Business Lessons from Bruce Lee and the World Cup

World Cup

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Bruce Lee once said something so profound, it’s stayed with me ever since I first heard it:

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.

I recently stumbled upon these wise words again when I really needed them. I was in the middle of my business review, an exercise I do twice a year, and frowned when I looked at the numbers from the last couple months. 2014 started off with a bang, but the recently business hadn’t been great, to say the least. So, pragmatist that I am, what did I do about it?

First, I complained.

Then I complained some more.

After I was sick of complaining, I upgraded to blaming. Others, of course. But as I soon realized, complaining is not a business strategy.

The Truth Dawned on Me

According to Bruce Lee’s water metaphor, I became about as liquid as a frozen ice cube. The kind you’d need a flamethrower to melt. My business was stagnant because I couldn’t adapt to changes. I had become stale. I realized that:

  • My website was (and still is) un-responsive, which is a no-go in the mobile future.
  • I had stopped networking and connecting with people.
  • I had been focusing on offering the wrong illustration services to customers, ones that didn’t seem relevant anymore.

Thankfully, I’m on the road to changing these mistakes, because I want my rigid ice cube to morph back into liquid water again. And, as the World Cup is upon us again, I looked to the businesses in my neighborhood for inspiration.

Let Me Explain…

In Berlin, the World Cup is setting the streets on fire, literally. When the Dutch team defeated Spain, the orange fans unleashed a volley of firecrackers that turned the night into a very noisy day. This will be the new normal for the next month: locals and tourists alike will march through the streets, screaming their lungs out and consuming massive amounts of alcohol, all in honor of the World Cup. Kitchen staffs and livers will work overtime. Some teams will lose, but every business connected to tourism wins, especially if it can remain formless, like water. For example:

  • A corner shop in my neighborhood, normally known for selling cheap tools, now sells flags and German soccer merchandise. When the Dutch team won, the shop owners coincidentally displayed an unusual amount of Dutch flags. Go figure.
  • Bars entice people with outdoor seating opportunities and wide screens to watch the games. They even create country-specific cocktails.
  • Ice-cream and kebab vendors offer food in the colors of the German flag. One family restaurant has set up an extra World Cup-themed snack bar in a nearby park, serving up foods based on the teams playing that day.

I could go on, but the message is clear. The businesses that behave like water and adapt to the arrival of the World Cup make a Killing, with a capital K. I asked three of these businesses whether the World Cup had helped their business, and each told me they saw a revenue increase upwards of 500%.

On the other hand, the uptight businesses that refuse to accommodate the World Cup festivities — or worse, complain about them — lose out, big time. The funny thing is that many of these businesses may not care about the games themselves, or even the World Cup at all, but they know their customers do, and they adapt.

I take inspiration from this. I don’t have to like change, but I’d be a fool to ignore it.

So what happens when the World Cup is over? The ice-cube businesses will continue to complain. The fluid, water-like businesses will go back to business as usual, and will keep their eyes out for the next big event on the horizon.

My lessons

My walk through my neighborhood (and lack of clients) has taught me a couple valuable lessons:

  1. Complaining is not a business strategy.
  2. To stay rigid and unchanging, like an ice cube, is to ignore the changing forms of the business world. This will kill your career.
  3. Remaining flexible and fluid, like water, will allow you to adapt to anything you encounter, whether you like it or not.

So, in the words of the mighty Bruce Lee, “Be formless like water, my friend.”

Mars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at Original illustration by the author.

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