The media recently celebrated the life and 11/27 birthday of Bruce Lee, who died at the incredibly young age of 32. If he was still alive today, Bruce would have celebrated his 76th birthday this year.
Bruce was best known as an actor and martial artist. But he was also a wise philosopher, filmmaker, and founder of the martial art Jeet Kune Do. Lee was a lifelong learner, and tirelessly sought out knowledge. Even at the peak of his career, he always had a book in his hands. His interests covered a wide range of topics, from martial arts and fitness to philosophy and self-improvement.
“Always be learning” is a self-improvement cliché that’s drummed into the head of every businessperson. But there are more concepts we can learn from Bruce Lee. He instructed, “Be water, my friend,” a saying based on the Tao concept called Wu Wei — alternately translated as “effortless doing” or “effortless action.”
Here’s Bruce’s full quote on the topic from a 1971 interview: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Put water into a cup, and it becomes the cup. Put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or creep or drip or crash. Be water my friend”.”
What does being like water mean for you as a businessperson?
Water is a master of self-improvement as it constantly morphs and changes when it encounters a new space. Although water is shapeless, it’s also powerful. Water wears away rock and alters the terrain through its movements. It can kill quickly, or save your life. You and I are made mostly of water, and humans will survive only two days without it.
Although formless, water takes on shape as conditions change. As it flows, it leaves an old space quickly to explore a new space and fill it. In spite of its continuous movement into new spaces, water remains the same inside even as it adapts outside.
Business success is about leaving old things behind, seeking out new spaces and filling them without hesitation. I think we need to be reminded from time to time of the power we possess when we embrace change and act like water.