Five Business Tips From a Buddhist Billionaire

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Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Kazuo Inamori, the Japanese entrepreneur who founded two multi-billion dollar companies and rescued another, is known for his management philosophy. Here are five of his ideas.

1. Question your motive

Inamori is a Buddhist, and zen — the Japanese word for "good" — is at the heart of his thinking. Zen means being universally virtuous in anybody’s eyes, he writes in his book “A Passion for Success.” Serving one’s own interests in business is never enough: the motive has to be good for others as well.

2. Adhere to perfection

An engineer by training, Inamori describes himself as a perfectionist. Being 99 percent successful isn’t enough for someone designing a bridge to withstand an earthquake, and the same should apply when planning products, he says. Demanding perfection of yourself every day is difficult, he writes in “A Passion for Success”, but once you get used to it, “you can easily live that way.” This results in what he calls “sharp” products, or work that is refined and precise.

3. Conceive optimistically, plan pessimistically

When developing a new product, starting off with a dream is important to success, Inamori says on his website. Once the planning stage begins, you must “become a pessimist” in order to recognize every possible difficulty. Then it’s back to optimism for the execution.

4. Attitude x effort x ability

This is Inamori’s formula for calculating the results of someone’s life or work. It’s an insight into why he values character and personality when picking leaders, rather than just choosing the people with the most ability. In his view, effort and aptitude won’t be enough if you don’t have the right attitude.

5. Set goals beyond your abilities

Inamori is a believer in positive thinking: he says your life ultimately becomes what you think it will be. In business, this translates into believing you will learn to do things you can’t currently manage. Choose a goal you can’t achieve today, set a deadline by which you will do so, and then work harder than anyone else, he says.

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