We like lists, and we like (and now miss) Muhammad Ali, and so all of the sudden we are swimming in (totally worthy) reads like: “Muhammad Ali quotes on success and racism” and “Everything you need to know about parenting in 14 Muhammad Ali quotes.” As some trends are worth their weight in gold, I am here to try my own hand at this game. What follows are five (six, really) quotes―words made famous by the unwaveringly confident, ever-eloquent, tougher-than-nails-in-the-ring-and-out, and often polarizing Muhammad Ali. I have chosen these quotes for their particular relevance to business practice today (yours as well as mine).
1. “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
If you were playing sports in the eighties you already know this, made famous by cereals and clothing companies alike. And sure, maybe this is why so many jocks grow up to be Start-Up Executives. In the 2010’s, in contrast, we are buried in mantra’s like “fail fast,” “no risk, no reward,” and “if you aren’t networking, you aren’t working,” but these are platitudes. Things somebody said once, and so they kept getting said. Independent of empirical evidence. Know what is empirically evident? Skills get you hired and they might even get you funded. And yet: will gets you to the top―here I am talking about pretty much every mountain ever.
2. “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Back to the “if you aren’t networking, you aren’t working” platitude I just referenced. If you aren’t using metrics to determine the true cost-benefit relationship of your networking, you may not be totally getting it. And that’s because you are still misunderstanding friendship (yeah, as Muhammad just said, “you really haven’t learned anything”). Over-investing in visibility is common and can be a costly mistake today. Remember when you were 18 and finally figured out it was quality not quantity that rendered friendships useful? Still true.
3. “What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming.”
In business when you aren’t thinking, you aren’t becoming. Further, if you aren’t communicating what you are thinking, in a manner that is effective and efficient, well … you could be inhibiting your becoming. Can’t explain your business on an elevator ride to the fourth floor? Then your communicating is outdated. Try filling out the Lean Canvas template (ask Google) if you want to get lean at explaining yourself and your potential.
4. “I’m a fighter. I believe in the eye-for-an-eye business. I’m no cheek turner. I got no respect for a man who won’t hit back. You kill my dog, you better hide your cat.”
Okay, this one made the list because sometimes I like controversy. You can reword this as “sting like a bee” if you are bothered. The point is capitalism is a pro-growth business, not a shrink and take it business. Sure, capital begets capital, but you’re old enough to know by now that you’ve got to hit back. And I’m taking at the micro and macro levels, alike.
5. “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
This one is here because, duh. In business as in life, we are always better off if invested in backing it up.
Bonus: “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.”
Can we start a cultural movement around this last? Let’s imagine, together and for just a moment, a world in which this is a shared understanding. We’ve all been in board/executive meetings…. You just sighed longingly didn’t you?
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