7 quotes by ancient philosophers to inspire every business owner
If you survived in the business universe for even a year—congratulations, you are already a philosopher. With all the ups and downs, gains and losses one experiences in the entrepreneurial macrocosm, only those who have a philosophic mindset can survive.
Maybe, your business story and wisdom will inspire future generations of entrepreneurs—and they will quote you as the sage of XXI century (sounds great, huh?). Even if technology changes the world and new business rules are formed, it will still be about people, and human nature won’t change much. So, your insights into how things work might be priceless.
Let’s take a look at some prominent quotes of Socrates, Aristotle, Hypatia, Seneca, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and Sun Tzu and see how they apply to our lives—and businesses, too.
1. “The only thing that is constant is change,” Heraclitus
When we start jumping into ancient philosophy, the first sage you “meet” is Heraclitus. He was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BC. He is best known for his doctrine of change, which states that everything is in a constant state of change and that change is the only constant in the universe. Heraclitus is often referred to as the “weeping philosopher” because of his emphasis on transformation and his melancholic worldview.
Heraclitus’ famous words state that “The only thing that is constant is change,” meaning that anyone must be adaptable and open to change in order to succeed. For you as a businessman, it highlights the importance of being able to pivot and adjust strategies as needed. It also reminds that success in business is not a static state, but rather a continuous process of growth and evolution. To stay ahead of the competition, business leaders must be able to anticipate and respond to change.
How to integrate it
Here are three approaches for making the most of a changing business environment:
- Be agile. Be able to quickly adapt to changes in the market and industry. This may involve being open to new technologies, being able to evolve your business model, and being able to respond to customer needs in real time.
- Be proactive. Anticipate changes in the market and be the first to take advantage of new opportunities. This may involve conducting market research, staying informed about industry trends, and being open to new ideas and innovations.
- Be resilient. Be able to bounce back from setbacks and challenges. This may involve building a strong team, implementing risk management strategies, and having contingency plans in place.
2. “Know thyself,” Socrates
Socrates was another Greek philosopher who lived in Athens in the 4th century BC. He is considered one of the founders of Western philosophy and is known for his emphasis on self-knowledge and virtue. He is also known for his Socratic method, which is a way of teaching by asking questions, rather than providing answers—which is essential for any field and business in particular.
One of Socrates’ famous quotes is “Know thyself.” It encourages self-awareness and self-reflection, which can help you as a business owner to understand your strengths and weaknesses. By feeling and knowing your limitations, you can make better decisions and delegate tasks to other professionals, boosting your company’s success.
Additionally, self-awareness also helps to identify biases, and make smarter decisions. It also allows you to figure out your personal goals and align them with your business objectives, leading to a more holistic approach to running business.
How to integrate it
There are several ways to practice self-awareness and “know thyself”:
- Take personality tests or assessments. Personality tests or assessments provide insight into your strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.
- Reflect on your thoughts and emotions. Take time to reflect on your thoughts and emotions, and try to understand what triggers them.
- Learn from your experiences and try new things. Stepping out of your comfort zone inspires you to discover new aspects of yourself and your capabilities. Take note of your experiences and reflect on what you have learned from them—and share them on your social media accounts, for instance.
3. “Quality is not an act, it is a habit,” Aristotle
The next great mind in ancient Greek philosophy is Aristotle, who lived in the 3rd century BC, was a student of Plato, and tutored Alexander the Great. He is considered to be one of the greatest minds in human history as he wrote on a wide range of topics, including logic, metaphysics, ethics, politics, biology, and more. Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” and “Politics” are considered classics in their respective fields—even now, in the XXI century, these are global bestsellers.
One of Aristotle’s most famous ideas is that “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” The quote means that producing quality work is not something that happens by chance, but is the result of consistently putting in effort and striving for excellence in one’s actions. So, achieving and maintaining high standards of quality is an ongoing and consistent effort, and of course, it doesn’t rely on occasional bursts of inspiration or motivation.
How to integrate it
Making quality a habit in business involve several strategies:
- Define and communicate your quality standards. Clearly define and communicate the quality standards that your business adheres to, and make sure that the whole team understands the importance of meeting these standards.
- Continuously monitor and improve quality. Continuously monitor and improve quality by regularly collecting and analyzing relevant data, and using it to identify areas for growth.
- Make quality a key performance indicator. Make quality a key performance indicator for your business, and use it as a benchmark for success. Reward and recognize your workers and partners who consistently demonstrate a commitment to quality.
4. “To err is human. To repeat error is of the Devil,” Seneca
Seneca was a Roman philosopher and playwright who lived in the 1st century AD and was an advisor to the Roman Emperor Nero. He was a Stoic philosopher, which means that his philosophy emphasized the development of self-control and resilience in the face of adversity. Seneca’s writing is known for its practical, down-to-earth approach and its emphasis on the importance of living a virtuous life.
Of the most famous Seneca’s quotes is “To err is human. To repeat error is of the Devil.”While making mistakes is a natural part of being human, repeating them is a sign of a lack of self-awareness. As a businessman, you know how important it is to fail early and cheaply, but you should also learn from this process—otherwise, this pain is just for nothing.
How to integrate it
Learning from mistakes is an important aspect of being a successful entrepreneur. Here are three tips for learning from mistakes in a business setting:
- Analyze the mistake. Take the time to carefully analyze the mistake, its causes, and its impact on the business. Identify any patterns or trends that may have contributed to the mistake.
- Communicate and seek feedback. Share the mistake with key stakeholders, such as employees, customers, or business partners, and seek feedback on how to improve. This can provide valuable perspective and help to see solutions.
- Implement changes. Based on the analysis and feedback, develop and implement changes to prevent the mistake from happening again. This may involve updating procedures, providing additional training, or seeking out new resources.
5. “Even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all,” Hypatia
One of the most prominent female scholars of her time, Hypatia, was a Greek philosopher and mathematician. She lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the 4th–5th centuries and was the last known head of the Neoplatonist school in Alexandria. Hypatia wrote a range of texts on astronomy and is considered the first known female mathematician, whose teachings were heavily influenced by the works of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.
Hypatia was an advocate of science and knowledge, so one of her most known quotes touches on this as well: “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.” This suggests that the process of thinking and questioning—rather than the specific outcome—is what ultimately leads to growth. In business, it is important to be open to new ideas and to question assumptions. Even if an idea or strategy doesn’t turn out as expected, the process of evaluating it can lead to greater insight and ultimately better decision making.
How to integrate it
By fostering an environment that encourages experimentation, you can better navigate the ever-changing business landscape and make more informed decisions.
- Encourage diverse perspectives. Invite your team and partners to share their thoughts and ideas, even if they may not align with the current way of thinking. This leads to new and innovative solutions.
- Embrace failure. Even Seneca had earlier suggested that failure is a natural part of the learning process, and it’s important to not be afraid of making mistakes. Encourage yourself and your team to take risks and learn from mistakes.
- Foster a culture of continuous improvement. Encourage yourself and people around you to constantly question and improve upon current processes and systems. This mindset leads to more efficient ways of doing business—and you can always share your philosophy of it on office posters.
6. “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity,” Sun Tzu
Our list wouldn’t be complete without wise men from the East. One of the most prominent eastern thinkers is Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. He is best known for his book “The Art of War,” an influential work on military strategy and tactics, which has a myriad of insights on how to successfully outmaneuver and defeat opponents.
Sun Tzu’s famous words are “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity,” and in the business world, it suggests that amidst the challenges and difficulties, there are opportunities for growth and success. As we live in the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, turbulence is just part of our everyday reality. So, it’s very normal that businesses often face unforeseen challenges. The ability to navigate through uncertainty and instability is a key trait of successful business leaders.
How to integrate it
It is possible to find opportunities in difficult times by following these strategies:
- Keep an open mind. Being open to new ideas and approaches can help detect new opportunities and ways to adapt to changing circumstances. For instance, identifying and exploring new markets helps with finding new customers and sources of revenue.
- Take advantage of technology. Utilizing new technologies improves efficiency, reduces costs, and creates new products or services.
- Be proactive. Seek out new opportunities by networking, attending industry events, or researching emerging trends. Be willing to adapt and pivot your business model if necessary, in order to take advantage of new opportunities.
7. “Simplicity, patience, compassion. These are your greatest treasures,” Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu was another ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, who is believed to have also lived around 6th century BC. He is considered the author of the Tao Te Ching, which is a classic Chinese text that is the fundamental scripture of Taoism, a philosophical and religious tradition. Lao Tzu is known for his teachings on the Tao, which is translated as “the way” or “the path,” which is the ultimate reality or principle of the universe and the foundation of all things.
Lao Tzu’s teachings focus on non-action, simplicity, humility and living in accordance with the natural flow of things. He left a lot of words of wisdom, and here’s one that caught our attention: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.”
For entrepreneurs, simplicity, patience, and compassion can be especially valuable qualities. Simplicity encourages you to focus on core business ideas without drowning in unnecessary complexity. Patience helps to navigate inevitable challenges and setbacks, and to remain persistent in the face of failure. Compassion is essential to connect with customers and employees, and to create a supportive work environment.
How to integrate it
Here are three ways entrepreneurs can boost simplicity, patience, and compassion in business:
- Simplify your business operations by identifying and eliminating unnecessary processes and tasks. Prioritize and focus on your core business values, goals, and objectives.
- Practice mindfulness and patience by taking regular breaks, and incorporating meditation or yoga into your daily routine. Take a step back before making important decisions, and weigh the pros and cons of different options.
- Encourage open communication, empathy, and compassion among your employees and customers. Show kindness and understanding in your interactions with others, and strive to create a positive and supportive work environment.
Closing words of wisdom
Ancient philosophy offers a wealth of insights that can be applied to modern business. The wise men and women of the past left us with valuable wisdom on critical thinking, emotional intelligence, self-control, resilience, and adaptability; all of which help modern business leaders navigate the complex and ever-changing business landscape.
If you have a spare hour, explore the brilliant thoughts of Aristotle or Seneca through the books mentioned in this piece, or read up on other philosophers.
As Confucius (another great man of the past) once said, “Study the past if you would define the future,” but still don’t forget to do things in the present.
And if you can’t start from scratch, we have the perfect templates for you 😉