Quotes for Entrepreneurs–January 2017

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

I collect quotes for entrepreneurs from a variety of sources and tweet them on @skmurphy about once a day where you can get them hot off the mojo wire. At the end of each month I curate them in a blog post that adds commentary and may contain a longer passage from the same source for context. Please enter your E-mail address if you would like new blog posts sent to you.


Hanging On ThtStudiosQuotes for Entrepreneurs
January 2017

“A baby is a loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”
Ronald Knox

2016 began the same way, with loud noises and a mess to clean up.

+ + +

“Many things we think we are leaving are waiting for us.”
William Stafford

+ + +

“Fear leaves you at the gate.”
Basil Gentleman

This is ambiguous to me: does this mean that fear does not let you get past the starting gate or once you get started you lose your fear? I have found both to be true.

+ + +

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.”
Thomas J. Peters

A good rule for 2017.

+ + +

“What one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day.”
C. S. Lewis

This quote also reminded me of

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
Allen Saunders

+ + +

“Going forward into the future with only the past as our guide is akin to driving down a road with a blacked-out windshield and only a fleeting glimpse of the rearview mirror to help us on our way. It is unfair that men should live thus; uncertain of their eternal fate; blinkered and ignorant even of the consequences of their well-intended actions. Perhaps the most we can hope for is to act with honesty and goodwill. Robert E. Lee is forgiven for choosing the wrong side; forgiven for his sincerity and manliness. Sherman is pardoned his brutality; pardoned him for being in the right. But the book has not yet been written of our days; yet tomorrow we shall write and be judged.”
Richard Fernandez in “The Rearview Mirror

+ + +

“I am inspired by life but am motivated by death.”
Mokokoma Mokhonoana in “Confessions of a Misfit

I find deadlines motivating but you have to know when they are for them to really help. For life planning purposes, this January I decided to use 1,000 weeks as the horizon. If sunrise was 6am and sunset is 6pm it’s currently about 3 in the afternoon. Of course a thunderstorm may darken the sky prematurely and, who knows, I may still be able to see well enough if there is a full moon to continue for a while.

+ + +

“There is less waste to courtesy than anything else.”
Kin Hubbard in “These Days”

+ + +

“There are known knowns.
There are known unknowns.
There are unknown unknowns.”
There are also unknown knowns. That is to say, things you think you know that it turns out you did not.”
Donald Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld later observed that there was at least one more combination: things that you possibly may know that you don’t know you know.

+ + +

“Winners listen.
Losers just wait their turn to talk.”
Sydney J. Harris in “Winners and Losers

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

Listening unlocks teamwork and new insights.

+ + +

“Make failure your teacher not your undertaker.”
Zig Ziglar

Secret to this is Effectuation’s “Affordable Loss Principle” or Weick’s “Small Wins” that ensure you can survive failure to learn from it.

+ + +

“We are school of fish in a lake. Nobody signals but when we all begin to turn, everyone adjusts. We think the world is the shape of our lake.”
William Stafford

I have a series of “details as they..” email signature lines I have developed over the years. This one reminds me of:

“Details as they frolic in plain view but beyond understanding, like the invisible ineffable cues that a school of fish relies on to synchronize their movement.”
Sean Murphy

+ + +

“Miracles come to those who risk defeat in seeking them.  They come to those who have exhausted themselves completely in a struggle to accomplish the impossible.”
Mark Helperin “Winters Tale”

h/t Mark Zimmerman “Winter’s Tale on Miracles

+ + +

“With enigmatic clarity, Life gives us a different answer each time we ask her the same question.”
Yahia Lababidi

January seems like an appropriate time to ask the same questions again and see what new clarity emerges.

+ + +

“Listen hardest to the one you hope is not telling the truth.”
James Richardson

I think “not telling the truth” includes “may be mistaken” as this is about cultivating contradictory perspectives to get a more holistic perspective on the situation: using Analysis of Competing Hypotheses can also be used to resolve disagreements.

+ + +

“Just as we hit water when we dig in the earth, so we discover the incomprehensible sooner or later.”
Georg Lichtenberg “Aphorisms” (The Waste Books)

+ + +

“A hidden connection is stronger than the obvious.”
Heraclitus (Fragment 54)

Also translated as:

  • “A hidden harmony is better than the obvious.”
  • “The unseen harmony is better than the visible.”
  • “Harmony invisible is superior to visible.”

+ + +

“Your judgement is a little off at this time. Rely on friends.”
Today’s Fortune Cookie

I am blowing this up as a poster for my office, will be useful for years

+ + +

“The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
Salena Zito “Trump Makes his Case in Pittsburgh” (Sep-23-2016)

+ + +

“I wonder if Lean Startup merges back into Lean over the next five to ten years and we look back at Build-Measure-Learn as a poorly thought out shortcut for PDCA .”
Sean Murphy in “Planning and Reflection

+ + +

“Unintended consequences get to the heart of why you never really understand an adaptive problem until you have solved it. Problems morph and “solutions” often point to deeper problems. In social life, as in nature, we are walking on a trampoline. Every inroad reconfigures the environment we tread on.”
Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin in “Power of Positive Deviance

h/t David Gurteen “Knowledge and Practice” See also “Positive Deviance FieldGuide” (PDF) and “The Positive Deviance Initiative” I stressed the power of positive deviance for entrepreneurs in “Early Customer Conversations: Use Appreciative Inquiry and Amplify Positive Deviance.”

+ + +

“Innovation is the creation and delivery of new customer value in the marketplace with a sustainable business model.”
Curt Carlson in “Creating an Innovative Enterprise” (Slide titled “What is Innovation?”)

Video from his presentation at the  2016 Drucker Forum on Entrepreneurship is here. I also like these definitions that focus on customer:

“Innovation is the first reduction to practice of an idea in a culture.”
James Brian Quinn in “Intelligent Enterprise: A Knowledge and Service Based Paradigm for Industry

I collected this in Quotes for Entrepreneurs – May 2008

“Innovation is not what innovators do but what customers adopt.”
Michael Schrage in “Michael Schrage on Innovation.”

I used this one in “Michael Schrage on Innovation, Collaboration, Tools, and Incentives.

+ + +

“Practice makes future, and the day begins.”
Dan Rockwell (@floozyspeak)

Deliberate practice builds expertise and capabilities at both an individual and team level, these form the basis for both detecting weak signals but being able to act on them effectively.

+ + +

“People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained.”
Larry Summers quoted in “In Praise of Maintenance

“People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained. It leads to a constant trap where we underinvest in old things, then old things disappoint, us then we feel a need for new things, then to satisfy that need for new things we under-invest more in old things and the cycle goes on. You see it in the fact that we pay the equivalent of 40 cents a gallon in gasoline taxes for extra repairs due to the fact that we are not maintaining our highways right. You see it in an air-traffic control systems in the United States that still uses obsolete technologies and doesn’t use GPS. And as a consequence, we all spend more time with air-traffic delays, we burn huge amounts more energy, we take greater safety risks than we need to. You see it in developing countries where they’re always building new facilities, but then a few years later those facilities sit in a sense of disrepair. I think the fetish of novelty and the lack of glamor of maintaining and sustaining things is a besetting problem.”
Larry Summers quoted in “In Praise of Maintenance

I cannot find the original article or speech this comes from, but Summers writes about maintenance in “A lesson on Infrastructure from the Anderson Bridge Fiasco” and some additional commentary on the multiple ways that the routine maintenance on the Anderson Bridge was delayed in “Why Americans Don’t Trust Government.

+ + +

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”
Kurt Vonnegut in “Hocus Pocus” (1990)

This triggered the following exchange with Kevin Behr, co-author of  “The Phoenix Project

  • Kevin Behr (@kevinbehr): THIS. Maintenance is an enabling constraint. Step away from the line pull the cord and maintain–broke stuff is useless inventory.
  • Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): Key is differentiating necessary renewal efforts from need for organized abandonment, but I agree most junkyards are illusory assets.

+ + +

“We believe efficient debate begins with pointing out differences. But the momentum gained by starting with agreements is far more valuable.”
Scott Berkun (@berkun)

+ + +

“No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of common sense.”
Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and British Prime Minister (in a letter to Bulwer Lytton)

quoted in Salisbury, Victorian Titan by Andrew Roberts h/t VictorianWeb

+ + +

“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion, you can get all kinds of press … but if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
Donald Trump in “The Art of the Deal

h/t Salena Zito It’s perhaps a clever re-phrasing (adding a distinction between bullshitting and lying) of an observation by Jacques Abbadie commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Denis Diderot:

“You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Jacques Abbadie in “Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne” (1684)

+ + +

“Perfection of planning is a symptom of decay. During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death.”
Cyril Northcote Parkinson in “Parkinson’s Law” (book) not original 1955 Economist Article

h/t Walter Russell Mead in “Requiem For a Dream” who is writing about EU. As Apple and Google plan massive new headquarters in Silicon Valley I cannot help but wonder if this applies to them. I like this quote and also used it in Quotes for Entrepreneurs–January 2015. Here is a longer excerpt with more context:

“It is now known that a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse. This apparently paradoxical conclusion is based upon a wealth of archaeological and historical research, with the more esoteric details of which we need not concern ourselves. In general principle, however, the method pursued has been to select and date the buildings which appear to have been perfectly designed for their purpose. A study and comparison of these has tended to prove that perfection of planning is a symptom of decay. During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death.”
Cyril Northcote Parkinson in “Parkinson’s Law

+ + +

“How to know your product will succeed: look for unexpected positive physical action from potential customers.”
Scott Adams in “How To Know If Your Product Will Succeed

An interesting test, avoids mistaking casual support from friends or mild engagement for something that truly energizes people.

+ + +

“The pressing ethical questions in AI are about how people can exploit other people, or through carelessness introduce immoral behavior into automated systems.”
Maciej Ceglowski in “SuperIntelligence

More context:

“The pressing ethical questions in machine learning are not about machines becoming self-aware and taking over the world, but about how people can exploit other people, or through carelessness introduce immoral behavior into automated systems.

And of course there’s the question of how AI and machine learning affect power relationships. We’ve watched surveillance become a de facto part of our lives, in an unexpected way. We never thought it would look quite like this.”
Maciej Ceglowski in “SuperIntelligence

+ + +

“The biggest problem with venture capital right now: we have replaced “venture” capital with “product-market fit” capital.”
Chamath Palihapitiya  in “Bros Funding Bros: What’s Wrong with Venture Capital” (Oct-6-15)

More context:

The biggest problem with venture capital right now: we have replaced “venture” capital with “product-market fit” capital.

The original practitioners of venture capital were the eccentric, quirky outcasts of traditional society who themselves were entrepreneurs. We’ve replaced this diverse bunch with a conformist but pedigreed group who are largely risk averse and driven more by FOMO than by passion or vision.

These new practitioners have several characteristics:

  1. They have decided that ideas are too risky and leave this work to incubators or angels.
  2. They will only play when some amount of “traction” exists.
  3. They don’t deeply understand the traction or have a view on the business, but simply want “momentum.”

Chamath Palihapitiya  in “Bros Funding Bros: What’s Wrong with Venture Capital” (Oct-6-15)

+ + +

“If an opportunity is off the charts, there’s no point in saying it’s two times off the charts. ”
Marty Neumeier

It’s also probably more important to identify what you are going to sacrifice or stop doing so that you can pursue it. This was originally collected in “Seven Quotes on Learning and Measurement From Marty Neumeier

+ + +

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.”
C.S. Lewis

+ + +

“The best ideas are the honest ones. Ones born out of personal experience. Ones that originated to help a few and ended up helping many.”
Simon Sinek (@simonsinek)

The best suggestions flow from what you know from direct experience or personal action coupled with the strong intent to be of service. I wrote about this in “Advising Entrepreneurs” and used this quote as a point of departure:

“What is the quality of your intent? Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us to the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words.”
Thurgood Marshall

+ + +

“An expert is not someone who gives you the answer, it is someone who asks you the right question.”
Eli Goldratt

+ + +

“Code is not a collection of keystrokes. It is a collection of decisions, which are the distillate of experience and learning.”
Tim Ottinger (@tottinge)

This is a great insight. It’s also embedded in “Chesterton’s Fence” and applicable to any infrastructure in use. More on “Chesterton’s Fence” in “Orienting, Observing, Doing Homework, and Paying Dues.”

+ + +

Amos: “Kingfish, where did you get your good judgment?”
Kingfish: “From my experience.”
Amos: “And where did you get your experience?”
Kingfish: “From bad judgment.”

Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show

The joke may be older than the 40’s (a variation on “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted”) but this is the earliest I could find.

+ + +

“Mystery isn’t something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge.”
Flannery O’Conner

+ + +

“For more than 300 years, the open society model of the Anglo-American world, flawed and uneven as it is, has been beating the smart dictators and emperors who have led closed societies against it.”
Walter Russell Mead

+ + +

“I only write the lines I would highlight in a novel or essay. Why bother with the rest?
Peter Yovu

h/t James Geary I try to boil my writing down to the essential but it’s hard.

+ + +

“Imagination give brilliance and incisiveness to thought by concentrating, coloring, and strengthening expression.”
Henri Frederic Amiel

This is my “shortened for twitter version” of

“What is the faculty which gives relief, brilliancy, and incisiveness to thought? Imagination. Under its influence expression becomes concentrated, colored, and strengthened, and by the power it has of individualizing all it touches, it gives life and permanence to the material on which it works. A writer of genius changes sand into glass and glass into crystal, ore into iron and iron into steel; he marks with his own stamp every idea he gets hold of.”
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal

+ + +

“The open office plan is a tyrant of interruption, a deep loss of privacy, and the death of productivity.”
David Heinemeier Hansson (@dhh)

Hansson added this as a comment on a Dec-1-2015 retweet of “Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.” by Lindsey Kauffman. I think for very small team of 2-5 a two room setup where most work takes place at one table and there is another room for calls works well. But only because you can use social protocol to manage noise/interruptions etc… and it’s an easier way to keep everyone in the loop. Geographically dispersed small teams can sometimes get the same effect by leaving a skype text chat open. But scaling effects–adding a second unrelated project or more than about six people–seem to quickly extinguish any benefits and in fact seem to lower productivity as Kauffman recounts in her article.

+ + +

              you 
       how do I    know that?
              they

A “stacklist” from Edward Tufte‘s (@EdwardTufte) new book manuscript “Meaning and Space.” More context:

“To think clearly about the relationship between evidence and conclusion, the relevant question is How do I know that? Answering this question requires self-awareness about the quality and integrity of information, and particularly how that information arrived to one’s own world. Similarly, to ask others, How do you know that? How do they know that? These questions are among the best you can ask analytically.”
Edward Tufte in “Meaning and Space” (new book in manuscript).

I think this is also useful test for shared situational awareness–Tufte left out “we” in the stack for “how do we know what we know”–in addition to self-debugging and detecting self-deception.

+ + +

“If it’s exciting, you’re probably firefighting and not solving underlying systemic problems.”
Jason Yip (@jchyip)

Worse, if you enjoy firefighting you may be unconsciously encouraging arson or a build up of unsafe conditions so you can do what you enjoy. But bear in mind that there is a real joy in #creative #flow, which can be triggered by surprise or accident, see “If You Knew How Hard A Startup Would Be.”

+ + +

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.”
Henry David Thoreau

h/t Edward Tufte in “Two- and Three-Dimensional Sentences” which also led me to this deeply moving video that opens with the Thoreau quote.

+ + +

“Learning about your data: to learn about a process as a whole, directly observe how measurements are made in the field.”
Edward Tufte

One of many great insights in his talk at the Machine Learning and Data Sciences Conference

+ + +

“What we lost in the fire we will find in the ashes.”
Sam Chisholm to Goodnight Robicheaux in “Magnificent Seven” (2016)

This is Chisholm’s answer to Goodnight’s question, “Why do you waste your time on a piece of rebel trash like me?” Although they fought on opposite sides in the Civil War, Chisholm’s answer offers the promise of reconciliation and a chance at redemption for Goodnight.

+ + +

Trackback from your site.

Leave a comment

Quick Links

Bootstrappers Breakfast Link Startup Stages Clients In the News Upcoming Events Office Hours Button Newsletter SignUp