8 Unconventional Business Lessons From Bruce Lee

Sometime, inspiration and opportunities to learn can come from the most unlikely sources, that could teach you powerful lessons. Linked in is replete with learning from the lives of business leaders and successful business professionals. However, people who are very successful in other walks of life can offer you insights that transcend their sphere and domain and apply to business as much as it does to their own domain.

One such person is Bruce Lee, also called the ‘King of Kung Fu’. An extraordinary martial art exponent, who lived his life, albeit short, in the pursuit of excellence and died at a very young age of 32. Considered one of the most influential martial art exponents of all times, he dominated the sport and brought it to Hollywood. Author of several books and a graduate from the University of Washington, His movie- ‘Enter the Dragon’ went on to become a major box office hit.

Here is a set of Bruce Lee quotes that have extraordinary relevance to the business world.

1. Branding

“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.” Bruce Lee

When you add what is uniquely your own, powerful things start to happen. In the world of business, branding is everything.  Apple reigned as the most valuable company in the world until Google’s parent company Alphabet, upstaged it recently.

Iconic business leaders are a brand unto themselves. When you want to do things on a big scale it helps to have your reputation and credentials precede you. So building your own unique brand, something that people know you for, is your prerogative for professional growth.

It’s not about blindly adopting patterns and practices. It’s about taking the best of the best and tailoring it. Lee borrowed concepts and techniques from everybody and every other martial art in a relentless pursuit of perfection.

2.Laser Like Focus On Goals

Lee knew what he was saying. He lived in the world of martial arts where there is often, no time to think and very little margin for error.

Stephen Covey in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ said- ‘Begin with the end in mind’.

Many of us who work in corporates are familiar with appraisals but how many of us actually plan and track what we need to do on a daily basis to achieve the goals that we have committed to?  At the end of the year when we sit down to write our self-appraisal, some of us struggle to figure out what to write, either because we haven’t accomplished all that we had targeted or because we did not keep track of our accomplishments fully.

3.The Power Of An Open Mind

“Empty your cup, so that it may be filled.”  Bruce Lee

To learn anything rapidly and to master it, you first need to accept that there is a lot that you don’t know. In the technology industry as in many others, the pace of change is very rapid and if you don’t keep pace with it, you are soon out of business. I have encountered several people who by virtue of their position, believed that they had nothing more to learn. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bruce Lee at the peak of his career came up with something called the ‘One-inch punch’, where he would stand with his fist just one inch away from his opponent and punch. The impact was so powerful that his opponent would be thrown in the air.  In the movies that he starred, his hand movement were so fast that sometimes the film had to be run at slow motion to show it. Highly successful, he had a string of achievements.

Yet, his quest for knowledge and learning, remained unabated until the very end of his life.

It really boils down to making the most of what you’ve got, including your mind and body, pushing past your limits and following a path of continuous learning and growth.

4.The Power To Push Limits

Bruce Lee was a no-limits person who embodied the never-say-die, spirit. In the world of martial arts where brutal training is the norm and pain and injuries are constant companions, he pushed himself to his limits at every available opportunity.

It’s amazing how many of us give up on what is very dear to us when we encounter a small failure or setback. Business leaders who have made it big, have gone through countless failures and disappointments before they made it to where we look up to them.

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic, wrote in his autobiography of the decision to start an airline:

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them … from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”

I learnt the lesson of going past my limit, early. When I was in college, I started learning Karate. On one occasion, I was asked by my coach to fight an opponent who had come from Singapore. Blissfully unaware, that he was far more experienced than me, I agreed to fight.

Within barely two minutes, my opponent broke my knuckle. I was in pain, unable to use my hand to defend myself, while he continued to beat the daylights out of me. Desperate, I tried to signal the coach to stop the fight but he let the fight continue fully.

When it finished I burst out at my coach-“Why didn’t you stop the fight? Couldn’t you see I had broken my hand?”

He responded saying- “If this was a street fight and you were injured would you have been able to stop the fight?  If you want to learn, you have to be prepared to go all the way.”  My coach taught me a powerful lesson that day.

5. Power Of Possibility

In 1967, Lee took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in scenarios of chaotic street fighting. He decided to develop a system with an emphasis on “practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency”. This new form of martial art later came to be known as Jeet Kune Do

Some of us like to stay in our comfort zone where we feel we are in control of our lives. But, people who excel at what they do, don’t just stay in their comfort zone.  Getting into the habit of routinely going out of your comfort zone could prepare you for bigger challenges where you may need to thrive in uncertainty.

6. Being True To Yourself

Some of the most successful people I had the privilege of knowing had one thing in common- they enjoyed the work that they did. And, when it came to their work, they did what was called for, regardless of whether people would approve their actions or not.

Sometimes we live in the shadow of other people’s expectations. It could be your boss or someone in your family. When that happens, instead of giving more credence to what we know is the best for us, we sometimes embark on a different path just to live up to someone else’s expectations.

Interestingly, Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified five categories of basic needs common to all people. Maslow represented these needs as a hierarchy in the shape of a pyramid.

At the top of the pyramid is the need for self-actualization, which is a person’s desire to become everything he or she is capable of becoming—to realize and use his or her full potential, capacities, and talents. It is rarely met completely; Maslow estimated that less than 1% of adults achieve total self-actualization.

If you are not true to yourself you set in motion too much frustration and conflict within yourself, even if you are doing something else, well.

7. Value Time

They say that a cat has nine lives, but we all have just one life and one career to go with it.  That makes time, the most precious of all resources. We all have the same 24 hours every day but how many days and years any person has to live, is never known.

We are not able to measure its potential because sometime only one moment is enough to win whereas at times, it takes whole life to win.

While I was working with TCS, I had a colleague who would work feverishly and achieve his annual target in the first half of the year itself and then use the second half to work on proactive deals without any pressure and take on multiple trainings to deepen his skills.  By the time the next year started he was well on his way to meeting all his targets in the shortest possible time, again.

But, how many of us work this way?

8. Live Life To The Fullest

We sometime complain about our lives and the effort that we are putting in.  But, how many of us live the way Bruce Lee did, putting in phenomenal efforts to excel not just in martial arts but also as an author, an actor and a teacher, to leave behind an enduring legacy?


About the Author

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience across 24 countries.