Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in August 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 August 2017

My birthday is this month and the prospect of the odometer clicking off another year always leaves me in a reflective mood. This month’s collection includes more than a few thoughts about aging and the foibles of old men. My mother passed away suddenly on August 10 which intensified my introspection for a few weeks.

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“Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you are aboard, there’s nothing you can do.”
Golda Meir

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“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.”
Paul Coehlo

I like this quote. Mindfulness is an important quality for entrepreneurs to cultivate along with courage: facing the reality of a situation and improvising a response from the tools and experience the team has is critical. It reminds me of these two quotes by Ortega y Gasset:

“To live or to be alive or, what is the same thing, to be a man, does not admit of any preparations or preliminary experiments. Life is fired at us point blank. … Where and when we are born, or happen to find ourselves after we were born, there and then, like it or not, we must sink or swim.”
José Ortega y Gasset in “Man and People”

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”
Jose Ortega y Gasset in “Man and Crisis

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“I don’t need to make it big, only to make it through.”
Greg Norminton in “The Lost Art of Losing

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Whatever you do, be different. If you're different, you will stand out.--Anita Roddick

“Whatever you do, be different. If you’re different, you will stand out.”
Anita Roddick

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“In August the June bride tries to hide from her husband the first unmistakable signs of regret”
Kin Hubbard in “Short Furrows

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“Law of Double Breakage: Every time a company doubles in size, systems break and need to be rebuilt. Plan accordingly.”
Brent Beshore (@BrentBeshore)

True at many levels: e.g a department or team doubles in size. Allometric scaling is often needed. A cycle time cut by 30% may also trigger breakage. For heterogeneous networks the many to many relationships–and complexity–are more likely N^2 with member count. 40% growth may break a complex function.

This reminds me of a quote I included in “Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.”

“Prepare to double: have a plan for what would happen if the business doubled. ‘More of the same’ is never the answer.”
Derek Sivers in “Anything You Want

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“Company building looks like gardening the allotment. Sowing, watering, protecting from frost, planting for the next season…patience”
Yodit Stanton (@yoditstanton)

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“In old age a man resembles a retired actor who sits in the auditorium glumly watching others play his favorite roles.”
Magdalena Samozwaniec

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“Freedom, like any other virtue, does not exist in a vacuum. It must be worked and practiced to exist at all. And like any other virtue, it imposes upon those who would have it the unpleasant tasks of discipline and sacrifice. A materialistic people do not learn these tasks by reading posters or listening to pep talks, any more than you can learn to play the violin by the same methods.”
Ralph Austin Bard, Asst Secretary Navy, speech “We Are Still Losing This War”  Sep- 24- 1942

I used this in “Happy Fourth of July 2017.” It’s an interesting speech that gives a lot of insight into the US perspective on World War 2 ten months after Pearl Harbor.

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“Roughly, by a complex system I mean one made up of a large number of  parts that interact in a nonsimple way. In such systems, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, not in an ultimate, metaphysical sense, but in the important pragmatic sense that, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole. In the face of complexity, an in-principle reductionist may be at the same time a pragmatic holist.”
Herbert Simon “The Architecture of Complexity” (1962) [pdf]

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“In one thing you have not changed, dear friend,” said Aragorn: “you still speak in riddles.”
“What? In riddles?” said Gandalf. “No! For I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

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“Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old.”
Jonathan Swift in “Thoughts on Various Subjects

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“You’ve got to be fifty-nine years old to believe that a feller is at his best at sixty.”
Kin Hubbard in “Abe Martin’s Primer (1914)”

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“9 times out of 10 if you give away your product for free, you’ll never learn if it’s worth anything.”
Jason Lemkin (@jasonlk)

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“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”
Soren Kierkegaard

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“We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it.”
Thomas Huxley in “Aphorisms and Reflections

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“Facebook and YouTube are like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin: short-term happiness with serious long term negatives.”
Roger McNamee in “I invested in Google and Facebook and I regret it

The short attention span–twitter–version captures the McNamee’s core insight that “addicting apps” that monetize attention ultimately have the same impact as other addicting activities:

“I invested in Google and Facebook years before their first revenue and profited enormously. I was an early adviser to Facebook’s team, but I am terrified by the damage being done by these Internet monopolies.

Facebook and Google get their revenue from advertising, the effectiveness of which depends on gaining and maintaining consumer attention. Borrowing techniques from the gambling industry, Facebook, Google and others exploit human nature, creating addictive behaviors that compel consumers to check for new messages, respond to notifications, and seek validation from technologies whose only goal is to generate profits for their owners.

The people at Facebook and Google believe that giving consumers more of what they want and like is worthy of praise, not criticism. What they fail to recognize is that their products are not making consumers happier or more successful. Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google — most importantly through its YouTube subsidiary — produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long term. Users fail to recognize the warning signs of addiction until it is too late.”
Roger McNamee in “I invested in Google and Facebook and I regret it

He acknowledges many positives but wants consumers to recognize the negatives.

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159 “The counsels of old age give light without warmth, like the winter sun.”
Vauvenargues in “Maxims

The old see things in the “cold light of day.”

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“Make your next move from where you actually are.”
Frank Kuppner

Stockdale Paradox: confront the brutal realities of your situation without losing hope. After I used this I realized it was a duplicate form 2012, originally collected in “Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in March 2012

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
James Stockdale

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“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds, wherever we go.”
Martha Custis Washington (1732-1802) Letter to Mercy Otis Warren

Add as a closing quote to “So…What’s Your Story?

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“With the incessant chatter about fundraising, VCs vs. ICOs, you’d think the greatest threat to a startup’s success is access to capital.”
Bryce Roberts (@bryce)

I think money is incorrectly viewed as the universal enabler, able to overcome all other problems.

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“Thought leadership: discern important events and trends at work in the present, predict their likely effects, and offer perspective and actionable advice in time to have an impact.”
Sean Murphy in “Thought Leadership: A Briefing

A client asked me to define thought leadership and I pulled out this definition. I like its connotations of foresight and an orientation toward effective action compared to a number of the tastemaker / trendsetter definitions that are more focused on short term transient changes versus medium and long term changes that improve the robustness and resilience of a business or organization. I think it pairs well with these other two definitions:

“Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.”
Jay Acunzo in “What is Content Marketing

“Your brand is the promise that you keep.”
Kristin Zhivago

As Brad VanAuken observed,  “A brand promises relevant differentiated benefits to a target customer,”  but promises kept are far more valuable than benefits that are promised but not delivered.

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“We assume that because we have the label we have the knowledge”
Jean Toomer

It’s the risk of confusing denotation vs. connotation, symbol vs. substance, or “buzzword compliance” with expertise. I find many entrepreneurs throw around words like pivot, MVP, iteration, discovery without appreciating how challenge and emotionally wrenching these activities are.

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“Google oversees a search algorithm that seeks to surface “authoritative” results and demote low-quality content. This algorithm is tuned by an internal team of evaluators. If the company silences dissent within its own ranks, why should we trust it to manage our access to information?”
Elaine Ou “Google can’t seem to tolerate diversity

Ou’s remarks were inspired by Google’s firing of James Damore for writing “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”

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“If someone claims they have a method that promises to measure (quantify) what customers want, they’re trying to scam you. Innovation is wrought with uncertainty. As a result, anything that promises certainty is attractive to designers and innovators. One such promise is that customers’ preferences and desired outcomes can be quantified in a reliable and valid way. Can it be done? The answer from statistical theory and psychology is clear: no. The three biggest reasons why what customers want cannot be measured:

  • Putting a number on something, doesn’t make it quantitative
  • Measures of customer’s desired outcomes (preferences) change continually and are easily manipulated
  • Value is non-linear”

Alan Klement in  The Illusion of Measuring What Customers Want

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“People commonly use the word “procrastination” to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what’s happening as merely not-doing-work. We don’t call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working.”
Paul Graham “The Acceleration of Addictiveness” (2010)

This has become a prescient essay, unfortunately.

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“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”
Epictetus

h/t Glen B. Alleman Herding Cats Blog. One phrase I like is “circle of control vs. circle of influence.” You can control only a very small subset of what you are aware of. Another phrase I like is “good decision, bad outcome:” it’s a shorthand reminder that you have to judge decisions based on your state of information at the time you made them, not on their outcomes. Obviously you may want to update your decision making rules based on the outcome but that’s applicable for next time.

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“Organizational excellence evolves from the perfection of details relevant to performance and production.”
Bill Walsh in “Score Takes Care of Itself

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“Another flaw of old age is that it does not last long enough.”
Frank Kuppner

Equally true for childhood and middle age, although the teenage years might be abbreviated to good effect.

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“Experience, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

Bierce would include other commentary attributed to fictional authors in the Devil’s Dictionary, this short poem is included in the entry for experience:

To one who, journeying through night and fog,
Is mired neck-deep in an unwholesome bog,
Experience, like the rising of the dawn,
Reveals the path that he should not have gone.
Joel Frad Bink

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“What I did not know when I was very young was that nothing can take the past away: the past grows gradually around one, like a placenta for dying.”
John Berger  in “And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

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“We can secure other people’s approval, if we do right and try hard; but our own is worth a hundred of it, and no way has been found out of securing that.”
Mark Twain in Chapter XIV “Following the Equator

Twain was both phenomenally successful and unsuccessful at different periods in his life. He may have been afraid that too much self-satisfaction would have hindered his creativity or his natural mood may have been one of unhappiness and discontent.

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“We never respect our own gray hairs.”
Kin Hubbard in “Abe Martin’s Primer (1914)”

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“The genius of a good leader is to leave behind a situation which common sense can deal with successfully.”
Walter Lippmann

Good leaders create systems of diagnosis and a hierarchy of effective interventions

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“Successful sales people sell promotions. They articulate a value proposition to the potential buyer that aligns the incentives of the buyer with a value proposition offered by the startup’s product. The key to selling promotions is understanding how the target buyer is goaled and rewarded within the company. This is why many successful salespeople ask questions about goals, priorities and internal culture.”
Tom Tunguz “The Business of Selling Promotions

All successful salespeople ask questions, it enables them to diagnose before they prescribe. Discovery questions about “goals, priorities and internal culture” are key to enterprise sales.

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“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ”
Randy Pausch “The Last Lecture [transcript]

I explored several frames to consider how you are spending your time in “How To Avoid Running Out of Real-Time in Your Startup–Or Your Life”  including the next hour, today, this week, this quarter, this year, the next 3 years, the next decade, your career, and your life.

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“That is the trouble with prosperity – it hides the defects of a business. ”
Harvey Firestone  in “Men and Rubber”

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“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Rudyard Kipling in “The Law For Wolves

Strong teams have strong members.

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“Real businesses make products and sell them for a profit. They focus on customers, revenue and profitability not investors, valuations and the next fundable milestone. Real businesses prioritize their customer’s needs over their customer’s eyeballs. They have a functioning business model, not a believable financial model. Real businesses want to stay in business, not run for the exit. They create their own source of funding and don’t have to ask anyone for permission to exist.”
Bryce Roberts in “Real Businesses” taken from the front page of indie.vc

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“The unregulated oligopoly that runs Silicon Valley has done very well indeed from networking the world. The rest of us—the mere users of the networks they own—should treat their messianic visions with the skepticism they deserve.”
Niall Ferguson in “The False Prophecy of Hyperconnection: How to Survive the Networked Age

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“If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”
Scott Adams in “How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big

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Carry Moonbeams Home in a Jar+”All the monkeys aren’t in the zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see it’s all up to you
You can be better than you are

You could be swingin’ on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are.

Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen “Swinging on a Star

 

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Carry Moonbeams Home in a Jar” image by Trisha Mahi

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