What the Samurai Can Teach the Startup

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What can the Samurai teach us about successful business?  Over a dozen enterprising people attended The District recently to find out, at the first public Egyptian staging of The Samurai Game®.

The Samurai Game is a unique “leadership and teambuilding simulation”, created by George Leonard in 1977.  Its aim is to “significantly deepen individual and organizational awareness, leadership effectiveness and team cohesion”.  The game was managed by licensed facilitator Mohamed El-Haw

Mohamed started proceedings by giving a brief description of the Samurai, an ancient Japanese warrior class whose role was to serve and protect.  The Samurai did this by following a code of ethics that was “all about honour” and putting the group before the individual regardless of status.  Remnants of this code of ethics are still visible in modern Japan; for example a manager at Sony that fails their employees will resign or take 100% of the blame.

Mohamed then explained the mechanics of the game.  At this point I am honour bound not to mention any of the details of the game, as that was part of the code of ethics all participants agreed to.  What I can say is that there are two teams, they fight, and there is a winner.  Fighting is between an individual from each team, it involves a test of skill, and the loser “dies.” After the “battle” there is a debrief, and this is where light is shed on the lessons learnt.  I honestly can’t explain more, other than it is an intensely introspective experience.  Oh, and face muscles can get a person “killed” all too easily in the game!

The game is designed to make the individual see:

  • To what degree they are willing to act decisively and with integrity to get the results they say they want and need.
  • What principles and core values they stake their life and success on.
  • How well they function in the face of uncertainty and unfairness.

We saw during the game the destructiveness that comes when members of a team, or even members of the enemy, do not have the same core values.  We learnt quickly who to trust within our team; who acted honourably in the opposition; how we reacted to peer pressure; how we dealt with our own limitations; and how a person can go above and beyond their own limitations when a team is depending on them.

The game is versatile enough to focus on specific outcomes, for example increasing team cohesiveness, teaching resource management, or as was the case here, learning how to figure out our real values, and how these values affect our decisions.  This is an important lesson for any business, especially a startup.  Make sure you share core values, or you’ll be pulling the company in contradicting directions.

Mohamed himself was an able moderator, calm throughout, he guided people with respect, and this is important as this is one of those situations that can make people question their own values and beliefs.  Mohamed is a founder of the start-up training consultancy BrainQuil, who offer corporate clients a variety of training and development options.  They can also tailor a Samurai Game specifically for a company for a certain outcome.  Of course the corporate rate will be much much greater than the EGP 250 that was charged for the individual generic game here.

The Samurai Game has been around for a while, but it fits neatly into the modern gamification trend.  Continual learning and the ability to team build are common traits for an entrepreneur, and what better way to learn than during a game.

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