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Business Lessons From Muhammad Ali And His Fight Against Parkinson

Muhammad Ali

‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks in life will accomplish nothing’ – Muhammad Ali.

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The professional boxing circle, and indeed the whole world, was thrown into mourning by the demise of a foremost sportsman and legend, by any standard, Muhammad Ali. The man was simply the greatest thing that happened to the sport of boxing and the outpouring of grief globally is a measurable testament of just how much he projected the pugilist sport.

Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don't Have An Idea
Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don’t Have An Idea

Born Cassius Clay, Jr on January 17, 1942 he would later be called Muhammad Ali, after adopting Islam as his creed in 1975. He was generally regarded as a champion both in and out the boxing ring because of his doggedness and unflinching ideologies. He was not one that cowered under pressure – a salient lesson for today’s entrepreneurs.

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There are several life lessons discernible from Ali’s life and times for the 21st century business man. Muhammad Ali was fearless and was never afraid of being different. He turned down an Army conscription and deployment to the Vietnam War in 1967 because he did not agree with the motive behind the war. Although this action culminated in prosecution and loss of his boxing title at the time, the man followed through with his defence up to the Supreme Court until he got justice. He did not back down. Lesson 1 – Never give up.

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‘If you even dream of defeating me, you’d better wake up and apologise’ – Muhammad Ali.

Another critical lesson for today’s entrepreneur as exemplified by Muhammad Ali was the self- belief. He won every fight before even throwing a punch. It was entirely mental. He ensured every opponent had at least considered the possibility of being beaten even before the fight by getting into their psyche. There was a tenacity of purpose. Nothing would deter the man from greatness and he firmly believed this, thus the conviction in his assertions about the certainty of his victories. Lesson 2 – Believe in Project You.

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In 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with the debilitating illness called Parkinson’s Disease. It is an illness that principally affects the brain and a substance produced therein called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical substance that helps pass on the signals for movement to the appropriate brain centres. Forget the medical jargon. Imagine your car requires gear oil to ensure smooth transmission. Now, for some strange reason, there just is not enough of the transmission fluid circulating. The obvious consequence would be a difficulty with motion which would probably worsen as fluid dries up even more. Eventually, the engine would stall and the car shuts down. The dopamine, in this case, is the ‘transmitter’ between the engine and the gear box – the central point of motion.

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Till date, no specific cause of the disease has been identified but certain factors are thought to predispose individuals to it. These include – head injuries (an occupational hazard Ali had to live with), environment (pesticide exposure has been fingered) and a genetic predisposition. The disease afflicts between seven and ten million people globally according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation – a conservative figure given that the disease is still largely under-diagnosed especially in places like Africa. The Albanians and Egyptians are the most affected worldwide while the prevalence in Nigeria is estimated to be in the region of 67 per 100,000 of population. It is slightly commoner in men and typically, but not in all cases, affects people over 60 years of age. Ali was diagnosed at 42! There is no indication the trend will change as researchers at the University of Rochester in 2007 had projected a 50% increase in Parkinson’s Disease globally by 2030.

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The disease is usually quite insidious and so symptoms may not appear till close to 80% of the cells producing dopamine in the brain are dead. The National Parkinson Foundation describes the earliest symptoms as loss of smell and constipation – given the level of affection of the brain areas that control these in the disease. Movement related symptoms like tremors, poor balance and gait, slurred speech and stiffness often indicate considerable damage in the brain. While the symptoms may be manageable for most part of life, the complications of the disease itself are the real worry. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks these complications of Parkinson’s as the 14th leading cause of death in Americans. One of such complications dealt ‘The Greatest’ the final blow.

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Interestingly, there is still no cure for Parkinson’s Disease even with its long history and high profile patients. There are several medications available to alleviate the symptoms but they do not halt the progression of the disease. Public awareness, especially in this part of the world, would help in earlier detection while increased funding of research into developing a cure would be certainly welcomed. For now, we can only morn our Champ. The one, who was floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee. The Greatest.

‘Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth’ – Muhammad Ali.

Lesson 3 – Either delivering a product/service or as corporate social responsibility, entrepreneurs must recognise there is always a value chain and every element in that chain is critical to success. Often, many get carried away with a sense of self and think of themselves only.

17/01/1942 – 03/06/2016.

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Photo Credit – The Guardian



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