A tweet from Amber Naslund this morning reminded me of an interesting lesson.

@ambercadabra: Ah, o’Hare on a Monday AM. So many friendly people. Ahem.
@cspenn: Watch footfalls. It’s an easy way to pass time in crowds.

What did this mean?

Footfalls are, simply put, how people walk. Some people walk as if they’re gliding across the floor with grace; others look like they’ve just newly risen from the grave as zombies. All of the walks and footfalls are unique and are signatures of our past and present. Watching footfalls in a public space gives you great insight into the people around you.

What’s interesting about the footfall from a ninjutsu perspective comes from a lesson in the middle level material of the Koto family tradition. There’s a moment in someone’s walk, after their foot has been placed or committed but before their weight has been transferred, during which you can strike them with relatively little force and knock them back or on their butt. Strike them sufficiently hard enough at that moment and you might even put their lights out, because the body is wholly expecting the footfall to be completed as several million previous ones were – with transfer of weight and progress forward.

When something interrupts that deeply ingrained habit, the body has almost no idea what to do, and it’s in that moment of confusion through what should have been an orderly, predictable transition, that the ninja technique displays its power. You’re not going head to head with the person’s strength (after their weight has transferred) and you’re not attacking from too far away (before they’ve stepped) because they’ll react and adjust. Only in that moment of transition do you get an opportunity to truly take advantage of someone’s habit and knock them into next week.

We as a society, as a culture, as a world of business are going through a similar transition and disruption now, especially in media. Our media footfalls are used to the broadcast model, where media broadcasts the message and the consumer receives it passively, then goes out and buys things they don’t need. The transition and disruption of new media has thrown a ninja strike into traditional media’s footfall, and it’s falling on its butt as we take advantage of its confusion.

The lesson moving forward is simple (but not easy): as new media becomes mainstream, as new becomes mundane and habits form, look for the footfalls. Watch to see what traditions and rituals appear, watch their timing like you watch people in the airport, and you’ll know when to disrupt them, when their moment of transition becomes your moment of opportunity. More important, as you keep an eye towards the future, look for services, technologies, and ideas that will be the ninja strike to other present day footfalls in your industry or niche. Learn the ideas and you’ll have carte blanche to take over that niche while everyone else is catching their balance.

Keep your eyes open and your feet on the ground!


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