“Not every entrepreneur is making good change, and not every entrepreneur is at peace — balanced, so to speak — and living in the now,” says John Murphy, a self-proclaimed “Zentrepreneur.”
The founder of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Venture Management Consultants routinely merges his passions for entrepreneurship and Zen Buddhism. He even gives workshops nationwide on how to foster Kaizen (the Japanese art of improvement) in the workplace. This fits into the philosophies of his latest book, Zentrepreneur: Get Out of the Way and Lead, Create a Culture of Innovation and Fearlessness.
The Intuit Small Business Blog talked with Murphy (pictured) about being a Zentrepreneur as he prepared for a Kaizen workshop in New Jersey.
ISBB: What inspired you to write this book?
Murphy: It’s actually something I’ve been doing a long time but without the label. It just came to me one day. I was starting businesses when I was in my teens. My current business turned 25 years old. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial interest and a passion for business and making positive change.
Zen is something I’ve been exploring, along with other spiritual practices, for many years now. A Zentrepreneur puts “presences” into practice. “Presences” are being focused on living in the now. Being attentive, focusing on what really matters, because the mind wanders into the future and the past. If we’re not focused and centered, we can easily lose our balance.
What was your background before becoming a consultant?
I was a very competitive athlete growing up and played the position of quarterback. As a quarterback, when you walk up to the line of scrimmage, you have a game plan that everyone on the team is aware of. But the truth is, you don’t know what will happen. You take the snap and you could get hurt or score a touchdown. You’ve got to be here, and you’ve got to be now. That applies to any sport. I use that as a metaphor for life, because when we wake up every day we don’t really know what will happen.
If the quarterback starts to express fear and anxiety, the whole team is going to suffer. I use that as a metaphor for leadership. Are you present and poised given the uncertainties of the market? Are we bringing out the best in people, or are we being on the defensive and shutting them down?
What is the practice of Kaizen?
It’s when you make the change during the event. You define, measure, and analyze to improve the process or product immediately. It’s very action-oriented. We’re mapping out the process. We’re trying to improve and drilling into the details. We’re brainstorming improvements, and we’re actually making those changes immediately. They’re change agents.
I’m working with a big company — 60,000 employees and $10 million in sales‚ and we’re running Kaizen events every week. I’m actually training them to run Kaizen events without me. I immerse myself in the culture, and I teach the executives how to select the right projects to Kaizen because you can Kaizen the wrong ones.
We’re not talking about taking an aspirin for the headache. We’re talking about getting to the root problem of the headache. So often we’re used to fixing problems at the surface level and they keep coming back.
What makes a great leader?
We’ve got to let go of fear and doubt and disbelief, self-imposed constraints. Great leaders help get these obstacles out of the way so ideas flow. I use the term “zenergy” sometimes. When you walk into the room, it’s animated and people are on their feet, hovered around the flip chart or analyzing data on the wall. They’re interacting. They’re not asleep.
Talk about a case study of a small-business owner being a Zentrepreneur.
Better World Books,
co-founded by Christopher “Kreece” Fuchs, is a social enterprise with a conscious business. They’re keeping a lot of books out of landfill. They’re collecting these books and selling them at deep discounts, or partnering with groups like Books for Africa, with literacy programs and books to support it. This is an example of a classic entrepreneur: “I want to do good and make the world a better place. I’m willing to take the risk and put some of my own money in the game, but I don’t know how to raise capital.” I’ve spent a couple of years working with Better World Books helping them navigate.
How is your business life different now that you are a Zentrepreneur?
It’s not unusual for someone starting a business to be anxious and even afraid, and I was no different. I’ve bet everything on my business. I was all-in. You have years where you wonder how are you going to get the bills paid and make ends meet. Your faith and perseverance pays off.
After I ran my foot through a lawn mower, I was told I’d never be able to walk again without limping. Two years later, I was playing football at Notre Dame. I’ve had tough luck throughout my life, but I’ve also elected to look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty. I’m not a victim, and these are lessons in disguise.
The Zentrepreneur takes these moments of truth and processes them without judgment. Somewhere in this event is a silver lining, and I need to find it as part of my own soul development. That’s very freeing and very inspirational, to let go of this baggage and this anxiety and fear and debilitating beliefs. Today I’m at peace and more free. I’m more tested. These days, when something lousy happens … I’m more confident that I can get through it.