Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in July 2017

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes

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 to have new blog posts sent to you.


Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in July 2017

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“Man should never consider himself or others as “winners” or “losers” but rather as trainees evolving and learning in the School of Life.”
Daniel Desbiens

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“This year especially there’s an uncomfortable feeling in the tech industry that we did something wrong, that in following our credo of “move fast and break things”, some of what we knocked down were the load-bearing walls of our democracy.”
Maciej Cegowski in “Build a Better Monster: Morality, Machine Learning, and Mass Surveillance” (April 2017)

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“There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.”
Moral to “The Fairly Intelligent Fly”  by James Thurber in “Fables for Our Time“(1940)

Originally published in Feb-4-1939 issue of “The New Yorker” Thurber wrote this against a background of a resurgent militaristic Germany and a broader rise of fascism and dictatorships in Spain, Italy, and Russia. I used this in “No Safety in Numbers.”

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“I’m wrong about that.”–one of the handy sentences.
William Stafford

I used this in “A Summary of Max Gunther’s ‘Zurich Axioms’ for Entrepreneurs

Negotiating pro-tip: Unless you plan to never work with someone again, good will is more important than deal size. Think lifetime value.
Michael Berstein (@mrb_bk)

I always assume that the other party will always find out the truth, and never forget any lapses. And that everyone has a lot of friends.  See “Honesty in Negotiations” and “Fifteen Quotes on Negotiation” which includes:

“Life is events not words.
Trust only movement.”
Alfred Adler

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“Freedom is not made up principally of privileges; it is made up especially of duties.”
Albert Camus

I used this in “Happy Fourth of July 2017

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“All work is the avoidance of harder work.”
James Richardson in “44 Aphorisms by James Richardson

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“You can sink so fast that you think you’re flying.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

This happens at some startups they are moving so fast they don’t realize that they are burning through their cash, or customer goodwill, or team morale. Another lesson from the entrepreneurial roller coaster.

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“There is never any alternative to the painful process of insuring against catastrophe. This kind of caution does not seem heroic, of course. It seems like the joyless prudence of the accountant and the Sunday-school teacher.”
Malcolm Gladwell in “Blowing Up

“We associate the willingness to risk great failure — and the ability to climb back from catastrophe–with courage. But in this we are wrong. That is the lesson of our volatile times. There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.”
Malcolm Gladwell in “Blowing Up

The reality is that most entrepreneurs make small bets that are lopsided: an affordable loss balanced against a larger upside. They play a long game. I pulled these two insights from a longer passed, excerpted below for more context:

“A month or so before Victor Niederhoffer blew up, Taleb had dinner with him at a restaurant in Westport, and Niederhoffer told him that he had been selling naked puts. You can imagine the two of them across the table from each other, Niederhoffer explaining that his bet was an acceptable risk, that the odds of the market going down so heavily that he would be wiped out were minuscule, and Taleb listening and shaking his head, and thinking about black swans. […] He could see all too clearly where it all might end up. In his mind’s eye, he could envision Niederhoffer borrowing money from his children, and selling off his silver, and talking in a hollow voice about letting down his friends, and Taleb did not know if he had the strength to live with that possibility. Unlike Niederhoffer, Taleb never thought he was invincible. You couldn’t if you had watched your homeland blow up, and had been the one person in a hundred thousand who gets throat cancer, and so for Taleb there was never any alternative to the painful process of insuring himself against catastrophe.

This kind of caution does not seem heroic, of course. It seems like the joyless prudence of the accountant and the Sunday-school teacher. The truth is that we are drawn to the Niederhoffers of this world because we are all, at heart, like Niederhoffer: we associate the willingness to risk great failure — and the ability to climb back from catastrophe–with courage. But in this we are wrong. That is the lesson of Taleb and Niederhoffer, and also the lesson of our volatile times. There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.”

Malcolm Gladwell in “Blowing Up

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“I never said it was possible. I only said it was true.”
Matthew Gregory Lewis

Although commonly attributed to Charles Richet I traced this to a 1797 play “the Castle Spectre.” Alice has seen a ghost and heard it sing and play guitar in this scene:

Fr. Philip: Nonsense! You silly woman, what you say is not possible.
Alice: I never said it was possible. I only said it was true; and that if ever I heard music, I heard it last night.

THE CASTLE SPECTRE. First performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane,on December 14, 1797

I find this reaction of, “what you say is not possible,” to the results of a customer interview not uncommon. The best answer is Alice’s “perhaps not, but it’s true.”

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“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

Customer discovery interviews can often make you feel like a stranger in a strange land.

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“Luck enters into every contingency. You are a fool if you forget it–and a greater fool if you count upon it.”
Phyllis Bottome

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“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires, seek discipline and find your liberty.”
Frank Herbert

I used this in “Happy Fourth of July 2017.” If you have found a calling or higher purpose for your life-and therefore your business–discipline becomes easier. Two related quotes by Merlin Mann

“A priority is observed, not manufactured or assigned. Otherwise it’s necessarily not a priority.”
Merlin Mann in “Priorities

We full the pull of a priority immediately upon observing it.

“We procrastinate when we have forgotten who we are.”
Merlin Mann in “Inbox Zero Notes

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“Ideas are easy to come by; reduction to practice is an arduous but inspirationally rewarding matter.”
R. Buckminster Fuller in “Critical Path”

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“We tend to think of government as doing things, but we should also think of government as a platform that lets things happen.”
Tim O’Reilly in “Building New Affordances for Civic Engagement

h/t LABCITIES  “Smart Cities: Past, Present, and Future.” I would go beyond “allowing” and say “enabling” or “cultivating.” Boyd Cohen calls this model of citizen co-creation “Smart Cities 3.0

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“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

So, the first thing you do is to take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window and start once more. But if you haven’t been planning you can’t start to work, intelligently at least.”

Dwight Eisenhower in “Remarks at the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference” (November 14, 1957)

I used a variation of the first sentence in Planning in a Bootstrapped Startup: a Model from Will Kamishlian and the full quote in “A Summary of Max Gunther’s “The Zurich Axioms” for Entrepreneurs

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“The most important element of a strategy is a coherent viewpoint about the forces at work, not a plan.”
Richard Rumelt

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“Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Oliver Goldsmith

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“The primary responsibility of a change manager is one of sense-making, not one of control.”
Jason Little (@jasonlittle)

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“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.”
Bob Dylan

I used this in “Happy Fourth of July 2017

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“We build our computers the way we build our cities–over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.”
Ellen Ullman in “The dumbing down of programming” Salon Tue-May-12-1998

More context

“Two hours later, I was stripping down the system. Layer by layer it fell away. Off came Windows NT 3.51; off came a wayward co-installation of Windows 95 where it overlaid DOS. I said goodbye to video and sound; goodbye wallpaper; goodbye fonts and colors and styles; goodbye windows and icons and menus and buttons and dialogs. All the lovely graphical skins turned to so much bitwise detritus. It had the feel of Keir Dullea turning off the keys to HAL’s memory core in the film “2001,” each keyturn removing a “higher” function, HAL’s voice all the while descending into mawkish, babyish pleading.

[…] What I had now was a bare machine, just the hardware and its built-in logic. No more Microsoft muddle of operating systems. It was like hosing down your car after washing it: the same feeling of virtuous exertion, the pleasure of the sparkling clean machine you’ve just rubbed all over. Yours. Known down to the crevices. Then, just to see what would happen, I turned on the computer. It powered up as usual, gave two long beeps, then put up a message in large letters on the screen:

NO ROM BASIC

[…]  I had not seen a PC with built-in BASIC in some 16 years, yet here it still was, vestigial trace of the interpreter, something still remembering a time when the machine could be used to interpret and execute my entries as lines in a BASIC program. The least and smallest thing the machine could do in the absence of all else, its one last imperative: No operating system! Look for BASIC! It was like happening upon some primitive survival response, a low-level bit of hard wiring, like the mysterious built-in knowledge that lets a blind little mouseling, newborn and helpless, find its way to the teat.

This discovery of the trace of BASIC was somehow thrilling — an ancient pot shard found by mistake in the rubble of an excavation.

[…] The computer was suddenly revealed as palimpsest. The machine that is everywhere hailed as the very incarnation of the new had revealed itself to be not so new after all, but a series of skins, layer on layer, winding around the messy, evolving idea of the computing machine. Under Windows was DOS; under DOS, BASIC; and under them both the date of its origins recorded like a birth memory. Here was the very opposite of the authoritative, all-knowing system with its pretty screenful of icons. Here was the antidote to Microsoft’s many protections. The mere impulse toward Linux had led me into an act of desktop archaeology. And down under all those piles of stuff, the secret was written: We build our computers the way we build our cities — over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.

Ellen Ullman in “The dumbing down of programming” Salon Tue-May-12-1998

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“The culture precedes positive results. It doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought on the way to the victory stand. Champions behave like champions before they are champions; they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.”
Bill Walsh in “Score Takes Care of Itself

Success can also mask a deterioration in habits, practices, or culture so that you don’t realize rot has set in.

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“Outrage is society’s immune system protecting shared values.
Social media uniquely promotes outrage.
We have a social autoimmune disorder.”
Michael Mayer (@mmay3r)

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“When offered something at a bargain price, start by asking if you’d take it for free. The answer is often surprising.”
Paul Graham (@paulg)

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“All opportunities come with an expiration date, but I think the ones I regret the most are where I neglected the opportunity to do a kindness.”
Sean Murphy in “Brent Beshore: 5 Habits To Cultivate That Enable Success

Beshore’s five habits: be willing to grind, be humble, be kind, learn continually, and take notes.

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“As a native New Yorker, I look back on the seventies as a kidney stone of a decade—a decade in which I heard the frightening, reverberating thud of a truck crashing through the old elevated West Side Highway a few blocks from my apartment. The city was too caught up in expanding its welfare system to pay much attention to small matters like bridge and road repair.”
Fred Siegel in “My Political Reeducation” (July-13-2017 the 40th anniversary of 1967 New York Riots)

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“Between what

  1. I think,
  2. I want to say,
  3. I believe I’m saying,
  4. I say,
  5. you want to hear,
  6. you hear,
  7. you believe you understand,
  8. you want to understand, and
  9. you understand,

there are at least nine possibilities for misunderstanding.”
Francois Garagnon

h/t Bruce La Fetra

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“We virtual workers are everyone’s future. We wander from job to job, and now it’s hard for anyone to stay put anymore. Our job commitments are contractual, contingent, impermanent, and this model of insecure life is spreading.”
Ellen Ullman

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Valid response to any interview question: “can you tell me an example where you’ve run into this issue in day-to-day work at the company?”
Justin Searls (@searls)

Also useful for decoding feature requests from customers and problem statements from prospects.

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“To know a man, observe how he wins his object, rather than how he loses it; for when we fail, our pride supports us, when we succeed, it betrays us.”
Charles Caleb Colton

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Laure Parsons: What mistakes do you see companies make when they try to use data to learn?
Hunter Walk: They lose sight of the bigger picture and get trapped in a bunch of local optimizations and multivariate results which overall don’t turn cohesively into a product. I don’t think you can A/B test your way to an amazing product. You can use data to test, confirm and evolve decisions.
In “Hunter Walk: Test, Confirm and Evolve Decisions

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“Less is different — small groups of people can engage in kinds of interaction that large groups can’t.”
Clay Shirky “A Group is It’s Own Worst Enemy” (2003)

Technically should be “fewer is different” but I think Shirky is riffing on “less is more.” More context:

“The downside of going for size and scale above all else is that the dense, interconnected pattern that drives group conversation and collaboration isn’t supportable at any large scale. Less is different — small groups of people can engage in kinds of interaction that large groups can’t. And so we blew past that interesting scale of small groups. Larger than a dozen, smaller than a few hundred, where people can actually have these conversational forms that can’t be supported when you’re talking about tens of thousands or millions of users, at least in a single group.”
Clay Shirky “A Group is It’s Own Worst Enemy” (2003)

It’s absolutely the case that a conversation around a single table with 8-16 people is a much different experience from 50 or 60 in a classroom seating arrangement listening to a speaker. This is one of the reasons why the Boostrapper Breakfasts and Working for Equity Networking Events are introvert friendly and help teams to form.

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“He who would travel happily must travel light.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

h/t Conal Elliot Quotes Collection

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“When 10 out of 10 people say they don’t want your product, that’s pretty significant.”
Eric Ries

Not as often as you might think. There is often a selection bias at work–even an unconscious or inadvertent one–that is screening out qualified prospects.

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“What if we offered teams problems instead of projects?”
John Miller (@agileschools)

Good idea for startup charter/mission as well

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“A few satisfied customers can do more than a full page ad, but a lot of store keepers don’t seem to know it.”
Kin Hubbard in “These Days” (1923)

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“The magic is not in the medicine but in the patients body. What the doctor does is stimulate Nature’s functions in the body, or to remove hinderances. In a sense, though we speak of healing a cut, every cut heals itself; no dressing will make skin grow over a cut on a corpse.”
C. S.  Lewis in “God in the Dock”

An appreciative inquiry approach allows you to uncover the strengths of a customer’s organization you can build on to increase your offering’s impact.

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“To regard oneself as the exception is the rule.”
Aaron Haspel

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“We shouldn’t really be relying on engagement: we should be measuring the value our customers get from our apps.
Jamie Lawrence (@ideasasylum) commenting on “Next Generation of SaaS Won’t Optimize User Engagement

Engagement is a proxy variable for value: focusing on engagement leads you to turning you app into a time suck instead of delivering value.

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May you live in an open plan office — traditional Chinese curse
Dave Cheney (@davecheney)

Ratio of labor costs to real estate costs is normally 10:1 but office size is easier to measure than white collar productivity. Open plan offices often have noise problems and offer no way to control individual light levels.

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“To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.”
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) in “The Doors of Perception” 1954

The ability to develop an appreciation for other’s perspective and self-perception is essential to customer discovery, sales, and negotiation. Listening, careful observation, and asking questions with respect and driven by a desire to understand are critical skills. Not the typical image of the successful entrepreneur or sales person but a more accurate and more useful one than a model that conflates silencing objections with helping someone understand and adopt a new approach.

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“Life doesn’t come to us like a math problem. It comes to us the way that a story does, scene by scene.
John Eldredge in “Epic

h/t Nathan Ketsdever blogging at “Compassion in Politics”

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“Americans are less likely to start a business, move to another region of the country, or switch jobs now than at any time in recent memory. Dynamism is in retreat nationwide by nearly every measurable aspect.”
Economic Innovation Group  (EIG) in “Dynamism in Retreat” [PDF]

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“1. If people spend time on something, they care about it.
2. A small but frequent inconvenience can be a big pain.
3. Complaints without action or active discussion mean nothing.

Daria Nepriakhina in “10 insights of the Problem-Solution Fit canvas” see related Problem-Solution Fit Canvas

#1 may also be “if people say they will stop doing X if only they could do Y” provided there is real pain or need: beware aspirational statements predicting unprecedented future behavior (it’s not that it cannot happen, it’s just not the way to bet). #3 is also true for plans, aspirations, or goals: vision without action is daydreaming.

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“Experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.”
Jeff Bezos in “2016 Letter to Shareholders” [EDGAR version] (Apr-12-2017)

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“Failure of Tactics: HOW mistakes.
Failure of Strategy: WHAT mistakes.
Failure of Vision: WHY mistakes.”

James Clear in “3 Stages of Failure

This is another form of Stephen Bungay‘s Actions-Effects-Goals loop in “Art of Action.” James Clear real focus is on habits, Bungay addresses organizational strategy and the alignment and delegation needed to effect it.  “Art of Action” clearly articulates how to apply the principles of maneuver warfare to organizational strategy. If you are operating in markets that are competitive and dynamic and you need to rely on everyone in the organization make decisions based on imperfect information–if you are in a technology startup for example–Bungay does an excellent job of explaining how to debug past mistakes and get alignment on how best to move forward.

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“There are as many ‘models’ in LA as there are ‘founders’ in SF.”
Victoria Young? @victoriahyoung

Palo Alto vs. Los Angeles
founder vs. aspiring actor
business plan vs. screenplay
landing page vs. head shot
pitch competition vs. audition

As I observed in July 2015:

The business plan is Palo Alto’s answer to the Los Angeles screenplay: everyone is writing one in parallel with their day job. Both are “industry towns.”
Sean Murphy

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“The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.”
Peter Thiel

I think this insight is a useful antidote to some of the AI/ML hype: I fall strongly on the Intelligence Augmentation side of the IA vs. AI divide.

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“What would you call an all-day meeting with unknown participants and no agenda?”
Jason Fried (@jasonfried)

h/t Samuel Hulick “Slack I am breaking up with you” I don’t care or Slack either for all of the reasons Hulick outlines. There may be some value for a small group but I find an open skype text chat thread to be as valuable.

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“System innovations almost always involve rejecting the standard metrics as a first step in making a difference. When you measure the same metrics, you’re likely to create the same outcomes. But if you can see past the metrics to the results, it’s possible to change the status quo.”
Seth Godin in “Instead of the Easy Numbers”

To the extent that innovation requires a shift in perspective you need t be open to measuring new things and possibly “wasting” or ignoring some established metrics.

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I also learned that my best tactic was to reconceive my bewilderment as curiosity, and give free rein to it. I asked a lot of “why” and “what if” questions, forsaking the “what” and “how” questions on which most senior leaders focus.
[…]
My beginner’s mind helped us see our blind spots a little better, as it was free of expert habits. We think of “why” and “what if” as little kid questions, but they don’t have to be.

Chip Conley in I Joined Airbnb at 52, and Here’s What I Learned About Age, Wisdom, and the Tech Industry

I used this as the opening quote in “Chip Conley: Reconceive Bewilderment As Curiosity

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“You call it narrative when you understand what’s going on.
You call it chaos when it’s far above your head.”
Florin Andrei (@FlorinAndrei) in a comment on HN

Good insight, I think there are implications for the Cynefin framework model that offers four possible state spaces: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. This classification may have as much to do with our state of information (or depth of understanding) as an objectively “chaotic state.”

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The price is a key part of product functionality. “Free for now” represents a failure to clearly define the product, problem, or customer.
Sean Murphy

Summary of recent exchange in an office hours session.

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“Don’t ask customers what they want. Measure what they do.”
Ash Maurya (@ashmaurya)

I agree it’s “measure-learn-build’  but the customer’s cognitive task model for a job-to-be-done is not directly observable: you must have a conversation.

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“He has a former staff sergeant’s expertise at piling up favors owed against his future needs.”
Pat MacEwen “Coyote Song”

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