Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Water the Bamboo

Water the Bamboo is a metaphor for success,” writes Greg Bell, a former lawyer, now a “speaker, trainer and facilitator” who works with companies and organizations to improve communication and relationships.

The bamboo analogy is based on the idea that giant timber bamboo takes three years of nurturing without any sign of growth before it peeps out of the ground, but once it starts, it grows to incredible heights in only 90 days.  Bell ties his “21 Strategies for Extraordinary Results in Your Profession or Team” to this central theme of bamboo farming in order to show that “overnight success” really takes years of focus and effort to achieve.  Bell does a good job of using the bamboo metaphor with a light but consistent hand – neither straining nor muddying it.

Given the premise, it is no surprise that Water the Bamboo is not a quick-fix, self-help book. Like the best of its genre, it emphasizes values, integrity, and long-term diligence over slick tricks and fancy packaging. Bell’s “strategies” include working from core values, setting effective goals, tending relationships, and developing self-discipline. Seven Habits enthusiasts will appreciate much of Bell’s approach.

Bell goes beyond outlining the concepts by suggesting practical exercises to implement his strategies. He recommends keeping a journal in conjunction with reading the book, and using the journal to complete the exercises in each chapter. Other hands-on suggestions include forming a “Bamboo Circle” – “a group that meets on a regular basis who listens and brainstorms solutions and strategies, and generally supports and helps each other be accountable.”

Bell’s enthusiasm and good will shine through in his upbeat writing style. No dense passages of leaden prose slow the quick tempo of the book. If anything, it moves a little too fast in parts. A few more real world stories – apocryphal or biographical – would slow things down enough to let more sink in. Likewise, Bell could do more in places to tie some of his more minor strategies to the larger, overriding principals behind the major strategies. For example, including more reminders of how core values should guide the other strategies would give more cohesion to the book as a whole.

But these are minor quibbles with what is, overall, a solid and helpful book. A lot could be gained by reading it through once, then going back and completing the practical exercises, then keeping it around for reference. After all, it takes a long time to grow bamboo – but the payoff is spectacular.


  1. I read your first line post about this book and was wondering why "water the bamboo" was a metaphor for success. Now I know! I had no idea that it took 3 years to get the plant going. I know how fast they grow (you can practically see it grow if you sit and watch) once they are established. I guess I thought they got started just as quickly. Great metaphor.

  2. It is a great metaphor, and he uses it well. It's a good book -- I hope it takes off.


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