Book Review: The Tao of Business by Ansgar Gerstner

Does the ancient wisdom of Tao have practical principles that can be applied to businesses today?

In his book The Tao of Business, Ansgar Gerstner looks at how to survive and prosper in times of crisis, which doesn’t just have to apply to the current financial crisis but to anytime a business might enter rough waters. Each of the eight chapters deals with separate aspects of what doing business consists of; from analysing a business and working the marketplace to leadership skills, the physical environment of the office and how best to eliminate stress.

As an important part of Taoism, the concept of wuwei is introduced. It translates as “non-action”, but has a deeper meaning in terms of being in tune with one’s surroundings, “understanding all aspects of yourself, and going with the flow – taking action or doing nothing as a natural extension of the situation”. In a business environment where quick decisions need to be reached at times, this means to be equally adept at listening to one’s intuition as well as reasoning to find the best solution whether that be a specific action or to give something more time before deciding. With wuwei, it’s about expanding one’s awareness so that problems can be settled at an early stage or friction minimized.

It also stresses the importance of right leadership; the ability to lead, but without ruling for those in high positions. By letting employees contribute to decision making and development, one can both utilize a collective knowledge base and empower them.

While introducing other important aspects of Taoism, such as harmony, feng shui, trust, emotional intelligence, agility; Gerstner puts them into the context of the western working environment by giving some practical examples. He looks at how business people such as Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft; Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo India; and Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin, all have used such principles for the success of their business. For example, “finding the right people, inspiring them and drawing out the best in them” - Richard Branson.

Whereas the book is not a ‘how-to’, it shows how the Tao has simple little truths which a flexible mindset can implement to improve the profitability, efficiency and sustainability of a business.

Gerstner has a PhD in Chinese Studies, is a Chinese martial arts trainer and for more information you can follow his blog: