Quotes For Entrepreneurs–September 2016

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes

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Quotes For Entrepreneurs–September 2016

This month I have a number of quotes by Charles Kettering, a prolific inventor born in 1876 who worked for NCR on cash registers, founded Delco and was head of research for General Motors where he pioneered the design of a number electrical components in automobiles, redesigned diesel engines such that they were able to replace steam engines then in use for locomotives, and helped to foster a number of medical instruments directly and through the Sloan-Kettering foundation. What’s most interesting to me are how clearly he saw the need not only for experimentation and learning from failure but for a persevering approach to selling and continuing to refine any of his inventions.

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“We have a lot of people revolutionizing the world because they never had to present a working model.”
Charles Kettering

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Don't Start Vast Projects With Half Vast Ideas
Don’t Start Vast Projects With Half Vast Ideas (Author Unknown).
Used in A Half-Fast Entrepreneur with Half-Vast Experience

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“There are two fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks that by hoarding money he can somehow accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless reformer who thinks that if only he can take the money from one class and give it to another, all the world’s ills will be cured. They are both on the wrong track. They might as well try to corner all the checkers or all the dominoes of the world under the delusion that they are thereby cornering great quantities of skill. Some of the most successful money-makers of our times have never added one pennyworth to the wealth of men. Does a card player add to the wealth of the world?

If we all created wealth up to the limits, the easy limits, of our creative capacity, then it would simply be a case of there being enough for everybody, and everybody getting enough. Any real scarcity of the necessaries of life in the world—not a fictitious scarcity caused by the lack of clinking metallic disks in one’s purse—is due only to lack of production. And lack of production is due only too often to lack of knowledge of how and what to produce.”

Henry Ford in My Life and Work, 1923 Chapter XIX “What We May Expect”

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“Sometimes a neighbor whom we have disliked a lifetime for his arrogance and conceit lets fall a single commonplace remark that shows us another side, another man, really: a man uncertain, and puzzled, and in the dark like ourselves.”
Willa Cather in Shadows on the Rock (1931)

This can often happen in negotiations when someone confuses strength with arrogance and conceit. It may not make them any more likeable but it can allow you to see the possibility for a business relationship and remind you to consider the effect of your words and demeanor on them.

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“The problem is not so much to see what nobody has yet seen, but to think concerning what everybody sees, what nobody has yet thought.”
Albert Schopenhauer

Although exploration and new instrumentation that enable views that had not yet been glimpsed can also drive revolutions and force theories to be revised. Whether a new theories flows from a novel perspective on existing observations and or from novel observations, the fitness is judged based on how well it matches the observations. This is also true for business models and the theory of your business.

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“An old man’s idea of a bright and intelligent woman is one who enjoys hearing reminiscences.”
Ed Howe

Mentors who offer nostalgia in the form of advice look for a similar appetite in the entrepreneurs they work with.

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“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.”
Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc.

Andy Grove makes the same point in “High Output Management” always review rough drafts so that you can get a sense of structure and perspective before working the details. It avoids getting emotionally committed to a final version before you have solicited feedback.

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“Create a support system: schedule regular times to connect, discuss challenges, and share insights with peers.”

One of the most powerful things you can do for others is to ask questions from a caring perspective. This sentence was my twitter version of

“Get unstuck. Create a support system of others with goals. Set a day and time to connect, discuss challenges, share achievements.”
Lynnea Hagen (@LynneaHagen)

This was one of the “Eleven Tips From Lynnea Hagen on Getting Unstuck.” A peer support system has a number of good effects and is one of the reason we facilitate several Mastermind groups for entrepreneurs:

  1. The act of preparing to explain your situation to peers will naturally help you organize it and clarify it in your mind.
  2. Writing your goals down gets them out of your head; committing to them with peers makes it even more likely you will stick to them.
  3. Peers can offer other perspectives and a reality check on your situation and plans.
  4. Often you can see your problems more clearly when a peer explains the same one.
  5. It’s not uncommon to give a peer a piece of advice only to realize, “Hey, I should be doing that (or stop doing that) too!”

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“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Proverbs 27:17

This is true in dialog or conversation, in communities of practice, and in encouragement that a workout buddy offers to continue training or practicing. It’s the core promise of a mastermind group. My belief in the value of conversations with peers for entrepreneurs is what has led me to facilitate Bootstrapper Breakfasts for a decade in Silicon Valley.

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“Just in proportion as you recognize your ignorance, the road to greater knowledge will be opened.”
Charles Kettering

Quoted in “Professional Amateur: The Biography of Charles F. Kettering” by T. A. Boyd.

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“If the 20th century was one in which people believed government could solve all the world’s problems, the 21st century is fast developing into one where government has become like the weather: chaotic, capricious and ultimately arbitrary — something everyone talks about but no one can do anything about.”
Richard Fernandez in “Successful Failures

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“We couldn’t agree on what path to take, so we split up the party and those trolls took us out one by one. And it all went to shit. And we were all disabled! So we stick together, no matter what!”
Dustin in Stranger Things Episode 6 “the Monster” (written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez)

If you are scouting from a base camp it can make sense for a startup to explore in many directions at once. But if you are moving into real contact with the market the team has to get behind a single approach–but be willing to reconsider and change direction based on what you learn.

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“How often in life we complete a task that was beyond the capability of the person we were when we started it.”
Robert Brault

h/t Mark S A Smith (@marksasmith) This is a good insight: you need to build experimentation and capability development into many projects. I used this in “Constructive Pessimism”

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“Bees are not as busy we think they are.
They just can’t buzz any slower.”
Kin Hubbard

I used this as the opening quote for A Half-Fast Entrepreneur with Half-Vast Experience.

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“Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.”
Robert Green Ingersoll in  “Abraham Lincoln” (1894)

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@Nerdista: “Kids Today”

Kids Today @nerdista

“The best innovators are need seekers.”
Gijs van Wulfen

Reminds me of

“Let the problem be the boss.”
Charles Kettering

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“Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.”
Peter F. Drucker in “Managing Oneself”

I think this is true for successful starts, they flow from a shared set of values among the founders that are congruent with customer values, and a match between customer needs and founder strengths.

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“A problem is not solved in a laboratory. It is solved in some fellow’s head. All the apparatus is for is to get his head turned around so that he can see the thing right.”
Charles Kettering

Quoted in “Professional Amateur: The Biography of Charles F. Kettering” by T. A. Boyd.

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“If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?”
Thomas Huxley

I used this as an interstitial quote for A Half-Fast Entrepreneur with Half-Vast Experience.

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“How many pessimists end up by desiring the things they fear, in order to prove that they are right.”
Robert Mallet in Apostilles

The frustration of the  self-canceling prophesy that alerts us to a possible future in order to prevent it. I used this in “Constructive Pessimism”

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“Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.”
Adam Lindsay Gordon

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“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana in the Life of Reason

I was curious about the context for this famous quote and am indebted to Brandon Emrys for doing the research for me in “Those Who Cannot Remember the Past” Here is a longer excerpt, I used this as the opening quote for “15 Years After 9-11, Four After Benghazi” as a plea for continuing to learn from the past.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience.

In a second stage men are docile to events, plastic to new habits and suggestions, yet able to graft them on original instincts, which they thus bring to fuller satisfaction. This is the plane of manhood and true progress.

Last comes a stage when retentiveness is exhausted and all that happens is at once forgotten; a vain, because unpractical, repetition of the past takes the place of plasticity and fertile readaptation. In a moving world readaptation is the price of longevity. The hard shell, far from protecting the vital principle, condemns it to die down slowly and be gradually chilled; immortality in such a case must have been secured earlier, by giving birth to a generation plastic to the contemporary world and able to retain its lessons. Thus old age is as forgetful as youth, and more incorrigible; it displays the same inattentiveness to conditions; its memory becomes self-repeating and degenerates into an instinctive reaction, like a bird’s chirp.”
George Santayana in the Life of Reason

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“Change starts when someone sees the next step.”
William Drayton

I think this is why it’s important to map “the adjacent possible” or the “Zone of Proximal Development.” See also “Chalk Talk on Technology Adoption

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“Fear of ridicule often distorts assessment of evidence, since it interferes with commitment to recognizing probabilities.”
Brandon Emrys in “Dashed Off Notes XVII

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“I’ve had a lot of trouble in my life–most of which never happened.”
Mark Twain

In context Twain means that he worried but didn’t take action to prevent or mitigate problems. But a constructive pessimism that spurs you to move beyond worry into action can be very useful. For more on this see”Constructive Pessimism.”

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“School taught us to cover up to avert other students from copying our answers, which are made up of our knowledge. But, with this book, I would like to achieve the opposite: give away, or rather share, everything that I have learned about everything that falls under the umbrella of life.”
Mokokoma Mokhonoana in “Confessions of a Misfit

Part of my mission for this blog is to share what I have learned about entrepreneurship. Because I have not stopped learning a certain amount of the content is already obsolete.

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“When I observe the luminous progress and expansion of natural science in modern times, I seem to myself like a traveller going eastwards at dawn, and gazing at the growing light with joy, but also with impatience; looking forward with longing to the advent of the full and final light, but, nevertheless, having to turn away his eyes when the sun appeared, unable to bear the splendor he had awaited with so much desire.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  in Maxims and Reflections

Goethe lived 1749 to 1832 and probably wrote these lines in the last two decades of his life. They offer an echo from 200 years ago of the idea of a Technology Singularity.

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“It was a sombre snowy afternoon, and the gas-lamps were lit in the big reverberating station. As he paced the platform, waiting for the Washington express, he remembered that there were people who thought there would one day be a tunnel under the Hudson through which the trains of the Pennsylvania railway would run straight into New York. They were of the brotherhood of visionaries who likewise predicted the building of ships that would cross the Atlantic in five days, the invention of a flying machine, lighting by electricity, telephonic communication without wires, and other Arabian Nights marvels.”
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence Chapter 29

Age of Innocence was first published in 1920 but set in 1870, so the predictions in the text are facts to Wharton. This is a look back at the progress that had been accomplished in the last 50 years from the perspective of 1920.

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“One who admits his fault will be kept from failure.”
Sirach 20:3

Candor, transparency, and a focus on root cause analysis can prevent a mistake from becoming a failure.

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“One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.”
William the Silent (“William of Orange”)

I added this as an opening quote for “A Clear Eyed View Of The Way Forward.”

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“Like a midwife, I make my living bringing new babies into the world, except that mine are new advertising campaigns.”
David Ogilvy

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“We choose between descriptions of options, rather than between the options themselves.”
Amos Tversky

This is one of the reasons why you can test a product by just providing a data sheet or a demo. I took a “Psychology of Decision Making” course from Tversky in 1980 where he outlined is prospect theory, he was a thoughtful speaker who offered a lot of thought-provoking analogies. I still remember him asking “What are the odds you would gamble of getting shot at sunrise to make a penny? You take a version of that bet every time you cross a busy street.”

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“It’s twice as hard to do something you ought to do as it is to do something you can’t do.”
Kin Hubbard in “Abe Martin’s Almanack” (1911)

Procrastination takes many forms–and I am familiar with most.

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“The more nonlinearity in the response, the less information in the average.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in “On Things That Do Not Average, Or The Mean Field Problem” [PDF]

It’s a chapter from a new book Taleb is writing “Skin in the Game” where he suggests it’s his way of expressing  Jensen’s Inequality, which he defines as “a function of an average is not an average of a function, and the difference increases with disorder.” It reminds me of the old joke about the statistician who drowned trying to wade a river that was on average three feet deep.

Here is a longer excerpt:

“The more nonlinearity in the response, the less information in the average. […]

Note that an average and a sum are mathematically the same thing up to a simple division by a constant, so the fallacy of the average translate into the fallacy of summing, or aggregating, or looking at collective that has many components from the properties of a single unit. […]

The main idea behind complex systems is that the ensemble behaves in way not predicted by the components. The interactions matter more than the nature of the units. Studying individual ants will never (one can safely say never for most such situations) , never give us an idea on how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants. This is called an “emergent” property of the whole, by which parts and whole differ because what matters is the interactions between such parts.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in”On Things That Do Not Average, Or The Mean Field Problem” [PDF]

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“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”
John Leonard

A long shared context deepens advice and mutual insight. I think this is true for marriage and family relationships (e.g. father and son) as well as a other advisory relationships. We have have been working with some clients for a decade or more and it makes us more effective in many ways. There are also advantages to seeking out a fresh pair of eyes on a problem but people who understand us well often can leverage the longer context for better questions, suggestions, and insights.

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“Hard work: saying yes or no on insufficient information.”
Lord Bowen

The difference between a decision and a choice is the amount of certainty.

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 “Culture: how things get done when there is no written procedure.”
Naeem Zafar

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“The danger of power is the illusion that you know more than those who don’t have it. ”
Dan Rockwell in “The Real Truth About Empowerment Pt. 2

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“Character is something you forge for yourself; temperament is something you are born with and can only slightly modify. Some people have easy temperaments and weak characters; others have difficult temperaments and strong characters. We are all prone to confuse the two in assessing people we associate with. Those with easy temperaments and weak characters are more likable than admirable; those with difficult temperaments and strong characters are more admirable than likable.”
Sydney J. Harris in “Temperament Is Not the Same as Character” (1983 newspaper column)

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“A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.”
Frank A. Clark

My father always encouraged me to do my best, sometimes by asking me “Is this the best you can do?” and other times “If you did your best that’s all I can ask.” Occasionally he would phrase “Is this your best and highest purpose?” as “What in the hell do you think you are doing?” but I knew what he meant.

I used this originally in “Father’s Day 2016.

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“There is no alchemy that changes opinions into facts; the search continues for an alchemy that allows facts to alter opinions.”
Beston Jack Abrams

h/t James Geary

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“A good listener is one who helps us overhear ourselves.”
Yahia Lababidi

I am reminded of

“The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said: ‘How can I know what I think till I see what I say?'”
Graham Wallas in The Art of Thought, 1926

There is also “The Spaniel Method,” [PDF] see “Asking Questions From A Caring Perspective” where I point out

“I used to think it was the advice I offered that provided the highest value to clients and friends. I talk to a number of people in different or challenging situations. Recently I have come to appreciate that it’s when I focus and listen to someone explain their situation, asking them questions from a caring perspective to help clarify their understanding, that I often provide the most value.”
Sean Murphy in “Asking Questions From A Caring Perspective

Erin Liman (@liman)  replied to the tweeted quote with “Right on. This is why it’s important to pause & give people time to answer — they need time to synthesize/express/hear their own insight.”

And I realized that this is especially true if you are a strong extrovert in a conversation with an introvert who is composing their thoughts before speaking.

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“Puppets go to sleep the moment they break free from their strings.”
Les Coleman

When you want to get away from something–leave home, leave a bad job, fire a customer–and you “break free from strings” of an old attachment I think there is sense of fatigue. But when  you are pulled toward something–the college you want to attend, the job you really wanted, the startup team comes together–and the last thing holding you back let’s go I think you feel very energized.

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“Dare to be great, but remember to be adequate.”
Aaron Haspel

A good rule of thumb for a bootstrapper. Breaking even is much more preferable than ruin, you have to stay in the game long enough to master it. Haspel has a number of aphorisms in “Everything” that are quite good.

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“Silence is a portable sanctuary.”
Beston Jack Abrams

I can be very productive with a certain amount of background noise, I find it easier to write if there is music playing or I am in a moderately noisy coffee house where there are many low voice conversations going on in the background. But when I really need to think hard about something–typically a problem or a challenge I am facing–and need to give it all of concentration and focus, then silence is best. I find this occurs early in the morning, typically between about 1am to 8am, or in an empty room with a high ceiling like an auditorium or a church, or some place that’s miles away from a freeway and only accessible by a narrow road. I used this in “Working in Silence.

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“Silence is a vastly underused information aid; solitude–especially in the age of twitter–is not an affliction but an emotional and intellectual oasis.”
Beston Jack Abrams

I used this in “Working in Silence.

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“I believe that real meditation is about detecting self-deception.”
Jorn Barger in An Internet way of self-knowledge

Meditation is a key self-debugging technique; I referenced this in “More Unsolicited Advice From David Cain.

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“The way to get ahead is to start now. If you start now, you will know a lot next year that you don’t know now and that you would not have known next year if you had waited.While a lot of us are waiting until conditions are just right before we go ahead, others are stumbling along, fortunately ignorant of the dangers that beset them. By the time that we, in our superior wisdom, decide to make a start, we discover that the fools, in their blundering way, have traveled quite a distance.”
William Feather in “The Business of Life

This is from a longer excerpt I used as a point of departure in “William Feather on ‘Perseverance Rewarded’” “The Business of Life” is a fantastic book that now seems to be completely unavailable.

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“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”
Anaïs Nin

I think some people do lose their sense of wonder, I am not sure if it’s killed by too much knowledge or something else. This reminds me of Huxley’s insight about the genius being able to maintain a sense of wonder in spite of deep expertise, I think he called it a secret because there is not a well understood formula or approach.

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of childhood into maturity.”
Thomas Huxley

I think Hoffer offers a refinement that you can stay a child because you refuse to mature or because you retain your curiosity and sense of wonder and keep growing:

“Both the revolutionary and the creative individual are perpetual juveniles. The revolutionary does not grow up because he cannot grow, while the creative individual cannot grow up because he keeps growing.”
Eric Hoffer in “Reflections on the Human Condition”

His meaning of “revolutionary” is someone not offering a creative solution to current challenges: they may be violent or regressive or trying to reduce existing freedoms.

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“A rough estimate is better than no estimate.”
Ash Maurya

It’s better to try and explicitly bound your uncertainty than to leave it unbounded. I find that it’s worthwhile to try and estimate the most likely, the tenth percentile (where 90% of the time the outcome will be better) and the 90% percentile (where 90% of the time the outcome will be worse). That normally gives you a 80% range and a way to plan both for risk mitigation and the possibility for upside.

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“In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.”
Robert Anderson

I used this in “What Lessons Can I Draw From a Painful Cofounder Experience?

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“We believe that selling in niche business markets is a conversation that is personal.”
Sean Murphy in “Why Startup Founders Choose SKMurphy As An Advisor

By this I mean that it is authentic, based on a commitment to a long term business relationship, and typically involves expertise–which is a characteristic of an individual or a team of people, despite the label “expert systems” applied to some software–that enables a team to solve a real problem or address a real need for a prospect.

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“A winners makes commitments.
A loser makes promises.”
Sydney J. Harris in “Winners and Losers

Used in “12 From Sydney J. Harris’ “Winners and Losers” For Entrepreneurs

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