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For Godiva boss, outcome follows form, in business as in archery

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Lifting his bow in the ancient Japanese tradition, Jerome Chouchan takes a deep breath. He quiets his mind so as to be in relaxed concentration and then — “puff” — effortlessly the arrow is released.

Whether it hits its mark is of no great importance. The regional president of Godiva is content knowing only that he strives to improve his form with each shot, trusting that hitting accurately will naturally follow with time and practice.

Chouchan began practicing kyūdō (Japanese archery) 25 years ago. Kyūdō removed him from the constant pressure of the business world, providing a private “inner garden” where he engaged in the search for self.

At the start, both activities were unconnected. Business was all about achieving outward results, whereas the Zen-like martial art was about achieving personal growth. Little by little the two became intertwined in his mind, as kyūdō began revealing hints that could be applied to business. In his book titled “Target,” Chouchan shares how the philosophy of kyūdō increased company performance and made business more enjoyable.

Business bosses, under pressure from Wall Street, typically issue top-down orders. The pressure to achieve targets can leave company workers feeling stressed, bullied or undervalued. Over the course of his long business career, bosses continuously asked Chouchan, “How much did you sell?” When he missed targets, even by a small amount, they told him, “You’re not doing enough. Work harder.” When he succeeded, Chouchan says he “felt like a king.” But when he failed, stressful self-criticism, lost self-esteem and worry crept into his mind.

In contrast, Chouchan practiced kyūdō only out of enjoyment in pursuit of becoming a better human being. There were no deliverables, promotions, salary or bosses to please. The goal was not even to hit the target.

“In training, the archery instructor never says, ‘You missed 50 percent of your targets. Why are you not hitting better today?’ They don’t even look,” Chouchan notes.

Where business is about achieving outward results, kyūdō is a battle fought only in the mind against oneself. The aim is to quiet the mind from thoughts of worry, self-doubt, fear of failure and so forth, so the archer can learn to do what in a relaxed state of concentration comes naturally: hitting the target.

Psychologists believe that peak performance is achieved when challenges are accompanied by learning and enjoyment. Children learn to walk by trial and error out of natural curiosity, for instance. When they fall down, nobody criticizes them, nor do they criticize themselves. Innocence is lost when children are taught by parents and teachers that they must avoid “mistakes,” pass tests and achieve results to become valued members of society.

Adults who achieve the most — typically those gaining the greatest wealth, power and respect — are then considered by many to be superior people. Those who don’t perform as well can feel worthless, as Chouchan did when he failed to hit his targets.

It doesn’t have to be so. By focusing attention away from achievement as the sole measure of self-worth, managers can learn to perform better in a more enjoyable state of relaxed concentration.

Applying the philosophy of kyūdō to business, Chouchan determined that resources are the “bow,” products are “arrows” and the customer is the “target.” Sales and profits are the result of performing motions which, metaphorically speaking, resemble archer gestures. These include gaining insights about consumers, creating products that customers want to buy and executing marketing or sales programs.

Each chapter in Chouchan’s book contains a short takeaway summarizing its main point:

• “Right shooting always results in a hit”: This suggests that managers are not responsible for results. Rather, their duty is to apply their best efforts as they perform all the steps leading up to, but not including, outcomes. “In archery and in business you can always improve your form because you can always create a better product, give better service and conduct better market research,” Chouchan says. By practicing those steps, better sales are achieved.

• “There is no such thing as the perfect shot”: This means a person can improve the steps/gestures to achieve a goal. Repeating them “one shot at a time” — another book takeaway — leads to better form in archery and increased sales in business.

• “A pure heart and mind”: This implies that people who only think about hitting the target overinvest in results. “Don’t try to impress the people who are watching you or try too hard to win. Just do your best,” Chouchan advises. In business, that means listening to and working closely with customers and co-workers rather than trying to please the boss.

• “Right shooting results in a true hit”: This saying refers to “false hits,” which are flukes. In Western archery, nobody cares how you make a hit as long as you score. The opposite is true in kyūdō, where false hits are rejected by a master archer. The analogy in business might be a marketing campaign that results in big sales but fails to accurately describe the goods. The quick and false hit only creates problems for the customer service department.

• “The target is your mirror”: Undesired outcomes reflect back important information that can be used to improve performance. In kyūdō, the archer draws the bow and takes aim. Intrusive thoughts are then likely to enter the mind: Will I hit the target? Is someone watching me? Am I good enough? Yet the target doesn’t move. It’s impersonal. “The target simply reveals wants, weakness and worries,” believes Chouchan.

Likewise, in business, the consumer reveals the strengths and weaknesses of an organization. When Chouchan became managing director of Godiva Japan in 2010, for example, same-store sales were in decline. Managers credited the drop to increased competition and a weak economy. Chouchan believed customers were simply reflecting back to managers that all was not well within the company.

He advised Godiva’s managers who placed blame elsewhere to listen more carefully to customers and take corrective action. Happily, staff were receptive to the new archery mind-set. They became less risk averse, produced more creative ideas and also hit their targets.

This article first appeared on Beacon Reports (www.beaconreports.net).