The secret sauce of skyrocketing productivity

In the 1980’s a small island nation in the Pacific emerged as an economic juggernaut. Japan, a country that less than 40 years ago was devastated in WWII suddenly became the world’s second largest economy and it was quickly found that the Japanese had a certain way of doing things. The phenomenon was thoroughly studied by many on Wall Street and in other places eager to learn the secret to the skyrocketing productivity this people seemed to have acquired so unequivocally. There was one thing they found in common… Japanese business leaders had an almost philosophical approach to things. Their philosophy as well as their architecture had a strong Chinese influence that is still present in Buddhist and Shinto Shrines all over the country and the work of Sun Tzu (The Art of War) was reverently studied in Japan since AD 760 as it still is today, but perhaps the most influential masterpiece that accounts for the Japanese management mindset of the 1980’s is The Book of Five Rings, by the warrior-philosopher Miyamoto Musashi, written somewhere about 1675.

Musashi was a swordsman, by birth a member of the Samurai warrior elite that ruled Japan in the times of the Shogunate. The book, in the surface, speaks of ways of nicely chopping down enemies with a sword in combat. The principles within the book, however, are as useful today as they were in medieval Japan. The nice thing about these time-proven principles though is that they are so sound that when you listen to them it’s like receiving an answer for a crossword puzzle. You write each letter and each letter has it’s purpose in the whole thing. You know this was the answer all along and there is no other answer possible. That’s it.

If we analyse world record holders, champions, olympians,  they all seem to have applied the same philosophy. This is not an accident but a reverent study into what works and what doesn’t, that led to their inevitable success. The result of laser focusing on results and distinguishing the fads and the nonsense that surrounds all of us on a daily basis. When you are struggling with a problem and a true expert comes to deal with it, someone who through practice has acquired mastery of something, if you look closely you will see this at work and you will know. It can be a mechanic, a fish monger or a physician. Let us look at such a master, a shooter called Jerry Miculek. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.

If we had to distill all the philosophy in the afore mentioned book, or the reason this fellow this is able to fire 8 shots out of a revolver, reload it and fire 4 more in less than a second, in just two words, these would be:

No nonsense

That’s it. That’s the secret sauce. It sounds simple and it is in theory. In practice, however, it’s easier said than done. Even after fully embracing the motto it takes diligent work and thorough understanding of the work at hand to attain this goal completely.

“Do nothing which is of no use” Miyamoto Musashi

Let’s elaborate on this further,  watch this video where Jerry talks about how to shoot a gun efficiently. The link takes the video to min 1:40 where Jerry actually starts talking deep…

“If you want a performance that you can repeat, you have to use just the minimum it takes to make it happen… Just take out everything that doesn’t add to the performance” This is deep stuff. Who’s to say that in 400 years people on their way to a different planet won’t be studying the videos Jerry uploaded to youtube, just as reverently as Japanese businessmen study Musashi today. First of all,  a performance that you can repeat. That’s key, otherwise, you’re looking at nonsense. If you just focus on a one-time thing the results you get might seem great but you might not be on the right track even if the current result was satisfactory. This is what happens when athletes “burn out” and it’s the equivalent of running a horse to death in one race. Focusing on a performance that you can repeat will lead you to utilize all the resources at your disposal, optimally, achieving ultimate performance over and over again.

Taking out everything that doesn’t add to the performance means getting rid of all the empty pretense that aims to improve things but in reality accomplishes nothing. Jerry speaks clearly about the endless mucking about of many who focus on empty ceremony. Standing in a certain way, turning the head in circles, following an elaborate pose sideways, all theatrical pantomimes that accomplish nothing and most importantly, don’t add to the performance. Aristotle thought: “Art imitates life”.  Have a look at what he meant by watching this clip from the movie “Lethal Weapon” where you can see Murtaugh (Danny Glover) showing off to Riggs (Mel Gibson) at the shooting range. Murtaugh brags about his accuracy to Riggs who’s completely humble and unassuming. When Murtaugh sees that Riggs was clearly the better shot he attempts to impress Riggs by firing a perfect shot drawing from the holster. To Murtaugh’s credit, though, he does achieve a perfect hit to the to the head right between the ears where a nose would be,  but then Riggs more than doubles the distance of the target and fires 7 seven rounds making the eyes and mouth of a happy face around it.

If your goal is to shoot fast and hit a target all you need to do is be relaxed, bring the gun to your line of sight, aim  and pull the trigger, as naturally and as comfortably as possible.


There are phoneys in every field who become the gurus of nonsense. It’s impossible not to listen to them because they are everywhere and they have myriads of followers who preach their teachings eagerly and eloquently. Never underestimate human stupidity, you’ll find that many will continue to uphold their beliefs even after they’re widely discredited. I remember a school teacher who wanted to move forward all the desks of the column  where my own desk was located and asked me to move the empty desk right in front of me forward and then move mine. I pushed the desk forward with my foot, and without even getting up moved my desk as well, noiselessly and instantly. The students behind me saw me and were about to do the same when she stopped them. Then she became very grave and ordered me drill-sergeant-like, GET UP! I looked at her as if she was insane of course and she shouted again GET UP!!! I did. And then she ordered me PUT THE DESKS AS THEY WERE! I remember feeling like Alice down the rabbit hole.. I looked at my mates, they looked back with listless eyes uncomprehending but ready to obey the teacher. I then did as she told me, and then she said “now, move in front of the desk lift it and put it forward,  then move your own desk. I was standing at my desk waiting to hear the next absurd command when the nonsensical “wisdom” came out of her cruel lips “Lazy people work double”, and she made the whole class repeat the sentence aloud, no one questioned it, they just said “lazy people work double” and performed the same empty ceremony, getting up, lifting the desk to move it less than 2 feet forward and then sitting down. When I moved the desk whilst sitting down I did it in a fraction of a second and I was ready for class, engaged, the job was done and the order was carried to perfection. Not only did I not do anything wrong. I executed her command flawlessly. She didn’t say “get up and move the desk” she just expected me to get up because in her limited mind she had visualized me getting up and moving the desk.

When she saw that I had done it differently, she never stopped to think that the result I produced was better than what she had anticipated, all she saw was that what she thought was the correct procedure to do something was not followed and a lesson had to be taught. She spent a minute teaching that empty lesson and about 30 seconds more having the rest of the column moving the desks. I saw her eyes afterwards and I can tell you that deep inside she knew she’d done a stupid thing, but she did it anyway. She was a mediocre teacher and she would attempt to hide her lack of depth by making huge fusses about silly things. When people like this work in a team, the team is likely to suffer because they’ll exert all their power convincing the team that the best way to travel from point A to point B is not a straight line, because that’s something that anyone can do and of course life is not that simple. Travelling to point B necessarily requires circling point A, 3 times then moving forward half way and then back to point A, make sure that point B is actually point B and then zig-zag towards it in case point B is not really point B so there is a higher possibility of reaching it in case it’s somewhere along the way. Of course, this is their way attempting to succeed because they really don’t know where point B is but they pretend they do and start the journey certain that point B is sure to be found using the zig-zag method. The master sees the nonsense in this approach instantly. The specialized individual, the effective operator, the experienced leader and the highly skilled worker  they know where point B is without even looking. They feel it in their bones, they’ve been to B and A back and forth endless times and each time they’ve corrected their course forming the straightest possible route. Some might not have ever been to point B, but they studied thoroughly the experiences of past explorers and learned from their mistakes. They will give importance to what really matters which is getting to point B using the minimum it takes to make it happen, taking out everything that doesn’t add to the performance. They will achieve. They will perform. They will be productive.



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