11/02/2015 8:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Build Your Own Path, Break Down Frameworks

La silueta de Bruce Lee en el Paseo de la Fama en Tsim Sha Tsui, con la isla de Hong Kong al fondo.
La silueta de Bruce Lee en el Paseo de la Fama en Tsim Sha Tsui, con la isla de Hong Kong al fondo.

In recent times, I have developed a fascination for philosophy and its approach to solving problems from business to parenting to relationships. One thing that is common across problem-solving in most other fields is the use of frameworks. As an MBA student, I was taught various frameworks, ranging from the 4Ps to the Balanced Scorecard to 5 Forces. This continued when I was a consultant and used Disruptive Innovation, BCG Matrix or whatever the framework du jour was. I loved frameworks at that time because they helped to quickly size up a situation and come up with a model that helped everyone to understand my approach to framing and solving a problem.

Yet, I started to get a sense that perhaps frameworks weren't so perfect after all. For all their uses, they are generally a synthesis created by someone studying a problem in a particular context. While such a synthesis is explicit knowledge which can be adapted to some extent in other contexts, it doesn't tell us anything about the "tacit knowledge" that went behind creating it. This includes moods, contexts, combinations of ideas and interpretations to name a few. I realised that relying on frameworks was affecting my ability to go to the root of a problem and to come up with my own structure to solve it.

The famous spiritual teacher J Krishnamurti had summed it up beautifully long ago saying, "Truth is a pathless land." If we want to pursue the truth around anything, we cannot follow someone else's path. This holds true for individuals as well as organisations searching for the solution to a problem.

Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist and film actor, suffered a big injury in his lower back in August 1970 as a result of an improper warm-up while lifting weights. He was at the peak of his prowess during that time. The injury forced him to be bedridden for six months and doctors feared that he may never be able to kick again. All through his life, Bruce Lee was pursuing different styles of martial arts - he had a fascination for gung fu (kungfu) and was working hard to create the perfect martial art form Jeet Kune Do when he was struck by this injury. Bruce Lee studied philosophy in college and during this time, he was reading lot of books related to philosophy and psychology. He was especially inspired by J Krishnamurti's works and was influenced by a powerful insight from JK - truth cannot be organised or confined. It needs to be invalidated to make it valid.

Armed with this insight, Lee began to battle back and to everyone's surprise, he came back stronger than before. He realised that there is no help greater than self-help and even rejected defining his own Jeet Kune Do. According to him, the ultimate truth doesn't reside in styles or techniques because these constrain self-expression. He dismissed all styles and famously advocated for "no way as the way."

I experienced such a feeling recently when I was writing a blog about my own MBA experience. The platform where I wrote suggests to its writers that blogs should be made crisp and concise to better hold the interest of readers. I wanted to challenge this assumption. I asked myself if I could indeed not engage people with a long piece. How do they know that the short form is the best form? I wanted to express myself totally and completely. I ended up writing probably one of the longest posts ever, but it was among the best received pieces I have ever written. I got countless messages, "likes", appreciations and only two or three people told me that the blog was too long. While I do not say that they were wrong, I am glad I wrote in a way that came naturally to me. Had I been worried about how to communicate crisply, I would have got lost in the style. My true self-expression would have been suppressed. I am glad that I didn't follow any style.

One of the things that I have been trying to learn for a long long time is meditation. After I moved out of my hometown for work, I lived in several cities. I went to several centres that taught meditation techniques. Each centre has a framework - kundalini technique, sahaja yoga technique, ashtanga yoga technique etc. Each technique had one approach - focus on the breath, focus on the sensations, focus on the chakras and so on. I never understood why I had to focus on any one thing and I was not able to follow them.

The one common answer I got when I asked "What is meditation" was that it helps to reduce stress, it improves focus and it improves concentration. These are answers to a different question: "What are the outcomes of meditation?" Since they did not tell me what meditation is, I decided to find out by myself and dismissed all these techniques.

More recently, I have been getting closer to an understanding of meditation and I am near defining it for myself. It is a process of trial and error without blindly following some framework. I am figuring out a structure that is working for me and this structure came after dismissing several structures/frameworks/techniques. It has taken a long time, but when I do learn it, it will be a much deeper and much richer understanding than any of the frameworks that are in existence. Again, it may be good for me but may not work for others.

Every path has an end and if we want to go further, we need to create our own road. Also, the road changes from context to context. It is important to travel on some roads but for pursuing truth about something, it is better to pave our own road since truth is a pathless land. No way as the way!