Proverbs and sayings are popular nuggets of wisdom, often in circulation for centuries and even millenniums. This post contains proverbs and sayings on business and career, divided into five categories.
If you’re looking for more proverbs and sayings, you can find plenty of them in the resource below. It contains proverbs on topics such as life, family, friends, love, health, happiness, money, hard work, time, time management, teamwork, leadership, business, education & learning, and more.
Want is the mother of industry.
First it was fixed-line phone. We bought it. Then came mobile phone. We bought it. Then came smartphones. We bought it. Then more and more bells & whistles were added to the smartphone. We bought it. In nutshell, our wants drive industries, and therefore businesses are constantly scratching their heads trying to figure out where to drive the next wave of demand, and launch products accordingly.
Example: People’s desire to eat plant-based meat has launched a new industry. Want is the mother of industry, after all.
A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the farther of the two.
Wherever possible, build products on the work of others to gain leverage. Uber, for example, used Google Map API to build its App.
Example: Many start-ups are building products and services on innovations of the past such as blockchain, UPI, and GPT. A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the farther of the two.
Write Sentences Like in Newspapers and Books
Step-by-step process. Little grammar. Real-world examples.
Eat your own dog food.
You should use your own product to know its benefits and flaws.
Example: It’s surprising how many founders don’t eat their own dog food and are later surprised when they get underwhelming customer feedback.
Good wine needs no bush.
A good product doesn’t need promotion; it spreads through word of mouth. This can be slow, though. A marketing push will significantly accelerate the growth.
Example: Stripe, a financial services firm, grew mainly through word of mouth. Good wine needs no bush.
Genius can be recognized by its childish simplicity.
Best things are usually simple and without flab. Aim for simplicity in your creations.
Example: Apple products are so well-designed, simple, and easy-to-use. About them we can say, genius can be recognized by its childish simplicity.
Customer is always right.
Many of us have worn both the hats, and we know that customers are not always right. Still, we’ve to treat them to be always right to avoid losing them.
Example: The customer complained about the delivery of wrong product to him, but reality turned out to be different. He, in fact, had ordered the wrong product because of his failure to read the product description carefully. But there’s no point arguing because customer is always right.
You can’t please everyone.
You can’t please everyone. Someone or the other will be dissatisfied.
Example: Pick a segment of customers who would be interested in your product, and not go after everyone. That’s because you can’t please everyone.
Don’t open a shop unless you know how to smile.
A Jewish proverb. It’ll be difficult to attract customers without a pleasant persona.
Example: Since my friend has a neutral, if not cold, demeanor, I advised him to not open a shop unless he learns how to smile.
3. Strategy & Operations
Bloom where you are planted.
Try staying in the field (business) you’ve expertise in.
Example: It’s common to see Companies pull back from products and geographies where they’re not able to leverage their strengths. Bloom where you are planted.
The mouse that has but one hole is quickly taken.
If you rely on only one source for something critical, say income or essential supplies, you run the risk of complete drying up of that source if circumstances turn adverse. So, diversify.
Example: Once a Company grows to certain size, it tries to diversify its revenue as well as cost because the mouse that has but one hole is quickly taken.
No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.
A Turkish proverb. If a strategy isn’t working, cut losses and try alternatives.
Example: Kodak persisted with its film roll business for too long, which eventually pulled the Company down. No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.
What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.
What you lose in one area of your business, you may recoup (or even make a profit) in another.
Example: Companies offering freemium (you pay only for premium service; basic is free) services lose money on free customers but more than make up on paid customers. What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.
A lean agreement is better than a fat lawsuit.
A German proverb. In disputes, it’s better to compromise and get only part of the potential outcome than to contest an expensive lawsuit for years, with no guarantee on the outcome.
Example: We often see two parties, especially Companies, arrive at a compromise than contest the case in courts. They clearly understand that a lean agreement is better than a fat lawsuit.
It is not enough to aim, you must hit.
An Italian proverb. If your Company fails to bag a project by a whisker, if your team misses the goal by a whisker, it’s as good as a big failure. It doesn’t matter how close or distant the miss is. What matters is the result.
Example: We fell short of our monthly target by only 5 percent, but the miss can’t be overlooked. A miss is a miss, slim or large. It is not enough to aim, you must hit.
Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?
Why take the trouble of investing in a cow and then maintaining it when you can simply buy milk far cheaply? You should avoid buying unnecessary assets when you can do with cheaper options.
Example: Why buy a vehicle when we can get one on rent? Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?
Keep no more cats than will catch mice.
Keep no more resources than required to complete the job.
Example: We’ve 20 security guards to look after our premises. I don’t think we need that many, and therefore we should cut down the number. Keep no more cats than will catch mice.
4. Human Resource
It takes all sorts to make a world.
The world contains variety of people, with different backgrounds, quirks, and skills. In modern times, with emphasis on diversity in workforce, an organization can readily embrace this proverb.
Example: Our organization has consciously followed the policy of building a diverse workforce because we believe that it takes all sorts to make a world.
If you suspect a man, don’t employ him, and if you employ him, don’t suspect him.
A Chinese proverb. If you don’t like a person, don’t hire him. But once you’ve hired someone, trust him fully.
Example: Why haven’t you given the work to your new employee as per his job description? If you suspect a man, don’t employ him, and if you employ him, don’t suspect him.
New brooms sweep clean.
New recruits bring fresh ideas and take up new initiatives.
Example: The new manager, marketing, has launched a podcast and is aggressively pursuing guest appearances on third-party blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels. New brooms, it seems, sweep clean.
If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
If your compensation is below industry level, you’ll get incompetent to average people to work for you.
Example: Your news channel is languishing near the bottom of popularity charts, and the main reason is quality of your news anchors. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys to work for you.
He that is too secure is not safe.
If you’re too secure in your job, you’ll inevitably become complacent and not invest enough in improving yourself, making yourself vulnerable.
Example: You should guard against complacency, and keep upgrading yourself, in your cushy job. Because if winds of change blow, you may be in the firing line, with nowhere else to go. He that is too secure is not safe.
Why keep a dog and bark yourself?
Sometimes, you have employees for specific job, but someone else ends up doing that job. That’s a waste.
Example: The Company has hired a designer to bring uniformity and quality in design, but some of the divisions are still designing their own stuff. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?
The best fish swim near the bottom.
Like best fish is difficult to catch (because it swims near the bottom), best talent or things are difficult to come by.
Example: We’ve gone through more than 400 resumes for this role but have found just two whom we can call for interview. I guess, the best fish swim near the bottom.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
If you, a potential employee, have particular talents, show them through one or the other platforms. You’ll be surprised how this can lead to new contacts, unexpected opportunities, and building personal brand.
Example: If you’ve taste for costume design, why don’t you start publishing your designs on YouTube or Instagram. You never know what unexpected opportunities might come your way. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Kissing goes by favour.
Don’t be surprised if job offer, promotion, and privileges, big and small, are given to those who’re liked (by the person giving) rather than to those who deserve. That’s human nature. This doesn’t mean merit doesn’t play a role, but there can be plenty of people who are close in merit. It is commonly said in recruitment circles that Company doesn’t hire people or HR doesn’t hire people. It’s people in the Company that hire people. So, besides merit, recruiters also look at likeability. In her book Presence, Amy Cuddy cites example of how few high-achieving Harvard Business School students failed to convert summer internship into full-time offer because, during the internship, they focused only on competence and forgot to build relationships with their colleagues.
Example: Tom has risen faster than his colleagues in the organization because he is not only competent but is warm and trustworthy. Kissing goes by favour, surely.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
The proverb means that a strong professional network helps in career advancement more than professional skills. Though it’s not entirely true in the sense that you do need sound skills for career advancement, but a strong network can take you places.
Example: Several candidates applied for the job, and unsurprisingly the person who got selected has strong network, including in his future workplace. It’s rightly said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
If you do what you love, work will not seem work.
Example: One of the reasons Roger Federer could continue so long as a professional tennis player is that he enjoyed taking to courts and interacting with fans. It wasn’t work for him. Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm.
A Malayan proverb. Everything calm and peaceful doesn’t mean there are no dangers around.
Example: Even though the industry looks stable with predictable market share and revenue, there are always obscure start-ups which may threaten your Company in future. Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm.
Big fish eat small fish.
Large and resourceful Companies either send small and less-resourceful Companies into bankruptcy or buy them out.
Example: Competition with behemoths such as Amazon has led to closure of several small Companies. Big fish do eat small fish.
It’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.
Sometimes, the second or later entrant to a market becomes the dominant player. This can happen when the second mover learns from the mistakes made by earlier movers and doesn’t have to educate the market as much as the earlier movers did.
Example: Google wasn’t the first search engine and Facebook wasn’t the first social media platform, yet they’re the most dominant in their categories. It’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
If the economy or an industry grows, all participants, by and large, benefit.
Example: During Covid-19 pandemic, education technology and video conferencing industries flourished because of restrictions on physical learning and interaction. A rising tide lifts all boats.
If one sheep leaps over the ditch, the rest will follow.
If a Company tastes success with an innovative product, copycats will follow.
Example: After Uber captured commuters’ attention, several Companies with the same business model sprang up all over the world. If one sheep leaps over the ditch, the rest will follow.
Good swimmers are often drowned.
Overconfidence can doom even the competent.
Example: To its peril, Kodak overlooked the prospect of digital photographs replacing its camera films. The Company filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after more than 120 years in existence. Good swimmers are often drowned.
Politics makes strange bedfellows.
In politics, arch-rivals can join hands for mutual benefit. In business, sworn competitors can join hands for mutual financial benefit.
Example: Uber fought a fierce battle for market share with DiDi Chuxing in China, but eventually took shareholding in the Company when it exited China. Politics makes strange bedfellows.
Keep something for the rainy day.
Save for bad times – competition, adverse macro-economic conditions, and so on.
Example: Businesses that had kept something for the rainy day survived Covid-19 storm.