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The Jeet Kune Do Approach in Business & the Lost Art of Execution

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About two years ago, a viral sensation in China shook the entire country’s traditional martial arts scene. Mixed martial arts practitioner Xu Xiaodong came in to face Tai Chi master Wei Lei in a basement. Multiple versions of what occurred have since surfaced. Still, the most widely believed story is that Xu challenged Wei Lei because the Tai Chi master had claimed to have all sorts of mythical Tai Chi techniques to beat any MMA fighter on a television program that was broadcasted throughout China.

When the two finally tested their skills, the fight was swift and brash. Xu pragmatically wore sports clothing and took up a standard boxing stance. In comparison, Wei Lei donned white cheongsam and traditional Kung Fu shoes. In a mere twenty seconds, Xu decisively threw the Tai Chi master down and pounded him to the ground. Xu, whose MMA training emphasised physical endurance and pressure testing, prevailed against Wei Lei’s supposedly unbeatable techniques. To this day, Xu Xiaodong still practices MMA and has yet to be beaten by Kung Fu masters who have challenged him.

Why do you think that is?

1. Engage employees from the beginning
Not Invented Here syndrome is a problem all leaders will experience whatever the industry. As humans, we are programmed to resist change. As intelligent human beings, we have a natural urge to be in control. If someone comes along and tries to tell us to do something new, we will resist, regardless of how obvious it may be that it is a good thing to do.

Entering any workplace (particularly as a new leader) and trying to tell experienced workers how they could do their job better will never go down well. To effect effective change, you must engage and make friends with all stakeholder’s whatever level they are in the organisation.

 For any system or process to succeed, it must be owned by the team that uses it. Engaging the workers and users to understand their current process and coaching them into discovering better ways themselves will produce a much more successful outcome. This can be achieved through a combination of coaching, brainstorming, away days (visit another business that has recently implemented change), role play, and prototypes. 

The effects of your improvements will affect the whole business. Make sure you empower the teams to become leaders and drive change throughout the business.
Never forget – bring a box of chocolates for the team on their go-live or rollout day. They will forever be on your team!

(What’s) Missing in Action
There is a problem in many disciplines (including business) that hampers productivity and often prevents optimal results. Too many strategies designed for success simply do not work. But why? Haven’t we forecasted everything? Haven’t we considered the smallest details and possible outcomes? If so, why are strategies not yielding the desired results?

Both in martial arts and business, the strategy isn’t the thing that works – you and your team are. Strategies exist in the realm of theory; they exist in a conceptual form that we often think we can control without disruption. But that’s just not true. We can’t control the external factors that will undoubtedly affect our strategies. This is why Wei Lei, the Tai Chi master, was quickly knocked down by Xu, despite all of his knowledge and understanding of Tai Chi techniques.

If you’ve ever trained or seen a Chinese Kung Fu movie or demonstration, you will notice that each style of Kung Fu involves numerous concepts and strategies that are sometimes believed to be invincible. Ba Gua (as practised by Jet Li) involves fighting in circular angles to avoid strikes; Wing Chun (popularised by Bruce Lee and Donnie Yen) uses close-quarter combat to limit the opponent’s range.
The rigid formation and strategy of martial arts ultimately create limitations. Martial artists will spend more time perfecting their ‘unbeatable’ strategies by practising forms instead of physical training or learning agility and adaptability.

So, what can we take from this?
We’re not suggesting that you get rid of your strategies. Strategies do matter! They are the guiding stars that bring our visions to reality. Strategies allow us to become more structured in our approaches. This is why watching a Kung Fu movie is aesthetically more pleasing than a real-life street brawl or an MMA match: movement flows, and each fight scene has a dance-like appeal, bringing rhythm and structure to an otherwise chaotic activity. And, of course, the fighter who has mastered his training is the one who wins.

But the real world doesn’t work like that; it can’t work like that. We all want a world where we can control all occurrences and outcomes, but in the age of business and digital disruptions, it’s not that simple. So, in this world, inflexibility and sticking to rigid concepts can be dangerous. Many people cling to old strategies and formulae that have worked once and refuse to adapt to the business landscape and markets that change unexpectedly. This often means that we can lose relevance as quickly as we gain it, which translates to us losing our customers as quickly as we acquired them.
Kodak is a famous example. The former photography giant’s refusal to adapt to the digitisation of photography, and their insistence on focusing on physical photographs and film, ultimately caused their demise.

The Jeet Kune Do Philosophy for Your Business
What made Bruce Lee great was his emphasis on effectiveness, adaptability and basing his concepts on real-world practices. His martial art – Jeet Kune Do (JKD) – applies a practical philosophy that transitioned well into the world of mixed martial arts. Jeet Kune Do is neither fixed nor patterned and suggests that the best way to express oneself is by having no limitations. It emphasises swift movement and flexibility (both physically and mentally) with this guiding principle: put the opponent down as fast as possible. That more straightforward strategy makes more room for adaptation in real-life pressure testing. This is an approach that can (and should) apply to business.

Adaptability and Agility Bring Advantage
‘No plan survives the first contact with the enemy.’ – Helmuth Von Moltke (Elder)
Most workplaces are transitioning to key performance indicators (KPI) as a measure of progress and achievement. Instead of mentioning ‘what to do’, change your KPI to reflect ‘what to achieve’ and let your team find unique ways to make it happen. This shifts the focus from strategy to execution and is a sure way to encourage adaptability.

Being adaptive and agile should never mean that your company frantically shifts focus at every change of circumstance. Instead, it allows you to modify your grand strategy to make provision for inevitable challenges and change.

Collaboration is Critical 
Disney is a great example of agility without losing the grand narrative. When Disney hit success in the 80’s to 90’s renaissance, they branched out to 3D animation in partnership with Pixar. Throughout the years, Pixar has elevated Disney’s animation studios with new releases of their original material.

If you think you have done it all and, with your current ideas, there is no opportunity for expansion, it might be time for a partnership. Find a business partner or outsource some work to find new and fresh perspectives, even if that was not part of your strategy. Through them, you can also find out what does not work in your strategy and discard it to make room for innovation.

Communicate it Well
Your company works as a team. While you are adapting to rapid change and making room for new collaborations, remember to communicate, and do it well. Many mistakes are really just miscommunications, so while your strategy is shifting and evolving, take care of the execution by making sure that everyone understands exactly how these changes affect them and the work they’re doing.
If you’re a top-level executive or in a managerial position, that title also means that your main job is to make sure that everyone in your team understands your vision and where it’s headed. Use multiple means of communication like messages, coordination meetings, or simply sharing updates on what happens on a managerial level with employees.

Make your grand narrative easy to understand, especially the goals you want to achieve, so that your team will not get lost in day-to day-tasks when they need to be shifting their focus.

Final thoughts
The moral of the story is, do not be the Tai Chi master who trusts his strategy so much that he is grossly unprepared for an MMA fighter. To succeed in business you must learn to adapt quickly, innovate, make strategic partnerships and always keep your team in the loop. That’s what execution is all about. And while strategy is important in achieving your business goals, it is really the execution that gets you there.
To learn more, join my program ‘From Paper to Profit’. I will guide you to make real progress with your business in just twenty days!

In my early days, I performed a lot of trial and error to discover the real-world things they don’t teach you in the classroom. With this knowledge, I have made 7 figure savings for the organisations I have worked with. So, here I am sharing my knowledge with you. Please take on board the above points to achieve your business improvement success and progress to the next level.