How a samurai manages to put together a motely team of villagers to fight bandits offers lessons for HR managers
Though reams of statistics that explain the challenges of talent acquisition are continuously thrown at us, I plan to discuss a few ideas that typically develop into an organizational narrative, which is quite often confounded by a maze of contradictions.
In Kurosawa’s ‘The Seven Samurai’, Kambei, the first Samurai is a ronin, a Samurai without a master, who impresses the local villagers with his skills and who are looking for protection from bandits. A ronin is someone who is between employment with all the skills that has made him successful in duty to his previous master as part of a warrior team. A ronin has no identity and during the Edo period of great change, he was forbidden to take on a new master without his current master’s permission. Kambei perhaps, desires a sense of identity though he has no desire left for war anymore. In his long life, he has fought many wars and won as many battles as he has lost. He is a good strategist and by the end of the film, Kambei, has once again successfully put together a motely team that wins for the every one of the villagers as co-shareholders, their battle against the marauding bandits.
The process of performing is painful though. But the villagers offer white rice. They offer more—a purpose and an identity from a meandering existence. Is this identity forged because of socio-economic dynamics that determined a class-based society or it is created through individual experience? What does a ronin skilled in the art of strategy and execution do today? How does he prepare for a new master while in the service of an existing master? Or can he become his own master in a world full of opportunities of fertile fields with potential for sacks of white rice?
Kambei builds his team by selecting from what is available considering that timelines are restricted. The team is finally a collection of assortments; a loyal friend who has been with him in other wars, a mysterious and disciplined swordsman, the young awestruck disciple eager to call him master, another warrior skilled with the gift of foresight, the genial fellow who eschews direct combat but is good at engineering, and finally, the intemperate buffoon and initial reject who redeems the team when it is restricted by dogmatic codes of conduct to eventually do what is right.
Talent acquisition as a continuous process is evident throughout the film. The process of creating a formidable organization out of the villagers does not stop till the bandits are decimated. The enterprise architecture is revisited again and again right from fortifying the village boundaries, to training the villagers to fight. In this journey, many relationships are forged, defeated and harmonized across various intra-cultural divides.
Kambei is a samurai in the true sense. He is not unduly delighted or perturbed by short term wins and defeats. His vision carries his convictions further than most. He is beyond short-term gains and when he engages with his team, his ability to convey a sense of common purpose gets participation from all, even the one who desires to prepare for killing him in battle after this common purpose is achieved.
Often, the initial reject who gets included due to material constraints emerges as a match winner. As much as each warrior joined up due to personal values or randomness that somewhere coincided into a common working group, their individual experiences gave them their individual identities. But the villagers recognized them through their social construct of being a group of warriors. One that is intended to take them to victory so that instead of eating millet, they all eat nourishing white rice from the fields that they plough every day.