How One CEO Learned a Lot of Business Secrets From a Trappist Monk

business secretsWe find inspiration for our businesses and our lives in odd places sometimes, don’t we?

For August Turak, he surprisingly uncovered strategies and techniques he could apply to the business world in Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in the heart of South Carolina. He compiled his inspirations into Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity.

From MTV to Mushrooms

Turak (@AugustTurak), has worked for large corporations including MTV, as well as founded and sold two highly successful software businesses, Raleigh Group International (RGI) and Elsinore Technologies. He has been featured in publications like Wall Street JournalFast Company, the New York Times, and Business Week and writes about leadership on Forbes.com.

But despite being the protégé of the man who founded the IBM Executive School, it’s his 17 years working with the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey that has had a profound impact on who he is as an entrepreneur.

Service and Selflessness

Turak’s focus, both in his book and on his website, is service and selflessness at work. You can see how he’d observed a lot of that, spending so much time at a monastery. But how can business owners apply these concepts to their own work? In the book, Turak talks about the “consciously transformational organization,” which, he says, has three things in common:

  1. A high, overarching mission worthy of being selflessly served.
  2. Personal transformation as part of the mission.
  3. A methodology for bringing transformation about.

He then dives into each of these points in subsequent chapters. While the mission of the monastery is to serve God, sometimes the mission of a company ends up being fluff. Not, says Turak, because the mission is too lofty or abstract, but because the people in charge of drafting missions tend to lack the commitment and imagination to make them alive.

Defining mission and infusing it into decision making is not the province of a yearly management retreat…it is a daily imperative that is the single most important priority every organization must have.

Your Commitment to Excellence

Turak ends the book by talking about how the monks are committed to their lifestyle, and stresses the importance of entrepreneurs and businesspeople acting the same in their worlds. He says that commitment is dynamic, and should be ongoing:

Commitment may begin with a single decision, but there is all the difference in the world between making a commitment and becoming committed.

What I Liked Best

Turak makes it clear that aspiring to selflessness and service isn’t relegated to the highly religious. Companies who genuinely put their customers’ needs before their own can use this model to successfully grow. He provides many examples of companies doing just that, from the Marines to local credit unions.

The very fact that this book focuses where no other book does for inspiration (a monastery) spins the conventional business book on its head. I, for one, enjoyed the refreshing breeze that wafted up from Mepkin Abbey, which subsists by selling oyster mushrooms, garden compost and eggs to pay the bills.

Who Should Read This Book

You should read this – especially if you’re tired of business books that sound like every other book you’ve read.

It will inspire entrepreneurs to think differently about how they model their businesses, and will teach them to look where others aren’t looking, the way Turak did.