Cha-Ching: I Ching and Money

One of my absolute favorite quotes comes from the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of wisdom. It is: “Nothing changes except the fact that everything changes.”

It is poetically accurate.

As leaders, one of our most important jobs is to recognize and interpret the cycles of change. The I Ching was a tool emperors and warriors used to decide where in a cycle a set of events was. The book represents 64 situations corresponding to 64 stages of life, sort of like Ecclesiastes, the “there is a time for this and a time ” for that chapter from the Bible. The important concept in the I Ching is that the correct action for one situation is exactly the incorrect action for another.

In the middle of this confusing, overwhelming whirlwind of activity called life, it’s tough to maintain perspective and know where in the world you are. So, these old Chinese guys  wrote the I Ching and created a tool to provide those smart and wise enough to study human conditions and psychology with some direction.  It’s all about cycles, that life moves in relatively, and I use that word loosely, predictable cycles.

I find it fascinating and comforting to know that even centuries ago, leaders grappled with essentially the same things as we are today. Since I like to think in terms of food, this idea reminds me that ice cream is ice cream even though the flavors may change from vanilla to pachugio. No matter how much technology, or how far we think we’ve come, fundamentals rarely change. The flavors change. The styles change. The pendulums of perspective change. Fundamentals of physics and business don’t. There is a structure to the universe. There is a structure to leadership.

That’s one reason my company is named LodeStar Universal. A lodestar is a guiding principle. Wisdom is understanding the principles, knowing what’s a flavor and what’s a fundamental.

But if you don’t read much, and you don’t care to study much, the I Ching or any other tool isn’t going to be of much use. Which is too bad, especially when you look at a situation like Bear Stearns or recent challenges in financial markets. No one expected to find Bear’s management team billowing cigar smoke over discussions of Hexagram 10 or 43. On the other hand, no expected the firm to crater.

It seems reasonable to assume “leaders” responsible for billions-or trillions-of dollars do have  responsibility greater than the average Joe for making decisions about such issues as trading sub-prime. And if it is all over your head, if it has become too complicated, maybe you would be better off contemplating rather than acting…. Am I being too harsh? Maybe. Maybe

Is it as simple as Bear Stearns or any other financial institution, with so much at stake, needing a council of counsel? Where and when did it really go south at Bear? I bet it was long before a year ago when the Wall St. Journal’s multi-page treatise picked up the story. The question is when? When were the seeds of demise set into motion? I wonder where the leadership was going for counsel and wisdom guidance. I wonder if the thought ever occurred to them.

The sharpest leaders I know today are smart enough to know they need independent counsel of the wisdom kind.

Where do you go for your wisdom counsel? How do you determine where life’s cycles you are, if you are at the top or the bottom of a cycle?