From the Crap Archives: The Way of the Ronin

Your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from area basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. He does this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

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The Way of the Ronin: A Guide to Career Strategy
Author: Beverly A Potter, PHD
Publisher: American Management Associations
Date: 1984
Discovered at: Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store
The Cover Promises: Behind you! A giant samurai! With a blade in one hand and... uh... a sausage in the other!
Representative Quotes: "When a samurai was severed from his lord, he had two choices: to commit seppuku (ritual disembowelment) or to do ronin" (page xi); "Corporate Ronin create new opportunities for organizational action by testing limits and by pushing and directing the innovation process" (page 192).

At first glance, The Way of the Ronin seems merely to confirm what I've always suspected: that American corporate life of the 1980s was in almost every capacity indistinguishable from feudal Japan. After receiving pink slips, for example, Reagan-era workers either opted for honorable suicide or sharpened their swords, updated their resumes, and wandered the land as Ronin, master-less warriors of the martial arts.

But wait. Before you think The Way of the Ronin offers you the chance to start slicing up the h.r. reps who have stained your honor, heed author Beverly Potter's warning: "Ronin is used here as a metaphor based on a Japanese word for leaderless samurai to describe the optimal career path of the 1980s."

So, it's a metaphor! Don't think corporate life is going to be all bushido and sword fights. As Potter writes, "Modern day Ronins have many hats and are masterful in generalizable skills that they can apply across specialties to a wide range of endeavors." In short, ronin here just a fancy way of saying "temp."

Consider the badass warrior below with his giant ink pen, ghetto blaster, Apple IIE pennant, Shetland pony, all pinned to the Family Circus circle?

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That guy gets no benefits. The good news: he does have "many hats."

Your Post-It Fu is No Match for My Systems Analyzing Fu: The best response to an unstable job market? Make-believing your one of a foreign country's folk heroes as based upon your half-assed understanding. (Around my office, I'm a Pancho Villa.) Potter pads this insight to 200 pages by dragging in the I Ching, Sufi teachings, Carlos Castaneda, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Schroedinger, John Lennon's "Working Class Hero," Go gameboards, Megatrends, Future Shock!, What Color is Your Parachute? and much more.

Here she describes Fear, the first of the five enemies facing corporate Ronin: "Fear's capability to enslave is much like that of the magic Ring of Power that Bilbo Baggins stole from the evil hobbit, Gollum, in the popular hobbit fantasy series."

For all the breadth of her reading, Potter spends most of the book gassing on about familiar self-help solutions. She suggests that you set goals, visualize success, and sign contracts with yourself. Also, compose lists of your wants:

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You have to earn those cassingles, swordsman!

The Power of Positive Cultural Appropriation: Since Ronin are the samurai who don't disembowel themselves, positive thinking is the key to success. Potter illustrates this through the ancient Japanese tradition of the bummer.

"Bring to mind a bummer you experienced sometime in the past," she advises. Then, "rerun the bummer on your fantasy screen, making it as vivid as possible" and "yell 'STOP!' as loudly as you can inside your mind."

This is the first step to replacing your bummers with powerful thoughts.

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Shocking Detail: While The Way of the Ronin offers pretty much the same advice as every career guide ever, Potter does manage a handful of fresh suggestions:

Pretend to be a samurai warrior! "If you want to feel like you belong, that you're an essential member of the team, look for an understaffed organization." The dirtier the chart, the more effective the communication.

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Highlight: Workers don't just become Ronin because samurai are so damn cool. They do it out of response to what Potter calls "Career Feudalism," "a way of organizing work that diminishes the personal power of workers."

Just as the Ronin of ancient Japan liberated themselves from a structure of masters and landowners, the Ronin of the age of Nagel freed themselves from meeting attendance, dedicating themselves not to the Company Way but to the good of individual projects and their own personal satisfaction.

"They consider work a medium for self-realization, the barbells that discover the skill muscles."

So, career feudalism. Here's a peek at its bikini area.

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