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.
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.