I’m about to launch a podcast. My audience suggested the playful name of “Business Tao with George Kao”. (Update: it’s launched!)
Some were concerned that the podcast name might be cultural/religious appropriation. (Nevermind that I’m Chinese, and can pronounce Tao te Ching more accurately than most Western Taoist scholars, and that Taoism is characteristically unattached from definitions and who gets credit for what…)
Still, the question inspired me to dive back into studying Taoist philosophical principles. In this post, I’ll briefly share how a few such principles might apply to Authentic Business.
A core principle of Taoism is to live authentically. To sense into how the flow of Life is calling to us, and to merge with that flow.
As applied to business, this is well-aligned with my teachings of Authentic Business: to create and sell that which is deeply meaningful — life giving — for us, and to do marketing “authentically” which is to give into the natural yearning to connect to other people in play and service.
This is as opposed to inauthentic business — mainstream business which measures success by profit rather than by authentic meaning.
Also, conventional marketing is about forcing (by way of persuasion) others to do what is profitable for our business, rather than by merging with others in the flow of play and service, which is what authentic marketing is all about.
To not resist results, aka reality, the natural flow of life.
In conventional business, objectives and goals must be met to be considered “successful”.
For authentic businesses, we aim to find value in the action itself. Whether we are writing, selling, serving clients, or doing admin work, we aim to bring joyful productivity to it. We work on our compassionate service, our playful exploration, and by doing so, the process of building a business itself becomes worthwhile, regardless of today’s results or tomorrow’s projections.
We consider every day a success because we get to learn more about ourselves and about the world, and to practice embodying our values in our actions.
We know that good results will eventually manifest when we act in alignment with authentic business. There’s no egoic attachment to a specific profit timeline.
Sure, we can make projections, but those are done in a playful way, with curiosity about how they will match with actual metrics.
Business metrics are measurements of reality. Observing them teaches us about the flow of the market. Goals are aspirations toward how we can develop ourselves — what kind of people we can become — because results come naturally from a developed business.
(Another application of detachment: I don’t copyright any of my writings.)
One of the popular principles of Taoism is “wu wei” which has been defined in various ways — natural action, non-action, inexertion, inaction, or effortless action.
To me, this is the combination of authenticity and detachment. When I write this article, for example, I am not attached to whether or not my audience likes it. I am writing because I have an authentic interest to do it. I am not contorting myself into performing for others. I am working, yes, and I’m taking action, yes, but I’m doing it more from an attitude of curious exploration — the play of a child!
When I’m doing bookkeeping, I’m curious about the numbers and how they’ll turn out. When I’m clearing my emails, I play with the balance of compassion and boundaries, rather than “work hard” at clearing my emails. When I’m meeting with clients or teaching a course, I am either feeling into what needs to be said in the moment, or following a course outline. Either way, there’s no mental anguish for how I “must” manifest results.
In all my business actions, the “work” I do is to bring my heart and Spirit into the moment… and then let that guide my hands and my mouth.
A discussion of Taoism wouldn’t be complete without the concept of self-discipline. Taoist masters practice self-healing and various rituals in a disciplined manner.
Yet how is self-discipline “going with the flow”?
Look at nature: it is extraordinarily disciplined. Without fail, the sun rises everyday. Water follows gravity, always. Animals have consistent rhythms of resting, hunting, migrating.
Only human beings have minds that give us so much freedom that we can choose to have our own rhythms — or to ignore them.
Lao Tzu says:
“Don’t think you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. This is egomania. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light. Without the discipline to practice them, you will tumble constantly backward into darkness.”
One of the key aspects of authentic business is joyful productivity. I work even when I don’t feel like it, yet my work in that moment is to bring virtue and play into the task. In other words, I’m strict about showing up, but lenient about the results.
I also rest before I need to, take breaks and naps even when I don’t feel like it, because I know that only with proper rhythms of rest can health (and business) thrive.
Even so, I know that I am only cherry-picking a few ideas from Taoism, and not doing it justice.
I hope this article contributes a little to bringing those principles into business.