The Importance of the Intangible

“The intangible represents the real power of the universe. It is the seed of the tangible” -Bruce Lee

What is the intangible? It is what we can’t touch or measure. (The word “tangible” comes from the Latin word, “tangere,” to touch). And yet I believe that the intangibles in relationships, including business relationships, matter more than we think. They are, as Bruce Lee put it, the “real power” behind so many things we can measure in business: deliverables, outcomes, clients, conversion rates, the endurance of an organization over time. 

Think about when you walk into a room for a meeting and the feeling is low, or combative. What are you primed to do by that mood? Which great ideas won’t surface under those conditions? Which employees will work less enthusiastically?

Then think of walking into a job where your supervisor says hello to you with warmth, and you both have a brief but positive conversation about what each of you is working on that day. As you listen to her enthusiasm for her work, and sense her open spirit, you feel inspired to pursue your own projects that day with extra energy, and perhaps you even come up with a new idea that you’ll bring to a meeting that afternoon. Weeks or even months later that idea has sparked others, leading to positive results. It’s likely that these results will never been traced back to that one encounter, that one morning, when the conversation was warm and open and both people left it feeling a sense of optimism about that day.

We can all think of our own examples of this ripple effect in our lives. Sometimes the spirit in the room or the spirit in another person just gives us the courage to get through another challenging day with our energy intact, and sometimes it takes us even further, to a brilliant idea or a spirit of encouragement that lifts someone else to new heights, leading individuals to work hard and share their best out of sense of common purpose. 

It may seem that these intangibles are fleeting, but they are, as Lee said, the “seeds” of something much bigger.

If you want results you can measure, take the time to cultivate and sow intangibles such as warmth, connection, delight, and energy, and never doubt that they will bear fruit. 


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