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How Muhammad Ali exemplified the genius mindsets of creative leaders (Part 2)

Two weeks ago, we discussed in this column how Muhammad Ali epitomized the genius mindsets of creative leaders that I identified while studying the biographies of geniuses, creative business leaders and top achievers. These genius mindsets help form my creative leadership development method Genius Journey that features 10 destination stops were you learn more about how to reconnect with your inner genius.

In part 1 we discussed how Ali, “The Greatest of all times”, truly exemplified the four foundational mindsets that we encounter on destination stops 1-4 of the Genius Journey. Today, let’s continue honoring the legend of Muhammad Ali as we learn more about the remaining six genius mindsets of creative leaders.

Muhammad Ali genius mindsets 2

Stop 5: Intrinsic Motivation, Passion and Purpose

The fifth destination stop on the Genius Journey reminds you to stop working only for the money, and to start loving what you do — and knowing why you do it.

Ali wasn’t fighting for the money only, but because he loved boxing. It was his natural talent, which he jokingly expressed as follows: “Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” But he became a legend not because he was a world champion. He transcended his passion of boxing by also having a purpose of why he did it: “I wanted to use my fame and this face that everyone knows so well to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

In and out of the boxing ring, he fought what he believed was the good fight, the just fight, the right fight. For example, fighting for more civil rights for Afro-American citizens was a good fight, while fighting an unjust war in Vietnam was not.

Ali was doing what he did because he wanted to help and inspire ordinary people. In a tribute, a reporter recalled how on a joint tour through South America, he saw Ali giving away 100 dollar each to beggars lining up outside his hotel in the morning. “Champ, why are you doing it?” Ali responded: “For me, it’s just a 100 dollar, but for them, it’s worth here as much as ten thousand dollars for me at home.”

Stop 6: Integrated Whole Mind

Stop 6 of the Genius Journey invites you to start becoming an integrated whole-brain thinker and stop using only half of your mind.

Muhammad Ali was an ingenious boxer who employed his creativity not only to come up with witty entertaining sayings and one of the shortest and most impactful poems of all times (“I shook up the world. Me! We!”), but also to devise creative tactics that won fights everyone expected him to lose.

Before the epic “rumble in the jungle” with George Foreman, Ali announced that to win the fight, “I’m going to dance”. But to the surprise of everyone, he switched in round 2 to a new creative tactic, the “rope-a-dope”, leaning back against the rope for three rounds and absorbing punches while protecting his head. Soon Foreman was tired and Ali went on the offensive, ending the fight in round 8 with a knockout to regain his World Championship title. “The man who has no imagination, has no wings”, he said, and elaborated further: “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

Stop 7: Expert & Generalist (T-Shaped Leader)

Stop 7 of the Genius Journey asks you to stop getting trapped in the expert tunnel and start living, working and learning as a modern renaissance man or woman with many talents and interests.

Muhammad Ali exemplifies the concept of a T-shaped person who combines expertise in one focus domain (boxing) with a broad repertoire of knowledge, skills and experience. Outside the ring, Ali was a civil rights fighter and political activist, a religious disciple and preacher, an entertainer and joker, a magician and poet, a promoter and businessman. Ali sought to experience life in all it’s dimensions: “Live every day as if it were your last because some day you’re going to right.”

Stop 8: Movement, Flexibility & Change

Stop 8 of the Genius Journey reminds you to stop being habitual, rigid and fixated; instead, start to change, move and flex yourself.

Ali had a very unorthodox boxing style he described as: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. You can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.” In his fights, Ali was constantly moving, dancing through the ring and doing the “Ali shuffle” (a famous series of boxing footwork he created as a taunting mechanism), making it difficult for his opponents to strike and pin him down.

Stop 9: Mindfulness & Present Moment Awareness

Stop 9 of the Genius Journey asks you to stop acting mindlessly, and instead start taking focused actions now.

Clearly, as one of world Champion in boxing, Ali tuned into the moment and pay attention with all of his senses to what’s happening right now.

In a famous footage showing him training for the “rumble in the jungle”, he boxed against a camera to demonstrate from an unusual perspective what it would mean every moment for George Foreman to fight against Ali: “Now you see me, now you don’t”, Ali joked as he appeared and disappeared out of the camera’s field of sight.

Stop 10: Focused Doing, Relaxed Being (Balance, Rhythm & Flow)

At the tenth stop of the Genius Journey, you’re prompted to stop doing, doing, doing something all the time. Instead, start harmoniously balancing focused doing with relaxed being to develop a rhythm that brings you into flow, the state of optimal experience were everything flows easily and you perform at your very peak.

A box bout follows an inherent rhythm of focused action (the fighting in each round), alternating with breaks for the fighters to recharge and get advice. Interestingly, Ali used the breaks for being with himself and reconnecting to his inner core, his inner self, his beliefs and willpower — and not for strategizing: “My trainer don’t tell me nothing between rounds. I don’t allow him to. I fight the fight. All I want to know is did I win the round. It’s too late for advice,” he said.

Stop 11: Subconscious Creativity (Preparation- Incubation-Illumination- Verification)

For some people, the Genius Journey may reveal a secret eleventh stop. When all genius mindsets are in sync, you may experience a moment of breakthrough creativity, where you receive a breakthrough idea in an instant moment of flash illumination, which typically happens in a moment of flow. While there is no account of Ali sharing a Eureka experiences, he probably had moments of sparks in those split seconds when he intuitively unleashed his Championship-winning knockout punches.

Conclusion: Muhammad Ali was not only an iconic boxer, he was a true genius who exemplified all genius mindsets and action routines of outstanding creative leaders. “I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven’t lived in vain.” You have touched the lives of millions of people and inspired them to the better. R.I.P. you legendary genius, you were truly The Greatest.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 23 June 2016.