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The Bruce Lee Guide to IT Soft Skills

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Learning the soft skills you need to succeed in IT is easy. They are part of the same set of skills you need to succeed at life, many of which you will have mastered by now. They are people skills — and useful everywhere.

Well, almost everywhere. Soft skills won’t help you out in a fist fight with that annoying new coworker. But that’s OK, because they encompass everything you do to ensure you don’t end up in a fight in the first place.

Bruce Lee was a man who made a living out of beating people up, and yet much soft-skill wisdom can be found in his thoughts and writings on martial arts, one of the ultimate hard skills in life.

Read on for a collection of Bruce Lee-isms conveniently applied to soft skills in IT.

1. Teamwork

When we hold to the core, the opposite sides are the same if they are seen from the center of the moving circle.

Teamwork is a skill that places emphasis on two parts of one whole: yourself, and how you fit into a team. You are the core of teamwork, and the opposite sides of the moving circle surrounding you are your team members, each with their own core and circle.

Simply get along well enough with those on the edges of your circle, whether it’s with your assistant, your manager, or your coworkers, and you will find your core start to widen, giving more meaning to your place in your company or organization.

In essence: Relationship is the mirror in which you discover yourself – to be is to be related.

2. Communication

Truth has no path. Truth is living and, therefore, changing.

Information overload is an unrecognized disorder of the modern age. Just looking at the Wikipedia entry for Information overload gives you more information than you really need.  

In light of this “data smog” that permeates both work life and non-work life, basic communication skills (talking, listening, writing, reading, and even email) have become cherished communication tools, thanks to their simplicity.

Don’t feel that you have to limit your tools, though. An idea is an idea no matter how it is expressed, and when you’ve got a good idea, it’s your presentation that determines whether anyone cares. Making data or ideas look attractive and understandable with presentation software can be highly effective in influencing minds.  

In essence: Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself.

3. Problem Solving

Balance your thoughts with action.

We all have our own unique way of dealing with problems, but the only solution that is ever remembered is the one that gets implemented. Solving problems is about being proactive, which means taking initiative when needed.

If that initiative is a swift kick to a jammed printer to get it working again, so be it.

In essence: Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.

4. Planning

The timeless moment. The “moment” has no yesterday or tomorrow. It is not the result of thought and therefore has no time.

Planning is something anyone can do well. It’s a handy skill to be able project yourself and tasks into the future, although it’s wise not to let planning turn into procrastination.

You can always put things off for a more convenient time, but remember that the most convenient time is the timeless moment. Right now. Go do something!

In essence: Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.

5.  Negotiation

Using no way as way; Having no limitation as limitation.  

Having no limitations sounds like fun, but can also be a nightmare when it comes to negotiation – an important soft skill that translates into many situations. When presented with a new contract you don’t (or can’t) agree with, for example, you should be confident enough to say, “No way.” At least, politely.

In essence: Defeat is a state of mind. No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.

6. Passion

The happiness that is derived from excitement is like a brilliant fire — soon it will go out.

Starting a new job or contract is exciting. But that initial excitement will fade. Finding ways to keep yourself engaged and motivated once you’re in the flow of your work can become like a second job on top of your actual one.

If you’re not that big on smiling or being extroverted, there are many other ways to show your enthusiasm and positivity, like going that extra mile on a project your manager knows you didn’t enjoy.

In essence: Optimism is a faith that leads to success.

7.  Receiving Criticism

One should be in harmony with, not in opposition to, the strength and force of the opposition.

Having a tough time with a coworker or manager? Take Bruce Lee’s advice: Recognize the conflict, and at the same time, be cool with it. The worst you can do in a situation of conflict is to lose your cool.

In IT, as in life, sometimes you just have to be the board.

In essence: Boards don’t hit back.

8. Observation

Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning.

Be comfortable knowing that everyone is always learning. That’s life. What will distinguish you among your peers is what you do with what you have been given.

Practice your critical thinking alongside your observation skills by simply thinking before you speak.

In essence: The spirit of the individual is determined by his dominating thought habits.

9.  Adaptability

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. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee’s preferred style of fighting was ‘no style,’ as he believed that existing martial arts styles were too rigid to take to the streets. Instead, he saw opportunity in having no style as a way to master all styles.

Adaptability is a skill that you can’t really practice. You simply have to take things as they come. Be mindful of your habitual reactions, and keep an eye out for opportunities in disguise.

In essence: Do you know why this cup is useful? Because it is empty.

10.  Creativity

Instead of dedicating your life to actualize a concept of what you should be like, actualize yourself.

Creativity picks up where hard skills and knowledge leave off. Being able to articulate creative solutions to problems based on your unique experience is a skill that deserves to be nurtured.

In essence: There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

11. Self Improvement

Seek to understand the root. It is futile to argue as to which single leaf, which design of branch, or which attractive flower you like; when you understand the root, you understand all its blossoming.

To master soft skills, ask yourself which areas you need to improve. Only you can know this. Once you’ve identified your weak points, you can work on them with purpose and resolve, and truly start blossoming.

Be honest with yourself, and you’ll always get to where you want to be in your career.

In essence: Be happy, but never satisfied.

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