Single Sentence Precepts

I used to do Goju (a particular type of Karate created in Okinawa) for a few years. All throughout the training there were a few phrases that really stuck out to me and I refer to all the time in how I think about problems and the world around me. One of them was “Kihon is fundamental” Since “基本” is the Japanese character Kihon, which means fundamental, it’s kind of a rough platitude to wrap your head around. But bear with me – another way to say it is “truth is truth,” or “All of Goju can be summed up in a single punch.”

These sentences are meant as a guide to help us cut through all of the clutter. When you are punching, there should be nothing else, your body should act as one fluid drawing strength from the earth and placing all of your energy at the tip of your first and second knuckles. If you leave room for other thoughts or extra actions, you will reduce the ultimate power of your punch.

Stephen Mitchel’s translation of the Tao te Ching says this in a particularly interesting way: “When it rains there is only rain.” Give yourself over fully to what you are doing.

While it is nice for your organization to have a fully fleshed out mission statement, and you certainly should trot it out regularly to prevent yourself from losing sight of it, it is important for you to create single sentence precepts for your projects, team, and organization. These precepts give people a chance to all start from the same place. These sentences will be accessible enough to give you the chance to correct your employees or groups when they begin to stray from the path you think is best.

Additionally, if you create a strong enough sentence, or simply repeat a mediocre sentence enough, people will come to see the concept as its own entity. Once this happens, you will not be the person making them do something, the concept will be, thus freeing you up to focus on fine tuning rather than enforcing your broad organizational goals.


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