© 2003 Larry Kahaner Used by permission.
As modern business life becomes increasingly complicated and difficult, management is turning to the classics for guidance. For example, Sun Tzu's Art of War has become a handbook on how to handle market competitors. Machiavelli's The Prince, now standard reading in business schools, has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity because of its clarity and vision, despite its ruthless attitude.
Yet, there is one classic work, older than most of the world's books, that offers riches to anyone--no matter what their religious beliefs--brave enough to explore its depths: The Talmud.
The Talmud is a manual for life, and its lessons have been time-tested for centuries.
Commerce and Business
While the Talmud covers a wide range of human activities from raising children to medicine to cooking, it focuses heavily on business dealings.
Why this interest in business and, by extension, money and profit?
The Talmud stresses the importance of dealing honestly in business because transacting business, more than any other human activity, tests our moral mettle and reveals our character.
It is through money and commerce that we uncover our human frailties, our bigotry, our ability to deal justly with others during a time in which our natural instinct is to maximize our profits no matter what the consequences.
In business transactions we sometimes believe it's acceptable to cheat, because we think "everyone's doing it," or we'll never do business with a particular person again. To the Talmud no transaction is tiny and no transgression is trivial.
The Talmud's Most Important Gift
As you read about the Talmud's 10 lessons and the culmination of these lessons that leads to success in business, you'll begin to understand the Talmud's most important gift to modern business people. It's something that everyone who works strives to achieve but few ever accomplish.
The Talmud offers a tried-and-true way to happily blend business, personal and spiritual lives--and be successful at each. It gives precise instructions on how to balance one's need for business success with the need for a satisfying life outside of work. The Talmud accomplishes this by challenging readers to think in new and different ways about their jobs, how they view money and the purpose of commerce. The Talmud confronts students with rock bottom questions such as, Why do we work?, Why do businesses exist?, and How much money should we make? The rabbis' answers may seem strange--they may even shock--but rest assured that they have worked successfully for thousands of years.
No matter what a person's religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs), the Talmud's ideas will forever change the way its readers think about themselves, their business, and their family--for the better.
A Summary of the Talmud's Business Lessons
and the Ancient Rabbis' Ultimate Business Secret...
Lesson One: The Spiritual Side of Money
- The ultimate role of money is to afford individuals and companies the time and resources to learn, grow spiritually, and do good deeds.
- The truly wealthy person is one who delights in what he has.
- Profitable companies have an additional responsibility to do good deeds with their money by increasing community prosperity through jobs.
- Financially successful companies focus on pleasing customers, respecting employees, and producing excellent products and services. Companies that strive solely for profit will fail.
Lesson Two: Work as a Holy Act
- Work is considered a holy act, and all work has intrinsic dignity, no matter what the job.
- The main practical purpose of work is to earn money. However, work builds self-esteem by allowing people to support themselves, their family, and their community. Work is our contribution to those around us.
- A day of rest during the week is necessary for a person's all around well-being. It increases productivity as well.
- Strike a balance between work and leisure. Too much of either is harmful.
Lesson Three: Treating Workers Well Pays Dividends
- Wages must be paid promptly.
- Employers are obligated to preserve and protect the workplace. It also must be a safe place to work.
- Never humiliate or berate an employee.
- Employers must direct their employees closely, and let them know precisely what is expected of them.
- Employers must not tempt employees into illegal acts with lax administrative controls of money or products.
- Local customs for wages and working conditions should always prevail.
- Benevolent managers attract and retain the most productive workers. Leaders set a company's behavior.
Lesson Four: Giving and Getting a Fair Day's Work
- Employees may not engage in any activity outside their regular work that will impair their at-work performance.
- Employees must work a full workday.
- There is no such thing as a minor theft (e.g. taking inexpensive office supplies) from a company.
- Individuals may not seek a new job or engage in interviews, unless they are truly interested. They may not take a job from someone else.
- Work close to home even if it means taking a lower-paying job.
Lesson Five: The Bonding of Corporate Profits and Ethics
- Profiteering on necessities is not permitted.
- The 'right price' is determined by the marketplace--the consumer and the seller. Both sides have the same power to set prices.
- A business transaction is considered final when both sides 'have a meeting of the minds' and agree on terms.
- The seller must make sure the consumer knows exactly what he or she is buying.
- Caveat Emptor is not an acceptable credo. Merchants can show their products and services in the most flattering manner--and emphasize their positive attributes--but they must also call attention to any faults.
- Even honest companies must avoid any possible appearance of impropriety in order to keep their reputation above reproach.
- All products must have a money-back guarantee.
- The use of corporate veils is not acceptable. All managers are responsible for the behavior of their companies. Every employee is responsible to act ethically.
- Companies that sell potentially dangerous products (guns, tobacco, chemicals, etc.) must make sure the buyer understands the risks of using the product.
- Buyers may not an show interest in goods unless they intend to make a purchase.
Lesson Six: Balancing the Environment and Profits
- Don't use more materials than necessary.
- Natural resources may be exploited but not wasted in order to produce profits.
- Manufacturing processes that produce waste products are inefficient and less profitable. Manufacturing processes should mimic nature's economy.
- Causing pollution is morally unacceptable.
- Environmental health must be balanced with economic growth. Neither is more important than the other.
- There is no such thing as local pollution. All locally-produced pollution affects those far away.
Lesson Seven: The Rules of Partnerships, Deals, and Debt
- Despite overwhelming positive factors, if corporate cultures are not compatible the merger or partnership ultimately will fail.
- Honor all agreements with precisely-written contracts.
- Money lending must be handled as if both sides are engaged in a business partnership; the loan must be for an activity designed to yield a profit.
- Bankruptcy is not an honorable way out of debt. All loans must be repaid in full.
- Lenders may not harass or embarrass debtors.
- Lenders should not lend money to those with a low expectation of repayment.
Lesson Eight: Competition is For True Competitors Only
- Do not compete with established companies unless your products and services are substantially different in price, quality, and selection.
- New competitors must compete on a level playing field with established companies. This means paying the same taxes and comparable wages.
- Robust competition always benefits consumers.
- Small companies can successfully compete with larger companies by finding an under-served niche.
- Intellectual property must be vigorously protected in order for companies to prosper.
Lesson Nine: Education is a Lifelong Process
- Learning is a lifelong process. People must continue their education throughout their careers.
- Companies benefit by establishing educational programs for employees. Companies also reap dividends by helping to educate children in their communities.
- Employee learning should be focused on critical thinking and not education by rote.
- Students should differentiate between information and knowledge. Information is a commodity and only takes on value after it is filtered and analyzed and becomes knowledge.
- Group learning is more effective than learning alone, because education involves asking questions and exchanging ideas.
- The most effective corporate trainers are ones with practical, on-the-job industry experience.
Lesson Ten: Charity Means More than Just Giving
- Charity is everyone's obligation. Donations kept close to home are the most blessed.
- Helping an individual or company with a loan, a job, or a partnership is the most noble form of charity.
- Charity should not be given based on the recipient's race, creed, religion, or attitude.
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