Today the world is saying goodbye to Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), the American former heavyweight champion boxer and one of the greatest sporting figures and social activists of the 20th century. As an Olympic gold medalist and the first fighter to capture the heavyweight title three times, Ali won 56 times in his 21-year professional career.
While it was his grace in the ring and incredible work ethic that captivated audiences and fans around the world, it was his courage to speak out and challenge society on issues of race, religion and politics that made him a champion outside of the ring. Ali’s words and actions were just as powerful and as swift as his fists. He appreciated the power each individual possesses to be a catalyst for change, whether it was his stand as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, refusing to be drafted due to his religious beliefs, or being ridiculed for negative associations of racism that stemmed from the color of his skin or his deep faith in Islam.
Regardless of the consequences faced, Ali didn’t accept the status quo and was not afraid to fight for what he believed in with the same intensity used every time he fought in the ring. He took action by proclaiming his dignity, and convictions without fear. What began as lonely stands against entrenched convention, helped transform our thinking beyond established limits, and brought about substantial and sustained change throughout all aspects of society. Ali was a true disruptor.
It’s little wonder that Ali was one of the iconic faces featured when Apple launched its now famous “Think Different” campaign in 1997. As outsiders and rebels ourselves, tech recognized and continues to recognize a kindred spirit in Ali. Tech upstarts and innovators push the envelope and challenge social and political norms, rejecting the cynicism of “no” when it comes to advancing beyond the status quo to shape our world and change it for the better.
So in the weeks, months and years to come, let’s honor Muhammad Ali’s innovative spirit looking to his example as we improve lives around the world. After all:
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing…” – Muhammad Ali