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Phil Jackson gets tai chi for business

"Duh," you might say. 

That the "Zen Master" Phil Jackson intuitively gets the principles of tai chi for business I've been discussing may seem like a no brainer. He's the zen guy after all, the man that taught Jordan, Shaq and Kobe to meditate. The guy who zenned his way to a mind-blowing eleven NBA championships.

Nonetheless, I just read Coach Jackson's book, Eleven Rings, and was struck by how closely the stories he told reinforced some of the ideas I've been trying to convey.

Phil Jackson book

Focus. The power of living presently.

In my very first post on Tai Chi for Business, I talked about focus.

This is why we practice tai chi. In our practice, we don't focus on the movements we can't do. We focus on the ones we can. We do them over and over. We practice. We understand them more deeply and get better at them. We move toward mastery of them.

In his book, Phil talks a lot about how he encouraged his players to meditate. He chronicles the story of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was an amazing talent, but was all too concerned with the past, the future and distractions in the present. Was he better than Jordan? What would his legacy be? Were the Laker's "his team" or Shaq's team?

The result was that Kobe—and the Lakers—were not their best in those early years.

When coach Jackson joined the team in 1999, he began to introduce the team to meditation. He describes the benefit of it in terms of focus. By learning to focus on the moment through meditating, Kobe ultimately gained the ability to eliminate those distractions. While the Lakers managed to muscle out 3 titles between 2005 and 2007 with both Shaq and Kobe on board, Phil Jackson describes the team and the Kobe that won the second set of 2 titles in 2009 and 2019 as far superior. And it was focus that was the difference.

Kobe Bryant

Think about yourself for a minute at work. Think of all the distractions that prevent you from getting in your zone and doing your very best work. The Facebook posts you check. The stress about outcomes you endure. The politics you play.

Now imagine if you could train yourself to eliminate all that crap. Would you do better work? I would.

You can. But it takes practice to develop focus.

He who listens best wins.

In my last post on Tai Chi for Business, I talked about listening.

Being in an agency filled with what I perceive to be a group of brilliant and passionate people, I am sometimes taken aback by the challenge of getting them all to consistently row in the same direction. I was comforted when I imagined the challenge of replacing those people with Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan or with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. 

How did Coach Jackson consistently manage all of these great talents and great egos to perform their very best and become more than great individuals, but great teams? He listened. 

Jackson describes how he managed each and every starting player on those amazing teams. And every one was different. Some he pushed. Some he cajoled. Some he provoked. Some he ignored. 

In tai chi, we engage our opponents in the same way. Rather than force, we listen. We use empty force. If we listen well, we can hear or feel where our opponent wants to go. We let them go there and use their own energy to simply guide them in the direction we want them to go. 

If you're engaged in martial arts against an opponent that direction is into the floor or your fist or your knee. If you're managing a basketball team that direction is into the basket.

Each member of your team will get there a different way—wherever "there" may be for you. How will you as a leader or a manager know the way so you can help guide them there?

By listening.

This is why we practice tai chi.

In our practice, we don't focus on the movements we can't do. We focus on the ones we can. We do them over and over. We practice. We understand them more deeply and get better at them. We move toward mastery of them.

Adam Kleinberg

Traction CEO

Adam Kleinberg CEO

Adam is the CEO of Traction, an interactive agency broadly recognized as one of the top small agencies in the US. Kleinberg plays a hands-on role for all agency accounts and keeps his team at the leading edge of emerging digital channels. He is also a regular contributor to Ad Age, Forbes, Mashable, Digiday and iMediaConnection.