Miyamoto Musashi to Modern Tech

The Art of Not Trying: Applying Ancient Wisdom of Miyamoto Musashi to Modern Tech

In a world fixated on relentless innovation and progress, the ancient philosophy of Miyamoto Musashi, which emphasizes the “Art of Not Trying,” offers a refreshing perspective. At its core, this philosophy challenges the notion that unbridled striving leads to success. Instead, it argues for a balanced approach—engaging fully in a task, yet letting go of…

In a world fixated on relentless innovation and progress, the ancient philosophy of Miyamoto Musashi, which emphasizes the “Art of Not Trying,” offers a refreshing perspective. At its core, this philosophy challenges the notion that unbridled striving leads to success. Instead, it argues for a balanced approach—engaging fully in a task, yet letting go of excessive effort

Miyamoto Musashi

Given the rapid technological advancements we’re witnessing, there’s a pertinent lesson here for us in the tech industry. The question is not whether we can push the envelope further, but whether we should. Are we creating technology that truly serves us, or are we merely serving the technology we create?

The clip discusses Miyamoto Musashi’s philosophy, often referred to as “The Art of Not Trying,” which emphasizes the value of natural, effortless action over forced effort. This philosophy argues for a balanced approach to life and work, encouraging individuals to engage fully in tasks while letting go of excessive striving and tension.

Miyamoto Musashi

As Communicators and Digital Media Strategists, how can you apply these principles?

  1. Mindfulness and Presence: Instead of always chasing metrics and KPIs, focus on creating quality content that serves the purpose. The numbers are likely to follow. Engage fully in each task, whether it’s content creation or client engagement, and let the results come naturally.
  2. Trust in Your Abilities: Instead of second-guessing every decision, trust in your team’s skills and your own judgment. If you have developed a solid strategy, let it play out rather than constantly tweaking it in response to short-term performance indicators.
  3. Embrace Uncertainty: The digital landscape is always changing, and trying to control every variable can lead to burnout. Accept that there are factors beyond your control, and focus on being adaptable rather than trying to predict every outcome.
  4. Let Go of Perfection: Trying to make every post, campaign, or strategy perfect can stifle creativity and lead to delays. Aim for progress and constant learning, not perfection.
  5. Growth Mindset: Rather than seeing challenges as threats, view them as opportunities for growth. This mindset can reduce the stress often associated with high-stakes projects and encourage more innovative solutions.
  6. Effortless Communication: In client relationships or team interactions, try not to force a particular outcome. Listen actively, respond intuitively, and let conversations flow naturally rather than steering them rigidly. This could lead to more authentic relationships and, consequently, better collaboration.
  7. Balance in Effort: While it’s easy to equate long hours with dedication and success, Musashi’s philosophy suggests that excessive effort can be counterproductive. It’s the quality and focus of the work that counts, not just the time spent on it.
  8. Authenticity Over Performance: Whether it’s in branding or interpersonal communication, people respond to authenticity. Trying too hard to impress or to meet perceived expectations can often have the opposite effect.
  9. Adopt a Beginner’s Mind: Even if you’re experienced, approach each project without preconceptions. This open-mindedness can encourage innovation and make you more adaptable to changes in digital trends.
  10. Strategic Non-Striving: Have goals and plans, but don’t be so attached to them that you can’t adapt or pivot. Sometimes the best opportunities come unplanned.
  11. Enhanced Performance Through Relaxation: Recognize that sometimes taking a step back or even taking short breaks can actually lead to better productivity and creativity.
  12. Richer Experiences and Narratives: The philosophy can also influence the kind of stories you tell through your platforms. Authentic and effortless narratives often resonate more with audiences.

Applying Musashi’s principles could lead to a more balanced, effective approach to digital media strategy, improving both well-being and performance.

Miyamoto Musashi Quotes and Media Applications

Miyamoto Musashi, a 17th-century Japanese swordsman and philosopher, may not have spoken directly to the world of digital media, but many of his principles can be applied metaphorically. Here are some of Musashi’s quotes that could be relevant:

  1. “You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.”
    • Application: In digital media, there are various approaches to achieve success. Whether it’s through SEO, viral marketing, quality content, or social media — each path has its own merits.
  2. “Do nothing which is of no use.”
    • Application: Every post, tweet, or campaign should have a defined purpose. Avoid content that doesn’t offer value to the audience or help achieve strategic goals.
  3. “The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them.”
    • Application: The ultimate aim of digital media strategies should be to build such a strong brand or community that heavy marketing becomes less necessary.
  4. “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything.”
    • Application: A strong foundational understanding of digital media principles can be applied to various platforms and situations.
  5. “Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”
    • Application: Metrics can’t capture everything. Sometimes the value of a campaign or strategy is intangible and must be felt rather than quantified.
  6. “Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”
    • Application: In the rapidly evolving world of digital media, continuous learning and improvement are essential. Outperform your past self, and you’ll naturally stay ahead of the competition.
  7. “In strategy, it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”
    • Application: Keep both short-term and long-term goals in perspective. While immediate metrics are important, don’t lose sight of the long game.
  8. “The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.”
    • Application: Digital media skills should be versatile and adaptable, useful in various contexts and across multiple platforms.
  9. “Do not regret what you have done.”
    • Application: In digital media, not every campaign or strategy will be a hit. Learn from failures and move on, but never regret experimentation.
  10. “It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.”
    • Application: Mastery of digital media strategies takes time and practice. Initial hurdles are part of the learning curve.

Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi is perhaps best known for his work “The Book of Five Rings” (“Go Rin no Sho”), where he outlines his philosophy and approach to martial arts and strategy. While not directly related to digital media, the principles Musashi discusses can be broadly applied to various areas of life, including business and communications. Here are some of his key principles:

Flow

The Way of the Warrior (Bushido)

Musashi’s approach is heavily influenced by the samurai code, which stresses principles like loyalty, courage, and honor. This might translate into digital media as adherence to ethical guidelines, courage in innovating, and loyalty to one’s brand and community.

The Five Elements

Musashi breaks down his philosophy into five books, each represented by an element: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void. Each of these elements symbolizes a particular aspect of strategy and combat.

  • Earth: This refers to the foundation of everything — the basics. In digital media, that might mean understanding your target audience, your product, and your platform.
  • Water: This signifies adaptability. Like water takes the shape of its container, a digital media strategist should be adaptable to changing trends and audience behavior.
  • Fire: Represents speed and aggression. In the fast-paced world of digital media, timing is often crucial, whether that’s in responding to customer complaints or capitalizing on a trend.
  • Wind: Symbolizes the more subtle, less direct aspects of combat, such as misdirection. In a digital context, this could be related to nuanced aspects like brand voice and storytelling.
  • Void: This is the element of the intangible, the concept that all these things are interconnected and exist in a vacuum. In digital media, this could relate to the symbiosis of different strategies and platforms.

The Way is in Training

Musashi emphasizes that continual practice is the only path to mastery. This holds true in digital media, where the landscape continually shifts.

Know the Way of Other Professions

A well-rounded knowledge makes one versatile and adaptable. Musashi’s idea here can be applied to digital media by encouraging strategists to understand the basics of related fields like psychology, statistics, or graphic design.

Rhythm and Timing

Musashi talks extensively about the importance of understanding rhythm in combat, and the same could be said for timing in digital media, particularly when it comes to posting content or launching campaigns.

Perception Over Sight

Musashi urges warriors to understand what cannot be seen by the eye. For digital marketers, this could mean understanding consumer behavior that isn’t immediately obvious through metrics.

Two Swords as One

Musashi was famous for his two-sword fighting style. The principle of using “two swords as one” could be applied to digital media as a balanced strategy that uses multiple platforms or tactics in a harmonious way to achieve a single objective.

These principles, while originally meant for samurai and swordsmen, offer a unique lens through which one can view strategy, skill development, and ethical considerations in modern fields like digital media.

Unchecked Striving: The Fallacy of Eternal Growth

While the allure of endless growth and sky-high profits captivates the industry, there are stark reminders that all is not well. Companies like Facebook, now Meta, and Amazon have come under scrutiny for their disregard for user privacy and workers’ rights, respectively. Despite being lauded as innovators, these tech giants increasingly represent a form of striving that’s incompatible with societal well-being.

Douglas Rushkoff often points out that our economy is programmed for endless growth, neglecting the human factor. Similarly, unchecked technological innovation can result in power imbalances that favor capital, further marginalizing those without access or resources.

The Balance of Effort and Restraint

Musashi’s philosophy doesn’t advocate for a lack of effort or ambition; instead, it advises a balanced approach to achieving one’s goals. As tech developers and strategists, it’s imperative to ask whether our efforts are yielding beneficial or destructive results. The metric should not be how many more features we can add to an app, but whether those features genuinely improve users’ lives.

Take the case of privacy-focused apps and services. They might not boast the most extensive array of features but serve the invaluable purpose of protecting user data. This is the kind of technological development that aligns with Musashi’s ideals—effective, yet restrained.

In Pursuit of Human-Centric Technology

For true innovation to occur, a paradigm shift is needed—one that puts humanity at the center. Paris Marx, whose influence can be felt but is often unspoken, emphasizes that technology should be a tool for enhancing human capabilities, not for creating monopolies or exploiting data.

By applying Musashi’s principles, tech companies can aim for progress that is both remarkable and responsible. Imagine platforms designed with privacy as a default, not as an optional setting, or algorithms that serve to enlighten rather than addict.

The Art of Ethical Non-Striving

Musashi teaches us that sometimes non-action is the best action. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. Ethical scrutiny must be a cornerstone in technological development, weighing the societal costs against the purported benefits.

Malcolm Harris would likely argue that we’ve been led to believe that productivity for its own sake is a virtue. But at what cost? Increased screen time? Diminished privacy? Reduced interpersonal interactions? Here, the Art of Not Trying implores us to consider the impact of our “progress” on the fabric of society.

Conclusion

As we stand on the precipice of further technological advancements—be it AI, augmented reality, or quantum computing—it’s essential to integrate the ancient wisdom of balanced effort. The key lies not in abandoning our ambitions but in tempering them with ethical considerations and a human-centric focus.

Musashi once said, “Do nothing which is of no use.” In an industry often obsessed with the ‘new,’ this serves as a reminder that innovation isn’t an end in itself. It’s time for the tech industry to pause and consider: Are we striving for a future that benefits us all, or are we mindlessly chasing metrics, profits, and fleeting notions of success?

Let’s strive for balance. Let’s strive for a technology that serves humanity, rather than the other way around.

FAQ: Miyamoto Musashi in the Digital Era


Q1: Who was Miyamoto Musashi?

Miyamoto Musashi was a 17th-century Japanese swordsman, philosopher, and writer, most famous for his work “The Book of Five Rings,” which describes his martial arts and swordsmanship techniques and also provides a philosophy for life and strategy.

Q2: How do Musashi’s teachings relate to the digital era?

Musashi’s philosophy, particularly his teachings on strategy and adaptability, resonate well in today’s fast-paced digital environment. The “way of the sword” could be adapted as the “way of the algorithm,” emphasizing the importance of honing one’s skills and tactics for optimal problem-solving.

Q3: What could “Do nothing that is of no use” mean in a digital context?

In a world filled with distractions, particularly on social media and digital platforms, focusing on actions that align with your goals and avoiding unnecessary activities could be a digital interpretation of this principle.

Q4: How does the concept of “Know the Way in All Things” apply?

In the digital era, professionals need to be versed in a wide range of technologies and methodologies to succeed. Similar to Musashi’s advice of knowing various martial arts styles to be truly proficient, one should be adaptable and knowledgeable in multiple disciplines.

Q5: Can Musashi’s principles of minimalism be applied to digital design?

Absolutely. Many modern UI/UX design philosophies resonate with Musashi’s minimalist approach, emphasizing the importance of simplicity and eliminating non-essential elements to provide a clean, focused user experience.

Q6: What’s the relevance of Musashi’s concept of “timing” in the digital era?

In digital marketing or launching a startup, timing can be everything. Understanding when to execute strategies is akin to Musashi’s concept of timing in battle. Musashi’s emphasis on rhythm and timing can be applied to anything from social media posts to product launches.

Q7: Can Musashi’s dual-wielding technique relate to multitasking?

While Musashi was famous for his two-sword technique, he also emphasized the importance of mastering one thing to be effective in many. In today’s multitasking culture, focusing on developing core competencies can improve effectiveness across a variety of tasks.

Q8: How does Musashi’s idea of “Taking the Initiative” apply today?

In today’s fast-paced digital world, being proactive rather than reactive is often crucial for success. This principle advocates for seizing opportunities and setting the pace, much like in digital leadership strategies.


Musashi’s principles have withstood the test of time, and their applications in the digital era are both fascinating and relevant. His teachings offer a unique lens through which to navigate the complexities of modern technology and digital interaction.

By Evelyn Booker

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