Smart management: How to absorb a business blow

Kung fu, a martial art form, was developed by the Shaolin monks who reside in the forests of China’s Shaoshi Mountain.

Kung fu is both powerful and poetic, borrowing many of its moving poses from insects and animals like the praying mantis and tiger. Shaolin warriors dance with graceful energy and their fighting can yield deadly consequences.

Effective leaders observe the many meaningful parallels between kung fu and business. Take these two main tenets, for instance:

  • Never fight: Perhaps counterintuitive, martial artists avoid fighting at all costs. They use their tested skills and mental discipline to disarm and conquer combatants without fighting, saving valuable energy to use in the next battle.
  • Redirect energy: When encountering force of any kind, martial artists don’t attempt to stop an attack. Rather, they redirect it and use their opponent’s energy against itself. The energy they encounter is then turned in their favor.  

Here’s an example:

An opponent throws a punch at the warrior’s face. Most people would naturally block the blow with their arm, absorbing the energy into their body. Kung fu masters, on the other hand, know this would result in absorbing the energy, causing pain to their arm or, worse yet, a broken bone.

Instead, martial artists skillfully pivot their body to avoid the blow and gently guide the opponent’s punching arm to pass by and fall to the ground. Consequently, Shaolin warriors use minimal energy to step aside and bypass their opponent. The opponent’s energy is not absorbed; it burns out. And, in some cases, the opponent returns with respect and awe, becoming an evangelical supporter.

For sure, master martial artists can easily win against an aggressor. But the best martial artists avoid all fights and turn their “enemies” into their friends.

A blow to your business

Effective leaders apply this technique whenever they encounter obstacles, using the least amount of energy possible. Learning how to deal with difficult market conditions or a negative client’s energy, for example, can yield your business tremendous results.

Inevitably, business blows can’t be eliminated. Challenging forces of all shapes and sizes are thrust upon us day in and day out. Your ability to predict, manage and respond to them, however, often defines your success. Whenever possible, you can turn these forces to your benefit.

Here’s one example of a dramatic business blow—the transformation of an entire industry:

Circa 1995, cellular phone technology emerged and changed the way we all communicate. It’s hard now to imagine a world without cellphones.

Savvy payphone industry businesses knew that cellular technology would be devastating to their survival. (Within a few short years, cellphones quickly decimated the entire industry.)

Skilled business leaders – like the highly trained Shaolin warriors – could see the force coming and knew they could not withstand the blow. They knew they would need to radically shift their business model to survive. In so doing, they identified their internal transferrable skill sets (skills that could be transferred to new profit centers like field sales, customer service and equipment repair) and redirected their energies into new business channels.

Many saw the “business blow” was coming. Rather than ignore it and take the punch head-on, they “danced” with these new forces to transform their business. Those that did survived; those that didn’t went down with the punch.

Anticipating the punch

Technology and market revolutions are happening constantly all around us. We can’t see all of them, and it takes real effort and sometimes brilliance to anticipate.

Effective leaders are always bypassing business blows and pivoting when necessary. They continuously seek counsel to improve their self-awareness and challenge themselves with confronting questions, such as:

  • Where are your most difficult business challenges coming from?
  • Can you predict your obstacles with enough time to respond, or do business blows always surprise you?
  • Are you forecasting market transitions?
  • Have you tested new marketing campaigns?
  • Are you continuously improving your organizational skill-sets such as strategic planning?

If you’re constantly shocked and unprepared for negative forces, perhaps it’s time to take a serious look at how you forecast and prepare for business challenges.

Successful leaders know not just how to defend against business blows, they are also able to predict, plan and redirect them for their own benefit.