Water: Bruce Lee’s Biomimicry
On the Alchemus Prime website, we have a note about how we serve clients:
We help our clients become more like water: accepting, adapting to, and flowing with change in ways that maintain and strengthen their integrity while wearing away even the largest barriers.
This note stems from our deep foundations in biomimicry, the art of emulating nature’s design and principles. Water is a beautiful example of how nature can teach us to live and function. Here’s how I see it: water changes its form without changing its identity: vapor and ice are forms of water and can return to liquid form when circumstances change. Water is soft and flowing, but can wear away the hardest rocks over time. Water surrenders to pressure, gravity, temperature, and other impacts. Its strength lies in accepting change, not fighting against it. As someone who works to understand and leverage behavior change, this is a truly quintessential example for me to work towards, both personally and professionally.
The Tao philosophy teaches a similar perspective. My favorite translation of Tao Te Ching is by Stephen Mitchell; his version of the chapter on water states:
Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.
Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow,
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.
True words seem paradoxical.
As it turns out, the late martial artist, instructor, actor, director, and legend Bruce Lee also thought deeply about water as a teacher for his life and actions. He embraced the Tao philosophy, and spoke eloquently about his deep epiphanies inspired by water:
After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.
He goes on:
Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.
Part of that last line bears repeating: “…I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.” I would extend this to say that flowing with our own nature (what we call the true self), is ALSO going with Mother Nature, because we are part of nature and she is part of us. I explore this concept of oneness in Chapter 2 of Earth Champions, my most recent book.
A business-oriented translation of the same Tao Te Ching chapter on water speaks volumes about how we can hone our behavior through the Alchemus Prime Diamond Model, which integrates behavioral science, design thinking, biomimicry, and meditation:
- The highest good is like water.
- Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
- It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
- In dwelling, be close to the land.
- In meditation, go deep in the heart.
- In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
- In speech, be true.
- In ruling, be just.
- In business, be competent.
- In action, watch the timing.
- No fight: No blame.
We are crafting business initiatives that are in harmony with nature. It’s affirming to see the resonance between our approach, Bruce Lee’s magic, and the Tao philosophy. It gives me hope that we are converging on what works personally and professionally: embracing and leveraging change to achieve our goals in concert with our own nature and Mother Nature.
The examples of water and Bruce Lee’s mastery show us how we can achieve this powerful yin-yang balance between softness and power. As I’ve said before, vulnerability is a strength. I’m not saying embracing change is easy, but it’s a practice worth adopting and maintaining with humility and perseverance as we consciously evolve into resilient leaders in a constantly changing world.