There has never been a pop culture icon who transcended his realm more than Bruce Lee. Ask any member of any generation and 10 out of 10 times, they will know who Bruce Lee is.
In fact, there is no doubt that had Bruce Lee lived, he would have been the most successful figure in the world by constantly re-inventing himself to remain relevant and current regardless of time and place.
Lee was a visionary—an anomaly who lived in a world that was not ready to accept his views not just on martial arts but on life in general. Society put up barriers, and Lee did not hesitate to side-kick them down to fulfill his dreams.
Lee put his philosophies down in a masterful treatise called The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Its content remains relevant in this day and age, not just for martial artists but for its significance on life.
In fact, several of Bruce Lee’s philosophies have been dissected and implemented in other institutions including business. A review of some of Lee’s philosophies shows its relevance in building a foundation for successful entrepreneurship.
1. “Don’t fear failure; in great attempts it is even glorious to fail.”
Bruce Lee set a goal that he would propagate the culture and history of China and its martial arts through his teachings and later on through his movies.
However, it was a difficult time for Lee because his views ran contrary to what was acceptable in society.
The Western world was not ready to accept an Asian as a crossover star, while the Chinese did not share his view of teaching their fighting techniques outside their own culture.
Lee was part Chinese and part American yet he could not find acceptance in either culture. However, he persevered and charted his own course to his destiny!
Based on the stories written about Lee, nothing hurt him more than losing the role of “Kwai Chang Caine” in the hit TV show, Kung Fu to an American, David Carradine.
Kung Fu was Lee’s brainchild and his vehicle to showcase the fighting style and philosophy of “Jeet Kune Do,” which is an approach that encourages a free-flowing form of combat.
Distraught by his lack of success in his adopted country, but definitely not discouraged, Lee flew back to Hong Kong and mapped a new road to fulfill his dreams.
Lee began his resurgence through a string of low-budgeted but highly successful action movies, which featured fight choreography that has never been seen before on the silver screen.
Lee’s triumph in Hong Kong has set the stage for his return to America and the production of his biggest and most successful movie, Enter the Dragon.
Entrepreneurs face challenges every single day because we are accountable for all the decisions that we make.
Every decision will not always be the right one; the element of risk and failure lurks in every corner much like the arch villain Han did in the hall of mirrors during the climactic final battle with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Since failure is a reality of entrepreneurship, we should accept and embrace it not as an enemy but as a teacher. Through failure, we learn to accept human frailty and realize that the journey to entrepreneurial success is not a straight line but one that is fraught with challenges and obstacles at every turn and at every level.
Failure is not meant to destroy us, but it strengthens us by revealing our weaknesses. The ones who can succeed are those who have found the way to overcome these obstacles by working on their strengths while improving their weaknesses.
This is an analogy that Lee could have alluded to in Game of Death where the challenges set at “The Pagoda” culminated in the final stage, “The Realm of the Unknown.”
2. “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.”
Bruce Lee was a man who continually wanted to test his physical and mental limits. Videos of the 135-pound Lee kicking a 400-pound heavy bag with such force that it hit the ceiling of his gym, knocking a seasoned martial artist across the room with his “one-Inch punch,” and easily dismantling the finest black belters in various disciplines with his own fighting techniques were proof of his drive to be the best.
Unless you put yourself to the test and face and conquer challenges, you will never know how good you are as a martial artist.
The same can be said as an entrepreneur.
The world has changed since the end of the Cold War. Barriers were torn down, regimes were dismantled, and technology allowed businesses to discover horizons that have never been explored for the purpose of commerce.
The world has truly become a global economy. The new millennium was ushered in by events that transformed the world: 9/11, the Iraq Invasion of 2003, the crash of the equities markets in 2008, the Euro Zone crisis in 2009, the second millennial recession of 2014, and the continued conflicts in Eastern Asia and the Middle East.
These events have defined the world as the Army College referred to as a VUCA environment: volatile, unpredictable, chaotic, and ambiguous. Transformation brings forth turbulence and a great deal of uncertainty.
As an entrepreneur in light of growing turmoil, should you run away, hide, and wait for the coast to clear? No, because VUCA is not a temporary condition. This is how the business environment shall be from here up to end.
This is the New Economy. When faced with turbulence, your options are to fight, flight, or freeze. What will you do? What would Bruce Lee do?
When faced with turbulence, you should not run away from it. Instead, you should run to it at full speed, welcoming the choppy oceans, the inclement weather, or the treacherous pathways because from turbulence springs forth opportunities.
Only those with the courage to face their own fears will find these opportunities.
3. “Be like water my friend!”
Bruce Lee was adamant of his belief that traditional martial arts such as Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Judo were restricted by having too many rules, forms, and structures. Lee felt that these only served to constrict and limit one’s ability to react accordingly in combat.
In his teachings, Lee alluded to the quality of water to fill any container, crack, or vessel effortlessly regardless of size, shape, and depth.
You can punch and kick water but you will not be able to stop it from fulfilling its destination.
Lee theorized that to be successful in fighting, your mind and body should have the ability to flow and adapt to any situation. You should not be restricted by forms and should have the ability to react at whatever comes your way.
In business, given the reality of VUCA, entrepreneurs should acknowledge that the “Perfect Plan” no longer exists.
In the Old Economy, when barriers were raised and lines were drawn, businesses thrived in a highly structured economy. Companies hired managers, and professionals who could draw up “The Perfect Plan” were all the pieces that would fall into place.
However, in a VUCA environment in the New Economy, predictability has become extinct. Businesses and entrepreneurs should shift their focus away from strategy and toward implementation.
There should be less rigidity and structure in strategy and more flexibility and mobility. In fact, large corporations envy small businesses because of their ability to adapt to changes readily.
Large corporations are highly structured and governed by so many processes and work flows. Small businesses have simpler, more free-flowing structure.
Is it any wonder then that a giant like Facebook still prefers to refer to its company as a start-up?
Businesses should also shift their focus away from tools and technology and more toward people. Despite the advances in technology, the catalyst for change cannot be found in tools and processes but in people.
It is people who can adapt to change not machines. People can be like water, whereas machines, with its rigidity, automation, and mechanized processes, cannot.
If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur in the New Economy, you must focus on adaptation. Be like water my friend!
4. “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once; but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Bruce Lee was legendary for his dedication to training and perfecting his skills as a martial artist. He would study and train with some of the best martial artists of his time but applied only what was useful for his specific fighting system.
Corollary to this was his most famous quote that has been attributed as the underlying principle behind Jeet Kune Do, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not and add what is uniquely your own.”
Lee advocated efficiency in his teachings.
Why would you spend countless hours trying to perfect a technique that has no place within your scope of capabilities or use in your system?
In business, efficiency is a much sought after quality. We live in a world where technology has made it possible to do more things when the element of time itself cannot be changed.
However, does doing more equate to greater productivity?
Entrepreneurs are risk takers by nature and want to be involved in every facet in the business. This single-minded effort to have absolute control has created issues in efficient time management and inevitably hinders greater productivity.
Success in business not only is due to technical and fundamental factors but also hinges on a third equally important component: time.
Regardless of the efficiency technology brings to our lives, each day will still have only 24 hours. How one allocates his time determines the extent of his productivity.
Now, what if an entrepreneur allocates a greater amount of his time managing nonessential tasks because these have accumulated after weeks of neglect? Who manages the tasks that require his core competencies?
One of the biggest mistakes of entrepreneurs is spreading themselves too thinly between activities.
Once business scales up or an activity shows signs of improvement, the entrepreneur should not hesitate to outsource nonessential tasks.
A virtual assistant has evolved since the days of the online secretary and personal assistant. The modern virtual assistant has specialized skills for administrative work, back office responsibilities, and social media.
By distributing workload to people with greater competencies in these specific areas, the entrepreneur can improve efficiency and focus his time on matters that merit his expertise.
5. “If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will into work and into your life. There are no limits only plateaus; and you must not stay there. You must go beyond them.”
Even though Bruce Lee was only 5’7” and 135 pounds, his feats of strength remain remarkable even when compared with the athletes and martial artists of today. Lee lifted weight at a time when the so-called experts said hoisting barbells and dumbbells would make you slow and “muscle bound.”
Reports claimed and photos of Lee’s workout journal showed he was capable of lifting prodigious weights. However, the most amazing aspect of Bruce Lee’s physical development was not the weights he lifted but the things he could do with his body.
Lee has been documented doing one-finger pushups, one-arm chin-ups, and his feats of speed, which were too fast for a 24fps film to capture!
Lee was known for his tireless work ethic and quest for perfection because he did not want to accept his limitations. Even though he weighed only 135 pounds, his body was sculpted and molded into a lethal fighting machine.
Lee felt that every body part must be capable of being used as a weapon. There were claims that Lee would puncture holes on aluminum cans with his fingertips. His speed and conditioning programs are still being referenced by modern-day sports performance coaches.
Entrepreneurs are likewise constrained by feelings of inadequacy, namely, fears of being overwhelmed by larger corporations or lack of skill or competencies in several areas of business.
This is why we often find ourselves staring at the phone instead of making the call.
Or why we choose to have that extra cup of coffee instead of sending the business proposal to a prospective client.
Or why we opted to remain quiet instead of sharing our idea with the boss.
And as we hesitated, fidgeted, and procrastinated, someone else has closed the deal on the phone, a competitor has been awarded a contract to be the new service provider, and an associate has just been promoted for his idea on how to cut operating costs.
Behavioral theorists refer to this condition as “The Glass Ceiling”.
We can’t see it but we know it exists and it sets limits to what we are capable of doing. This Glass Ceiling is a product of our own fears, namely, our self-limiting beliefs that overwhelms reasoning and common sense.
We give in to it because it is the easy way out, that is, a temporary reprieve from dealing with the possible consequences of failure, a ready excuse that only serves to highlight our lack of self-worth and confidence.
As entrepreneurs, we have to condition ourselves to move past our Glass Ceiling. We can do these through improved knowledge, increasing our personal bandwidth, experience, and accepting our inherent strengths and weaknesses.
We need to face our own fears and overcome these self-limiting beliefs. Think of the worst thing that can happen if you made that phone call and pitched your proposal to the client.
The worst thing would be rejection.
Now, think of the worst thing that can happen if you didn’t make that phone call and a competitor did?
Not only you lost the account but also your hesitation rewarded your competition. Here’s the one-inch punch to reality: What if you made that phone call and got awarded the contract?
Corollary to this saying is another one of Lee’s sayings, “Never waste energy on worries and negative thoughts; all problems are brought into existence, drop them.”
Ultimately, it would be our conviction, belief in self, and the realization that beyond the Glass Ceiling lies a better future that would allow us to move closer to our goals.
Forty-two years after his death, Bruce Lee continues to inspire generations and lend his mark on an ever-evolving landscape.
One of the world’s largest fight promotions, the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC, attributed its origins and success to Bruce Lee and his philosophy on martial arts.
His presence continues to be felt on popular video games such as “Tekken” and “Mortal Kombat.” Major companies like Johnnie Walker and BMW have used Bruce Lee in their commercials.
I was not born yet when Bruce Lee died. I could not yet fathom the magnitude of his death. It was in the years after that I was born and grew to understand the man behind the myth and realize why Lee’s death was as enigmatic as his life.
Bruce Lee viewed life from a different lens that no one at the time understood. He dared to be different and, as in combat, prepared his body, mind, and spirit to face all challenges.
As entrepreneurs, we dare to be different.
How many people do you know are stuck in dead-end jobs and often speak about building a business but never do?
Their life becomes a never-ending cycle of frustration and imagination—rinse and repeat but nothing much else.
These people never pursue their dreams because they are afraid of “The Realm of the Unknown.” They fear the idea of failure; therefore, they will not venture past their comfort zone.
Statistically, the numbers are against the entrepreneur who starts his own business. Less than 50% of small business owners are still operational after five years. Prior to that, the challenges and difficulties of planning and launching a business can be very daunting especially in landing that all-important first client.
However, the entrepreneurs who eventually succeeded were those who persevered through these difficult times.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]