All entrepreneurs and business-minded folk find their inspiration somewhere. Many look up to already successful individuals to mimic their steps and patterns. There are others who find inspiration in numbers and logic, and there are those who go by the simple code of just faking it until they make it. Still, there are those who find inspiration in the arts, in culture and literature, where words are the drivers of the soul. Many established businessmen have written their own books filled with wisdom and knowledge for those willing to follow. Then there are people who find inspiration from the unlikeliest of pages—poetry. William Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the most prolific, profound, and ingenious writers that ever lived. Is it truly possible to find business wisdom in a poet’s words? We scoured the pages of Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies, and found the answer. Here are the 20 best quotes from Macbeth that apply to business.
1. “It is a tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to buy into the “next big thing.” Oftentimes, that next big thing comes in loud and brash, ready to make itself known. However, not everything that’s shiny and new is really worth the dime. In business, we often encounter people that are full of loud and ready ideas that don’t necessarily have the actual gusto to back up their claims. This article from Inc.com states that one way to spot the actual weakest link is simply to analyze the ratio of ideas to execution. Does your idea generator actually execute to fruition?
2. “What’s done is done.”
This particular scene from Act III strikes us as utterly human. Lady Macbeth’s reaction, “What’s done is done,” to her husband’s deeds is something we can all relate to in some way, shape, or form. In business, sometimes you have to just let things be. There are many things that can happen in business—regardless of industry—that’s out of anyone’s control. Throwing your hands up in the air to say, “It is what it is,” is not a sign of defeat. Think of it more as if you’re ready and able to face what is coming. What’s done is sometimes just done, and sometimes it’s just time to move on.
3. “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.”
Basically, don’t show all your cards straight away. When you’re in business, there’s a time and place for everything, and there will come a time when you have to hide your strengths in order to show it in the most opportune way. Don’t interpret the quote to be “snakelike” in your business. Rather, settle yourself down and show your true power when it’s called for.
4. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
According to this article, this particular line from Act I summarizes the theme of the play. It explains much of what happens to Macbeth in the coming scenes, but it also explains a lot of what life and business is all about. There are no straight lines in business. Sometimes, the opposite becomes true of people’s goals and intentions. Sometimes, what may seem fair in business for one might be foul for another. Business is not an easy road to travel, and those that do might resonate with this quote.
5. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”
This line is probably one of the more famous lines that Shakespeare has written altogether. The quote is all about premonition and prediction. When it comes to business, the quote reminds us to trust our own guts. Your instinct is always the first instinct you should listen to because no one else knows your business the way that you do. If you think something wicked is coming towards your work, you better do something so it doesn’t.
7. “False face must hide what the false heart doth known.”
The tragedy of Macbeth is full of pain, anguish, and doubt. This line from the play shows Macbeth’s plan to hide the evil deeds in his heart by hiding his true face. In application to business, the quote comes as a warning for entrepreneurs and business owners to be careful whom they’re dealing with. Not every person that walks through your door to do business has the right intentions. There are false faces everywhere, and you have to learn to pick out the ones that are and ones that aren’t.
8. “Come what come may, time and the hour run through the roughest day.”
Not every single day in business will be sunshine and daisies. As a businessman, you’ll get your fair share of rough days—as we all do. This quote from Macbeth is a good reminder that time passes even on the worst of days and that your workday will end eventually. Maybe you didn’t get to finish what you ought to have done. Maybe you didn’t accomplish as much as you thought you would. Maybe today was just not your day. Today will always end, and tomorrow will start. There’s always a chance that tomorrow might be the best of days.
9. “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.”
In this quote, confusion is personified as nature. The natural order of things in the play was interrupted by actions committed by Macbeth. With that, nature took its own course to do what it does best—survive and succeed. In business, we align “confusion” from the quote to happenstance. Sometimes, we might find ourselves in a predicament that magically solves itself—take it for what it is. Nature and natural law sometimes has a way of resolving things, and you might find that you’ve discovered something by accident. You haven’t. It’s just that life and business sometimes just work that way.
10. “It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”
This is particularly brilliant and ever so true. Not everything that’s desirable or attractive will be beneficial. It’s not always mutually inclusive. Desirability doesn’t always improve performance. In fact, it might sometimes take performance away—just like the quote says. Again, be wary of the shiny new thing when you’re in business. Always remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It always pays to be open to change and experimentation. But always have your feet grounded, so you can always find your way back if ever you get lost in desire.
11. “The love that follows us sometime is our trouble, which still we thank as love.”
There is no more appropriate line that applies to life in business as this quote from Macbeth does. Many of those who end up in business do it because they love it. They are passionate about something, and they do whatever is possible to turn that passion into profit. That’s when the trouble comes—when the thing we love the most becomes a necessity for living. Regardless, gratefulness always follow suit simply because those who are in business doing what they love would rather do that than anything else. Now in Macbeth, it doesn’t quite play out that way. In this explanation, love was actually as troublesome as it could ever have been.
12. “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not…”
Then you might become the most successful businessman that ever lived. But life doesn’t actually work that—at least not that easily. In business, there’s a way to predict outcomes and discern your decisions appropriately. It’s all done through research, study, and smart work. You may not be able to predict something for your business blindly, but you can very much study the market and figure out your best course of action.
13. “Sometimes when we are labeled, when we are branded our brand becomes our calling.”
Did Shakespeare really talk about marketing and branding in the 17thcentury? It sounds like he did, and it sounds like he made sense of it all. This is exactly why a well-thought out brand is of utter pertinence. Your brand is your calling. Your brand should be a replication of your thoughts, an iteration of your soul. That may be taking it just a tad bit far, but you get the gist. Don’t take your labels as just labels. They represent you and everything you are called to do in this life. Do your branding better.
14. “Let every man be master of his time.”
This time we’re talking about time management. In business, time is one of the most important things you have to learn to manage. Otherwise, time will end up managing you. It’s an adage we’ve all heard before, but mastering time isn’t that easy. Time can slip away too easily. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up losing far too much of it—and that’s never good for business. Proper time management will always come in handy, and it will come through practice. The quote is actually finished with the line, “Till seven at night.” Macbeth was actually telling some Lords that they could do whatever they wanted to do until seven at night. Don’t do this for your business. Work instead.
15. “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.”
Some of us always think of the worst-case scenarios when it comes to business. There’s a certain benefit to this, but this kind of thought process always leans towards the negative. And negative energy is never good for business. It pays to be prepared for the worst things to come, but it shouldn’t always be in the forefront of your mind. As a businessman, focusing your energy towards what’s in front of you—challenges and successes alike—will give you more freedom in the end. It’s called intentionality, and it works.
16. “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”
Alas, we have found Shakespeare to be wrong. There is an art to finding the mind’s construction in the face, and it takes a while to perfect. It’s a practice in perception, and many successful businessmen are masters of it. To know what someone is thinking through subtle reactions and micro movements in facial expression is a skill that can be developed. It takes patience and a lot of attention paid. But if you have this skill in business, you’ll know exactly how you can successfully handle all your interactions.
17. “Where shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
We are going to take this quote completely out of context to put a business twist to it. In the play, the witches are saying the quote, and the weather in this context signifies terror. However in business, we’re saying it to tell you that thunder, lightning, or rain should never stop you from going out to get that sale. It should never stop you from getting that win. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. You have to go out of your way and out of your comfort zone in order to find success.
18. “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles.”
Whatever you do in your business, always do the right thing. We all know it’s easier said than done. Integrity is hard to come by these days because integrity is difficult to possess and maintain. But people always admire integrity, especially in business. This Macbeth quote should motivate you to do the right thing. Doing the wrong thing will always bring you trouble down the road. It’s just the way life works. It’s also the way business works. Keep it clean.
19. “Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life's feast, and the most nourishing.”
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Your business is important. So is your sleep. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your business. It’s really as simple as that. You can only go so far on an almost empty tank. You have to refuel at some point. For most businessmen and business owners, sleep is one of the first things that get the boot. It’s not healthy. At the same time, it’s not impossible to have a balanced, healthy life along with a successful business. It’s all about time management—see number 14 above.
20. “What, you egg?”
Finally, we give you a quote that’s supposed to be humorous but is actually a murderous line from the play. We’re going to do one final twist to take this quote out of context. “What, you egg?” is humor in an otherwise tragic story. Don’t let your business be that tragedy. Find humor in everything you do, even in the most difficult of customers or clients or partners. Humor will get you through a difficult day, and it can get you through a difficult season in your business.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson