Spaceships And Buddhist Temples

I’m a bit of a Japanophile. Since every second ad currently is about the Rugby World Cup that is being hosted by Japan, I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Japan is a highly ritualised and sophisticated, in my opinion, culture. For example, the seamstresses have an annual ceremony to show gratitude to the blunt needles for all their hard work. You don’t get much more cultured than that. What is also interesting for me about Japan, beyond all the rituals and refined culture, is their dedication to craft and mastering that craft. In one of my favourite documentaries, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro Ono, the 3 Michelin star Sushi chef, says this great line right at the start:

‘Once you decide on your must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success.’

In a world of instant everything, MVPs, and constant change, dedication like that is inspiring to say the least.

It is also part of the secret of the Shinise, a specific term for companies in Japan that have been doing business for more than a century. The oldest is Kongo Gumi. Established in 578AD, the construction company builds Buddhist temples. Although it was bought in 2006 to ensure its survival in a devastating business climate, the company has survived for 1400 years largely by perfecting its craft and preserving tradition. Like Jiro preserving the tradition and craft of making Sushi, it is tradition that carries these businesses forward.

Tradition can be a double edge sword. It can be your saving grace or your downfall, even Kongo Gumi had to adapt during the second world war and build coffins to survive. The secret I believe is to hold onto both the past and the future and to use the past to pull you into the future. In a future obsessed world, every second person I meet is a ‘futurist’, we need traditionalists that are future facing.

It is when we walk into the future whilst looking to the past when we can create not only fantastic innovation, but also solve seemingly impossible problems. Take a look at the iPhone for example, a ground-breaking innovation for sure, but it was still a phone, an invention that was a 130 years old when the first iPhone came out. It is when we can hold both the past and the future in tension that the magic happens.

This is how warping works. You know those scenes in sci-fi movies where a ship jumps forward to cross a massive distance quickly? Warping is a technique used in sailing, where you throw or row you anchor forward and then winch your vessel out of trouble or just in the direction you want to go. You use your anchor to move forward.

An anchor is solid, it is what keeps you stable and safe, one can say that is represents your tradition. Tradition is often scoffed at in our hyper future focused culture, but ironically it is often this very heavy, seemingly burdensome thing that will save you. The thing is that this trouble you are facing, this problem you are dealing with, this obstacle, has been faced before and solved before. You are not the first, believe it or not. The solution to your problem will often lie within your tradition, just ask yourself ‘What does my tradition tell me to do in a situation like this?’ What practice do I need to be doing, what questions do I need to ask, and of who do I need to ask these? You will be surprised at the treasure you’ll find digging in the past.

This week, as a training naked exercise, take some time to look back, grab what is true, good and beautiful and use it to move forward.


About the author: Pierre du Plessis

Pierre du Plessis is a business consultant, creative director, writer and world-class public speaker. In a chaotic world Pierre helps people build meaningful lives, and businesses do work that matters. Pierre du Plessis speaks on how to build conscious businesses in chaotic times.

Pierre is currently the CEO of his passion project, HumanWrites, an organisation that gets storybooks to kids who need them. Pierre is also an educator at DUKE CE University and has spoken at BMW, KFC, Adcock Ingram, FNB, Nedbank, and has been featured on TEDx stages numerous times. He has worked in fashion, advertising, trend analyses and branding. Pierre leads a contemplative community of faith in the heart of Cape Town, is a published author and has received the Desmond Tutu Gerrit Brand literature prize

He believes he is the love child of Gertrude Stein and Jason Bourne.

He lives in Cape Town with his wife, two kids, and his iPhone. For more information, visit