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April 26, 2007

Return of the Dragon

April’s Fast Company had a great article Less Hulk, More Bruce Lee which profiled the design firm JDK, starting with an anecdote about how they won the Microsoft Xbox account. 

"Our approach was to transition Xbox from this hulk of escaping power into this quiet power that is lurking, something still incredibly dangerous but with more of an elegance and grace."

That got me thinking. In a hyperactively evolving marketing/ad environment like today’s, maybe we could all use a little less Hulk, a little more Bruce Lee. This is not a cry for bare-knuckled board smashing and flying roundhouse kicks around the conference room table - though that would be a fantastic way to enliven a meeting. It’s simply a call to approach business –hell, maybe life itself -- a different way.

Let’s start with simple structure. Everyone says bigger isn’t necessarily better, but how many people still seek out the security of a big company when it comes to choosing who to do business with? I wonder how many times my own company has lost clients to the notion that small companies can’t handle big accounts. 

Well, to them I say this: Bruce Lee was 5’7”. If you’ve got the chops, you’ve got the chops. And I know we have that. What we don’t have is a lot of padding. But the thing with padding is that sometimes it slows you down more than it cushions you.   

Another thing. If you’ve got the chops, who cares where they come from? Bruce (in my head, he lets me call him Bruce) famously challenged the strict adherence to tradition practiced by other martial arts schools. He dubbed it “organized despair” and even had a miniature tombstone in his office carved with the epitaph:

In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess.

In business, you’re just as doomed if you lash yourself too tightly to the established foundation. Best practices. What worked before. It doesn’t just become obsolete. It disappears. Bit by bit every day, and now, faster than ever. And if you don’t find some new ground to stand on you’re screwed.

Of course, the problem with new ground is that it has no name and some people are scared to death of it. For instance, my company is not an advertising agency. But we are tempted to call ourselves one because we do provide those services and it is a name that people (i.e. potential clients) understand. They don’t understand the notion of a collective. They can’t embrace a partnership of independent parties that can marshal whatever forces it needs to get the job done. The foreignness scares them. Even if it that’s what makes us better.

I dream of the day that we can sell ourselves on the fact that we operate like a good jeet kune do fighter:

He has not technique. He makes his opponent’s techniques his technique. He has no design. He makes opportunity his design.

When we can emblazon our website and collateral with a part zen, part kickass motto like:

The way of no way. To have no limitation as limitation.

When we can all be a little more Bruce Lee.


(For a great introduction/overview of Lee’s philosophies, check out The Warrior Within)   


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