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50 Wise Thoughts on Business

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Every day, we get a little bit older and a little bit wiser. But what if there was a way to skip ahead and get years worth of wisdom in a single day?

Confucius once said that there are three ways to become wise:  the noble way to get wiser is through self-reflection; the bitter way to get wiser is through experience; and the easy way to get wiser is through imitation.

Personally, I’d rather wise up the easy way — and that’s why I’ve made the following resource.

To imitate the wisdom of the world’s most successful CEO’s and Founders, I’ve spent the last week sifting through the vastness of the Internet for the most wise thoughts on business. The wise thoughts below come people like Steve Jobs, Andrew Carnegie, Richard Branson, and PayPal founder Elon Musk (who I recently profiled for startup advice).

I’ve organized this post into six sections which you can skip to with the table of contents on the right. I’ll start off with my five favorite business proverbs, which I found here. Then I’ll share business leaders’ wisdom on what really matters, the importance of customers, metaphors for business, business tips, and conclude with my top ten most wise thoughts on business.

5 Wise Business Proverbs

business wisdom tree

#1  On Planting Trees

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

– Chinese Proverb

#2  On Focus

“He who begins many things finishes but few.”

– German Proverb

#3  On Castles

“Building a castle is difficult. Defending and maintaining it is harder still.”

– Asian Proverb

#4  On Perseverance

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

– Japanese Proverb

#5  On Your Calling

“Everyone should observe carefully which way his heart draws him, and then choose that way with all his strength.”

– Hasidic Proverb

Photo Courtesy of Skoeber

10 Thoughts on What Really Matters in Business

SAM WALTON VISION

#1  Vision

“Capital isn’t scarce; vision is.”

– Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart

#2  Service

“He profits most who serves best.”

– Arthur F. Sheldon, Early Rotary Club Leader

#3  Knowledge

“To succeed in business, to reach the top, an individual must know all it is possible to know about that business.”

– J. Paul Getty, Founder of the Getty Oil Company

#4  People

“Take away my people, but leave my factories, and soon grass will grow on the factory floors. Take away my factories, but leave my people, and soon we will have a new and better factory.”

– Andrew Carnegie, Founder of the Carnegie Steel Company

As Mary Kay once said, “A company is only as good as the people it keeps.”

#5  Experience

“In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins:  cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.”

– Harold Geneen, Former President of the ITT Corporation

#6  Peers

 “It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

– Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

#7  Character

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” –

– Norman Schwarzkopf, US General

#8  Time

“Your greatest resource is your time.”

– Brian Tracy, Motivational Speaker and Author

#9  Your Network

“Your network is your net worth.”

– Tim Sanders (and many others), former Yahoo! Director

#10  Your Customers

“Revolve your world around your customers and more customers will revolve around you.”

– Heather Williams

 

10 Thoughts on The Importance of Happy Customers

happy customres

I found so much wisdom on customers, I had no choice but to give customer wisdom its very own segment. Great business minds just seem to get that “the result of a business is a satisfied customer” (Peter Drucker).

#1  Think of The Customer as Your Boss

“There is only one boss:  the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

– Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart

#2  Let them Design Your Products

“Who decides what’s in Windows?  The customers who buy it.”

– Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft

#3  …Or Don’t 

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

– Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Inc.

More on Jobs:  21 Life Lessons from Steve Jobs

#4  Talk to Your Customers

“The more you engage with customers, the easier it is to determine what you should be doing.”

– John Russell, President of Harley Davidson

#5  Learn from Your Customers

“Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.”

– Zig Ziglar, Founder of Zig Ziglar Corporation

More on Ziglar:  11 Life-Changing Business Lessons from Zig Ziglar

#6  Happy Customers are Your Greatest Marketing Tool

“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

– Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

There’s simply no more effective, more persuasive marketing tool than word of mouth. Bezos has talked about word of mouth is particularly important for online businesses:  “If you make your customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”  I would argue that the same is true today regardless of whether the business is online or off.

More on Bezos:  15 Business Lessons from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

#7  Good Customer Service Never Quits

“Customer service is just a day in, day out, ongoing, never-ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate type of activity.”

–  Leon Gorman, CEO of L.L. Bean

#8  Like and Respect Your Customers  On liking:

“If you don’t genuinely like your customers, chances are they won’t buy.”

– Thomas Watson, Former CEO of IBM

And respecting:

“It all starts with respect. If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.”

– Doug Smith

#9  Focus on Maintaining Customers

“Every client you keep is one less that you need to find.”

– Nigel Sanders

 #10  The Customer is Always Right

 “Right or wrong, the customer is always right.”

– Marshall Field, Founder of Marshall Feed and Company

Photo Courtesy of Donna Cymek

5 Deep Metaphors for Business

business is art pollock

#1  Business is Art

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

– Andy Warhol, Pop Artist

#2  Business is War + Sport

“Business is a combination of war and sport.”

– Andre Maurois, French Author

#3  Business is a Seafaring

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

– William G.T. Shedd, American Theologian

#4  Business is a Game

“Business is more exciting than any game.”

– Lord Beaverbrook, Anglo-Canadian Business Tycoon

#5  Business is a Struggle

“Business is always a struggle. There are always obstacles and competitors. There is never an open road, except the wide road that leads to failure. Every great success has always been achieved by fight. Every winner has scars.”

– Herbert N. Casson, Canadian Author

10 Wise Business Tips

your age doesn't matter   #1  Have Fun…

“A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

– Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, Ltd.

More on Branson:  15 Business Lessons from Richard Branson

#2  …But Not Too Much Fun

“I don’t like to do just the things I like to do. I like to do the things that cause the company to succeed. I don’t spend a lot of time doing my favorite activities.”

– Michael Dell

#3  Be Decisive

“The first one gets the oyster; the second gets the shell.”

– Andrew Carnegie, Founder of the Carnegie Steel Company

The first person to identify and capitalize on a new business model has a huge advantage over the competition. Act decisively and quickly to benefit. Act slowly and you end up chewing on oyster shells.

#4  Take Risks

“You cannot avoid risk, you just need to manage it.”

– Dr. Neal W. Pollock

#5  Think Positive

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

– Henry Ford, Founder of Ford

#6  Work Hard

“Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.”

–  David Rockefeller

And another:

“No legitimate business man ever got started on the road to permanent success by any other means than that of hard, intelligent work, coupled with an earned credit, plus character.”

– F.D. Van Amburgh, Author of The Mental Spark Plug

#7  Have a Heart

“To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business and your business in your heart.”

– Thomas Watson, Sr., former CEO of IBM

#8 Mess Up

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not making decisions.”

– Catherine Cook, Founder of MeetMe

#9  Make it Personal

“All good businesses are personal. The best businesses are very personal.”

– Mark Cuban

More on Cuban:  10 Winning Business Lesson from Mark Cuban

 #10  Solve Big Problems

“Solving big problems is easier than solving little problems.”

– Sergey Brin, Founder of Google

More on Brin:  Google’s 8 Simple Rules

10 Most Wise Thoughts on Business

big thoughts business

#1  Change = Opportunity

“The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”

– Peter F. Drucker, Management Consultant and Author

#2  Fast is the New Big

“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.”

– Rupert Murdoch, Founder of News Corporation

#3  Lead through Innovation

“Innovation distinguishes between being a leader and a follower.”

– Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Inc.

#4  Automate (Carefully)

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

– Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft

More on Gates:  Top 10 Business Lessons from Bill Gates

#5  Figure Out How to Provide More For Less

“The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.”

– Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motor Company

#6  Good Business Benefits All

“I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict adherence to the view that, for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well.”

– Alan Greenspan, American Economist and Federal Reserve Chairman

#7  Elevate the Product

“I’d say stay very focused on the quality of the product.   People get really  wrapped up in all sorts of esoteric notions of how to manage etc., [but]  I think people should get much more focused on the product itself – how do you make the product incredibly compelling to a customer – just become maniacally focused on building it better.  I think people get distracted from that.”

– Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla Motors

#8  Pay Well

“I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money; I have a lot of money because I pay good wages.”

– Robert Bosch, German Industrialist

#9  Don’t Seek Perfection

“Business is complicated and imperfect. Every business everywhere is staffed with imperfect human beings and exists by providing a product or service to other imperfect human beings.”

– Bob Parsons, Founder of GoDaddy.com

#10  There’s No Limit 

“We are currently not planning on conquering the world.”

– Sergey Brin, Founder of Google

Want More Wise Thoughts?

I hope you’re feeling more than just one day wiser after reading these 50 thoughts on business. But if you’re still hungry for more wisdom, you can check out the inspiration for this article, 50 Great Thoughts on Success. Here’s one of my favorites:

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

–  Winston Churchill

Before I go I want to leave you with one wise thought, from one of the wisest people to have ever lived, Socrates:  “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”

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