Dealing with Change

Dealing with Change 1
Be Formless 


“Everything is at its acme; especially in the art of making one’s way in the world. There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.” – Baltasar Gracian 

Technological disruption has become the norm, and rules are changing every day, reinventing yourself has become compulsory. One might be a taxi driver, but now with companies like Uber and Lyft plying their trade, they might have had to change teams. 

There are countless examples of ‘creative destruction’, a term coined by Joseph Schumpeter, in our modern economy. Travel agencies have been replaced by online travel sites, traditional media (TV) is obsolete thanks to the internet (Youtube), and traditional bookstores such as Barnes and Noble have made way for tech giant, Amazon.


In martial arts, it is important that strategy be unfathomable, that form be concealed, and that movements be unexpected, so that preparedness against them be impossible. What enables a good general to win without fail is always having unfathomable wisdom and a modus operandi that leaves no tracks. Only the formless cannot be affected. Sages hide in unfathomability, so their feelings cannot be observed; they operate in formlessness, so their lines cannot be crossed. – THE BOOK OF THE HUAINAN MASTERS, CHINA, SECOND CENTURY B.C.

In war, armies that were able to adapt emerged victorious, whereas armies that did not update their technology fast enough were defeated. The need for change has become increasingly ubiquitous with time. Centuries ago, things moved more slowly, and armies could afford to have the same technology for many decades. Today, this is no longer the case. And this speed of change is independent of religion or nationality. Even militias are becoming much more sophisticated in their use of technology. 

Therefore the consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. Victory in war is not repetitious, but adapts its form endlessly…. A military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: The ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius. (Sun-tzu, fourth century B.C.)

If this trend continues, then the need for adaptation will increase. People will not only have to reinvent themselves, but will have to do so faster. In fact, unless we experience a major technological slowdown (unlikely), the greatest asset in the future will be the capacity to adapt quickly.


There are two seemingly conflicting ideas, mastery and formlessness. Is it better to keep your options open (formlessness), or is it better to become a master of a set of skills by devoting a lot of time towards it(mastery)? 

But they’re not really conflicting ideas. Think about writing. If you spend years writing, you will improve. You will become capable of writing better about anything. This is mastery. Being open to experimenting with different styles and ideas in your writing, and being open to use different tools and platforms to spread your ideas is formlessness.  

To be formless doesn’t mean: have no identity – although the name might suggest that. It means: have an adaptable identity. If you’re an athlete, become more adaptable as an athlete, don’t switch to accounting – just in case. Water does not lack an identity, it merely lacks shape. 

Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. – Bruce Lee 

You have to have an area of expertise. This is the foundation that you continue to build on. The future will require most professions that exist today, but the ones that will succeed the most are the ones that continually reinvent the game they’re playing. 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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