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7 Inspirational Business Lessons from Muhammad Ali

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7 Inspirational Business Lessons from Muhammad Ali

On 3 June 2016, the world lost a great man, Muhammad Ali, who passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. What, you may ask, has this got to do with a business article? Well, I found myself intrigued by this man as a result of the media coverage around his death, generally accompanied by one or more of his famous quotes, and what struck me was how his inspirational musings could be applied to so many areas of business.

Ali was well in his prime before I was even born but was still fighting when I was a small boy. In an environment strongly influenced by opinionated people and in the inexperience of youth, the image I formed of Ali  was that of a loudmouth show-off.

Sadly this opinion of mine did the great man no justice at all, for he was so much more than this – a man of principle, integrity, honour, intelligence and humour.

As part of my rediscovery of the ultimate showman and competitor, I’ve collected a few of Ali’s famous sayings and taken the liberty of applying my own business interpretation to them: 

1. FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE, THE HANDS CAN’T HIT WHAT THE EYES CAN’T SEE

Small Businesses have the great advantage of being fast, flexible, adaptable and nimble. We can respond quickly to the demands of the market, we’re proactive and quick to respond – we can run rings around our bigger, slower competitors. It is in our great interest to recognise our speed advantage over big business and leverage it for our own benefit.

2. CHAMPIONS ARE MADE FROM SOMETHING THEY HAVE DEEP INSIDE THEM, A DESIRE, A DREAM, A VISION

To succeed as a Small Business owner requires something special, a relentless drive and determination that sees us through the hard times. At one time or another, we’ve all had to dig deep to find that inner source of strength to do what needs to be done. It’s in these times that the importance of our dreams and our vision is paramount – by taking the long view of our business we can keep the faith and push on to do the hard work today so that we can enjoy a better tomorrow.

3. IMPOSSIBLE IS NOT A FACT. IT’S AN OPINION

Our limiting beliefs about what is possible stop us from achieving all we can in our business. It is not the market, not the economy, not our clients, but our mindset of what our business is and could be that holds us back. Our goals and dreams for our business and our life are limited only by our imagination.

4. THE SERVICE YOU DO FOR OTHERS IS THE RENT YOU PAY FOR YOUR ROOM HERE ON EARTH

Business is all about service – in one way or another, we all serve our customers. The more people we serve, the more successful we become. It is our privilege as business owners to serve our clients and we would do well to remember that.

5. HE WHO IS NOT COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO TAKE RISKS WILL ACCOMPLISH NOTHING IN LIFE

Along similar lines to this Ali quote, I love this one from another great man, Nelson Mandela, who said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Running your own Small Business can be damn scary at times, but having the courage to take that leap and build something truly special that allows you to deliver your value to the world is incredibly rewarding.

6. I AM THE GREATEST!

As business owners, we could all learn a thing or two from Ali, who was the absolute master of self-promotion. If your business is The Greatest in your field, make sure everybody knows it! It is up to us to bang our own drum, put ourselves out there and let the market know how great we are.

7. INSIDE OF A RING OR OUT, AIN’T NOTHING WRONG WITH GOING DOWN. IT’S STAYING DOWN THAT’S WRONG

In one of his most famous fights, against Ken Norton in 1973, Ali’s jaw was completely broken early in the fight but he didn’t give up, continuing to go the full 12 rounds. While he did lose that fight, Ali beat Norton in their return bout, then followed that up by reclaiming the World Heavyweight Championship title against George Foreman in the famous Rumble In The Jungle in Kinshasa in 1974. The lesson for business owners is to keep on fighting – never throw in the towel, because success could be just around the next corner.

These quotes represent just a small selection of Muhammad Ali’s many statements. He may not have had business owners on his mind when he came up with these words of wisdom, but I for one gain great inspiration from Ali in my world of Small Business.

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