and your organization. Learn by adapting.

The second is: “Man follows the way of the Earth. The Earth follows the way of Heaven, Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
Tao follows its own ways.” This one is even easier to translate into common knowledge in my opinion:  Seek the eternal truths. What’s the higher purpose for what you are doing and how you are doing it?  What’s the underlying philosophy behind the management practices you use or are considering? Do they reflect your true beliefs and values? This is especially true when looking at new management philosophies.  What is the kernel of belief at the center of them? What do they say about ultimate truth and meaning behind life? What do they reveal about their opinions about humans, why they are motivated and how they are motivated to succeed?

Behind every management method is a philosophy of life, look for it to see how close it is to the eternal truth.

Tao of Management Verse 24

Verse 24

One on tip-toe cannot stand
One astride cannot walk,
One who displays himself does not shine.
One who justifies himself has no glory.
One who boasts of his own ability has no merit.
One who parades his own success will not endure.
In Tao these things are called “unwanted food and extraneous growths,”
Which are loathed by all things.
Hence, a man of Tao does not set his heart upon them.

My Take:
We all know this person.
They are awesome,
Just ask them,
They are happy to tell you.

So here’s a shout-out:
To all those who get stuff done
Whose peers know it
And on whom superiors can rely

The only thing at which the well-known are better,
Is being well-known.
That don’t count for much,
Where the rubber meets the road.

The Tao of Management Verse 23

Verse 23:

Only simple and quiet words will ripen of themselves.
For a whirlwind does not last a whole morning,
Nor does a sudden shower last a whole day.
Who is their author? Heaven-and-Earth!
Even Heaven-and-Earth cannot make such violent things last long;
How much truer is it of the rash endeavors of men?

Hence, he who cultivates teh Tao is one with the Tao;
He who practices Virtue is one with Virtue;
And he who courts after Loss is one with Loss.

To be one with the Tao is to be a welcome accession to the Tao;
To be one with the Virtue is to be a welcome accession to Virtue;
To be one with Loss is to be a welcome accession to Loss.

Deficiency of faith on your part
Entails faithlessness on the part of others.

My Take

Only simple and quiet words will be effective in getting things to change.
Even a tornado or a hurricane can only last a short while,
And if the immense power of nature can only pull that off,
How likely are you to achieve long term change through bully and bluster?

Don’t be foolish, “The Middle Way” is best;
You want people to change because “it’s good for them”?
You want people to change because they are afraid of losing their job?
Then that’s all you will get – superficial or grudging change.

You get back what you push out.
Push out authority and you’ll get obedience – but nothing more.
Push out fear and you’ll get resentment – and nothing more.
Push out truth and you’ll get true change.

Oh! This is a good one for modern management! First off, if you want to see change, a simple and quiet word will do far more than complicated, loud, garish displays of power, authority or cleverness!  Everybody has had a boss who is a “screamer” but just as many have had one who will take you aside for a quiet word of correction. Who has more power over you in the long run? For whom are you likely to willingly change? Whom do you still thank for making you a better person or employee or leader?

“Because I said so,” and “Do it or else” are never as effective as “I care and I want to help”.

Tao of Management: Verse 22


Verse 22:

Bend and you will be whole.
Curl and you will be straight.
Keep empty and you will be filled.
Grow old and you will be renewed.

Have little and you will gain.
Have much and you will be confused. 
Therefore, the Sage embraces the One,
And becomes a Pattern to all under Heaven.
He does not make a show of himself,
Hence he shines;
Does not justify himself,
Hence he becomes known;
Does not boast of his ability,
Hence he gets his credit;
Does not brandish his success,
Hence he endures;
Does not compete with anyone,
Hence no one can compete with him.
Indeed, the ancient saying, “Bend and you will remain whole” is no idle word.
Nay, if you have really attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.
My take on it?
Yield, Bend, Focus, Flow
Do, Open, Be, Flourish
Nobody can compete with that
More thoughts:
Do not focus on the outward trappings of success, they are empty.
Do no focus on defeating your competitors, better yourself.
Don’t fight – dodge
Don’t contend – learn
Focus and be simply the best
And all will come to you.