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Wu Wei

Wu wei is a concept that comes from taoism, and literally translated it means action through non-action.

This is often interpreted to mean doing by not doing anything. This interpretation reminds me of managing people, which I did for many years at the World Bank. When there was a minor issue, a manager’s first course of action is to do nothing because many small issues simply resolve themselves. But, that is not how I interpret wu wei.

I like the taoist tale of a butcher who never needs to sharpen his knives because they never become dull. He is such a master at his craft that instead of cutting through the meat, he separates it using the meat’s natural structure – since there is no stress on the knives, they never need to be sharpened. This is a fable that makes a point: if you can detect the way of Nature, and go with it, you will not exhaust yourself. But, I like to take it further.

If you go with the natural ways of nature, you ride great and powerful forces. Whoever can harness the relentless march of the seasons, or the great currents of the ocean, has as her ally forces greater than any human.

Is there a way for you to “go with the flow” in such a way that it will carry you farther than you could carry yourself this week?

“The sage acts without effort.”
– Lao Tsu