Be like water

Be like water

"Be like water” is a quote from Bruce Lee – the famous actor, martial artist and philosopher, who died in 1973.  There’s a fascinating idea behind and you can interpret it in multiple ways.  For me, “being like water” is all about adaptability and resilience.  

Water has no shape of its own.  So whatever the size or the shape of the box, it always fits.  It always adapts.  Water is not rigid.  It’s constantly changing its shape according to the situation it’s in.  If you stay rigid in your form – in your thinking, in your attitude, in your approach to business challenges – you will only fit into certain situations.  

Water will always adjust to its challenges, as opposed to fighting them.  If it’s freezing outside, it crystallizes into a big ice rock.  If you try to smash it, for instance, it will not be destroyed.  It will just disperse and take a new form.  You may try to pull it into pieces, but it will never be divided.  It you heat it to steam, it becomes invisible.  But it still has its power. So no matter the situation, the original components of the water remain the same. Only the arrangement of its particles is changing.

Leaders who work in a fast-changing environment should be like water: adjust and deal with things the way they come instead of always wishing they were different.  Have an open mind and learn from everything around you.  If you are thrown into a jungle, then learn from the jungle.  Think of the character ‘Robinson Crusoe’.  It’s based on a true story about the Scottish seaman Alexander Selkirk who survived 4 years, alone, on an isolated island about 700 km off the coast of Chili, at the beginning of the 18th century.   He had to learn from the island.  Leaders who are operating in a changing environment should do the same.  

When you feel like you are in a jungle, take notice of your surroundings.  Learn from the wildlife to survive.  See what they eat.  Check out where they obtain water from.  It’s all about going with the flow and adapting quickly.  In a fast changing business context, today you have plan A.  Next month, you may have plan B.  So yes, always have a good plan, but be prepared to let it go when a new situation arises.  The best plan is the one that lets you change your plans.  

So I repeat myself: be like water.  Be adaptable.  Pushing or trying to control an environment that is constantly changing will not be very effective.  It will make you lose too much energy.  It will make you dissatisfied.  And maybe unhappy – in your work and in your life.  Today it’s the perfect time for leaders to learn the lessons of evolution: the fact that success in a changing environment is for the ones who most adapt and who can outlearn the competition.   

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