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Sylvester Stallone as rocky Balboa sylvester stallone

I grew up with the Rocky movies, and as you can tell from my updated profile pic, I still love them today. Now Creed – the seventh (!) Rocky installment – is in the cinemas. I thought this is reason enough to look back and reflect about what Rocky teaches us.

Rocky has stood the test of time as its lessons apply today as they did four decades ago. I skipped on the self-explanatory ones such as “it ain’t about how hard you hit, but about how hard you can get hit…” Here are my top five Rocky lessons, and I would love to hear your favorites:

  • Identify your real purpose The Rocky movies were never about the fights. Rocky I is not a fight or action movie, it is a love story. Adrian and Rocky are the story and at the heart of the movie. The rest is plot to move the story forward.
    Lesson: In business, we tend to get enamored with competition, the beauty of our products or our internal processes. While important, we have to keep focus on the true purpose of our business. Why does this enterprise really exist? This will inspire customers and attract the best employees much more than the latest battle slogan.
  • Training defines success Everybody loves the training sequences in the Rocky movies. I watched the movies many times, but I have watched the training sequences a million times more often. I even watched them before tests in high school to get motivated.
    Lesson: Success comes from what you do leading up to the main event and what you do to get ready. In business, we often cut training short. I am not talking about corporate training events, but more importantly the discipline to train and dry-run the next presentation or sales pitch. Nothing makes up for lack of discipline in preparation. Training is the best part.
  • Go the distance My all-time favorite moment in Rocky I is not about winning. Rocky knows that he cannot beat Apollo Creed and confides to Adrian that “All [he] want[s] is to go the distance.” For Rocky to last a full 15 rounds and not be knocked out meant to stop being a nobody.
    Lesson: While business is all about winning, leadership also requires humility. Setting unachievable goals can just be as damaging as aiming too low. Not addressing challenges openly, is a recipe for future failure. I firmly believe every individual inside a company – big or small – makes a difference, and you don’t need the CEO title for it.
  • Earn it every day The Rocky movies are not just about rising to the top, they are also about what it means to remain at the top. Rocky loses his “Eye of the Tiger,” his will to win in Rocky III. He has to change his surroundings and confront his fears about losing to get the “Eye of the Tiger” back and reclaim his title.
    Lesson: Just like in business, there is no room for complacency. It is easy to become complacent when things are going well and when you are at the top. The very best know that what got you to the top is not what will keep you there. It takes discipline and hard work to re-invent yourself.
  • Don’t let others take your dreams away The story of Rocky is also the story of Sylvester Stallone. Few movies have such direct correlation between the story of the actor/writer and the character in the movie. Stallone had an offer to sell the movie rights completely but he held out to star in it. 
    Lesson: Whatever your dream is – your start-up, your project - pursuit it and don’t let others “buy” it away from you. You might not have all the credentials, but nobody else will give your project the authenticity it needs to be as big as your dream.

In conclusion, Rocky is a timeless story of an underdog who keeps inspiring us to this day. Personally, Rocky has picked me up many times and inspired me to do better. What’s your favorite Rocky moment?

Author: Alexander Atzberger