What tips does Taoism have for controllers?

We share so many apocalyptic thoughts publicly and privately these days. Whether on climate, looming overpopulation, mass immigration, Trump or European unification. Or about robotics and artificial intelligence: "For how long can our business model be sustained? Will my job still exist in the near future?".

I got a reproach the other day from a Big Data specialist that we as controllers are just prisoners of our ERPs and spreadsheets. And, from a climate change fanatic: "Financials are only concerned with profitability. Our planet will be destroyed by such an attitude".

I don’t believe in Armageddon. I wondered why? I couldn’t really put my finger on it, until I listened to the marathon interview with Mr. Rik Schipper. He is a sinologist, professor at the Sorbonne and at the University of Fuzhou in China and last but not least, he is a Tao-master. It was great. I now understand why I am an optimist. This goes back to three beautiful Taoist thoughts:

  1. There is no heaven, god, hell or punishment. Only a universe with unplanned rhythms of giving and receiving, of Yin and Yang in which the individual is the great player. This is The Tao (The Way), in which changes emerge from a muddy accumulation of individual actions and reactions.
  2. Happiness and success occur when you try to understand the Tao and do something with it. Continuously building new knowledge and with each step, new experience. So away with doom and enemy images. Long live learning each day and apply what we’ve learned.
  3. Keep calm. Only then you will be able to observe, feel and listen. Only then you will be able to understand more about how things work and what your next step will be. And, by the way, sometimes doing nothing is better than doing anything at all. Fear, reflexes and ignorance are bad counselors.


So, why does this make me an optimist? Well, not so much that the doomsday scenarios presented to us are senseless, but because the anticipated outcomes are 100% dependent on our daily, individual choices in our little lives. President Trump does not keep me from leading a more sustainable life. A robot is not going tell me what I should do with my newly freed-up working hours. Profitability thinking does not prescribe me all of my goals, but helps me to select an efficient approach to realize these goals. In short: change happens bottom up and not from within the Vatican of cynics.

If we take these Taoist thoughts on board in a world full of apocalyptic thoughts, our profession as controllers and our personal will only grow and will make our work even more enjoyable. For example, through:

  1. Separating facts from fiction: this will be increasingly important. And that, funnily enough, is exactly the strength of a controller. Nowadays we have a wealth of data at our fingertips and there are exciting new tools available to make surprising analyses, for which we had so little time available in the old days. For example, they help us to answer questions like: what do new customers think of us? What makes a customer profitable or loss-making?
  2. Building great business cases. Not so much to predict the future but to select the best way forward in order to build maximum knowledge, gain experience and to plan ahead. For example, to prepare for investments in securing your data and network. In the development of online business. In the use of new materials to improve sustainability. And to select business partners who offer supporting knowledge and services at the lowest possible cost.
  3. Encouraging the personal development of our staff and create a favorable business climate for change and motivating everybody to take responsibility for actions and choices in their working lives.


These are all creative activities for which we don’t seem to have had time enough, but for which robots and new technology will provide us more time and money. Isn’t that wonderful? We can give a new impulse to perfectly manageable actions of tomorrow which will change the world. Thanks Rik, I have done something with your message. Did I understand you well enough? I am looking forward to learning that tomorrow.