A man comes to a leadership position in an organisation, only to discover that all of its funds have been embezzled. From that shaky beginning he learns what it means to be a good leader and manager, even when faced with people who have a destructive agenda. His guide along the way is the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching.
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His leadership is guided by the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of changes. In consulting it he learns sound perspectives on the role of leader: how to build capacity through people, how to bring about positive change, and when to let go.
I am the author, and it is not my intent here to say more than an author should say about his own book. Allow me to say, though, some things for clarification. This is a “true story”, in that it is based on events that have occurred. That said, I have employed a novelist’s licence to play with people, places and sequences of time. Some people are compressed into one character, for example, and other characters omitted for the sake of simplicity. I was telling a story here, a story I had never told before because it was too complicated as well as too emotional.
Nonetheless, you will get the picture – there is truth here. For those who know me and any of the situations and events in these pages, you may think “That’s me”, or “Why am I not there?”. I ask you to bow to the story. I had my reasons, both as novelist and at a personal level. The universe knows all of the ten thousand things, you included.
The I Ching would say the quest was for “Chung Fu”: Inner truth. In that I have sought to be faithful.
This story began as a project to write a book in ninety days. I wasn’t daunted by that. I had an outline in my head for a non-fiction book that would be a simple exposition of the ideas in the ethics book I had written: Human values and ethics in the workplace. That book was “semi-academic”. My intent there had been to explain the ideas I had about ethics and human values, and I placed my ideas in the context of other writers’ ideas, as an academic work which referenced them.
The book wasn’t altogether an academic book because it also had pastoral elements, that is, practical elements about how to live, work and lead ethically in organisations and in business. So the second book was going to be simpler and hopefully accessible to a wider range of readers.
I was ready to start work on this when one of my sons suggested that I enter National Novel Writing Month (Nano Wrimo). I told him I wasn’t interested, because I was writing non-fiction. And then he said, “Well, write it as a novel”.
This was an astounding thought to me. It was a liberation. This meant I didn’t have to be diverted by being pedantic about dates and people and places and complications. I could stick to the truth of the story. It also meant I didn’t have to think about naming people, and all the implications of that. This is not a book about recrimination; it is a book about the lessons we find in living.
Nano Wrimo also meant writing in a totally different way to how I normally write. I am usually a planner – outlines, homework, facts, structure. Taking my time, being reflective and going back over what I’ve written, usually several times. Nano Wrimo meant diving into the river and swimming with the current. I didn’t look back at all. I kept moving with the flow for a month, just about every day. The story kept pouring out and I kept following the rush of it.
I wrote a blog while I was writing the novel, to reflect on what I was doing. You can find the blog at http://www.writerinaction.blogspot.com
The I Ching. The other reason for this book is that I have been using the I Ching for a long time – over thirty years. I’ve never talked about it in public. I thought it might seem crazy in the business world to talk about guidance and advice that originated in markings on a tortoise’s back over five thousand years ago. Mmm. Now I have arrived at the point where I think I should say something about the writings that constitute the underpinning of my thinking. To say the I Ching has influenced me is to underplay it; it is the framework and heart of my thinking now.
There are many books which are translations and interpretations of the I Ching, and handbooks on how to use it. I don’t know of any books on what it is like to live with the I Ching as a companion, over a long period of time. This novel, insofar as it has any message at all, aims to give an insight into what you can learn in the midst of situations if you are sincere, open, and committed to personal integrity.
The novel is also distinguished by the fact that it was written hand in hand with the I Ching. The readings in the books occurred in real time as I wrote. Each day of writing was preceded by the throwing of the coins and a meditation on the reading, as I digested the I Ching’s perspective on the situation as it was unfolding.
The novel is not suggesting that anyone become an I Ching “devotee” and I would not describe myself as such. There are many sources of wisdom and guidance which are available to us. This story shows what can happen when one is willing to listen to the wisdom of the universe.
If you go back a few paragraphs you will see that I jumped across a river. (The I Ching would say, “crossing the great stream”.) At one point I was talking about an exposition of ideas on ethics and human values, and suddenly I was talking about a story. How did that happen?
It happened because the central story in this novel is about a period of my life when I experienced people and events that held ethics up to my face in an intense way. This series of events was what made me start thinking in a serious way about ethics in business, and why people do the things they do. Essentially, this story explains why I am so interested in ethics and human values.
The non-fiction book remains to be written. This book needed writing first.
Time to stop talking? Almost. Just one other thing. The more I have thought about what it means to live ethically, the more I see that it is tied up with living in the present, doing what needs to be done in the moment. And this takes us into questions about our whole life and what we are doing with it. Living ethically is much more than abiding by a set of rules. It includes our choices about jobs, careers, where we live, who we live with, who we love, and our aspirations. Everything. The ten thousand things.
The I Ching says there are two things in life: correctness, and joy.