Form and Emptiness in Business Development

I never used to rehearse for my investment management pitches.  Mind you I never rehearsed for my wedding speech either nor some best-man’s speeches – I just winged it. I must have been crazy 🙂 … well either that or more testosterone back then lol.  Kind of “dangerous sports” mentality applied to everyday life. Except … I did do much better than the equities guys who rehearsed and rehearsed and were tutored and coached.

There can be many factors here but one of them is the very Taoist vibe of spontaneity and appropriateness to the moment:

Bruce Lee

“When one has reached maturity in the (martial) art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.”

When a baby is young it is physically soft and pliable … as we age we get more and more rigid, set, stuck, until when we are old we have very little flexibility.

Emptiness means many things in Asian traditions – Taoist emptiness is different from Northern Buddhist emptiness which is different from Southern Buddhist emptiness. Actually in this historical progression of a meme, a concept, is this baby, to man, to old man, increase in complexity yet rigidity.  Originally (the oldest documented reference being half a millennium BC) the Buddha used it in a simple way – as in eg a palace is empty of cows.  Fast forward to now and you can do whole PhDs on “emptiness”. Hmm.

Taken simply though we can take emptiness as structureless.  Kind of like putty which is formless but can be formed into anything. As per Mr Lee at one end we have ice – strong but rigid, brittle and inflexible.  At the other end water – structureless (at first glance anyway) but infinitely adaptable and responsive to the shape that is needed to be filled.

So back to my marketing/sales stories of the 80’s.  The equities guys rehearsed so much that no matter how good it was a very fixed form by the time they had “perfected” it.  But – just like the Key and the Lock they then had a very fixed form, a very fixed key.  Which may or may not work. Using a different analogy you can expect that a tango will be required, practice that, but turn up and find that it’s a waltz that will win the princesses hand.

These aspects apply to opportunity-situations, client-facing-situations. But for sure they aren’t something of the 1980s – the New Romantics may be consigned to history but 100 page Powerpoint presentations are not.  I would say sadly but the worse everyone else does something the easier it is to get a step ahead.

But what about structure in the BizDev processes?  Well again, like a baby, a NewCo will probably be quite formless.  In extremis if the NewCo is a one-man band then one person does everything.  This gives great flexibility but no structure – so it doesn’t deliver optimal or replicable results.  On a good day the audience roars with laughter, on a bad day they look at their watches and the bride cringes.

So what happens next? Well it gets more formalised. We get functions, departments, budgets .. and before you know it the whole thing is rigid (and with intra-company infighting).  This may deliver for a while – but hey the world moves on and – well one minute you are Microsoft the hottest kind on the block putting itself on every desk in the world, and the next you are old and slow and outcompeted.

What about you as a person – is your “personal BizDev” too formless or too structured?  What about your company’s – too formless or too rigid?


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