Ten Aphorisms For Entrepreneurs By James Geary

James Geary has a great book of aphorism collected from a breadth of writersJames Geary has curated one of the best collections of aphorisms that I have–and I have read dozens: “Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists.” Geary has “Five Laws Of The Aphorism,” they are:

  1. It Must Be Brief;
  2. It Must Be Personal;
  3. It Must Be Definitive;
  4. It Must Be Philosophical;
  5. It Must Have a Twist.

In addition to collecting the aphorisms of other writers he also has a collection of his own. I have selected ten and added some brief commentary about their applicability to entrepreneurship.

Ten Aphorisms For Entrepreneurs By James Geary

ArnoDrawingBoard1941Back To The Drawing Board

“The long, lonely walk back to the drawing board concentrates the mind wonderfully.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

An echo of the caption Peter Arno‘s famous 1941 New Yorker Cartoon: “Well, back to the old drawing board.” (h/t “Comic Book Legends Revealed #221“).  It’s a long lonely walk along what becomes a beaten path by the second year of a startup. For another take on “back to the drawing board” see “Balancing Engineering Vision vs. Customer Expectation.

“In the margin for error lies all our room for maneuver.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

But it’s your ability to survive mistakes that allows you to learn from them–if you have a mind to. Paradoxically this argues less for a “fail safe” approach that makes extensive investments in avoiding mistakes than for making smaller “safe to fail” or affordable loss bets that are survivable.

Vox Clamantis in Deserto

“I would rather be a voice in the desert than a face in the crowd.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

“Not many people live in the desert.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

Entrepreneurship is often a solitary path, or at least the road less traveled.

Doubt, Ambiguity, and Uncertainty

“Self-doubt is the beginning of wisdom.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

“When in doubt, remain in doubt.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

Managing doubt, ambiguity, and uncertainty is an essential skill for entrepreneurs to master. One mistake is to take action prematurely because you cannot tolerate the uncertainty or ambiguity. I think this is one of the root causes of “premature scaling.”

Expect the Unexpected or You Won’t Find It

“Having a map doesn’t prevent you from making unexpected discoveries.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

The map is never the territory but inattention and filtering out anything that does not fit expectations is what prevents discovery. I touched on this issue in a different way in “Buying a Map vs. Learning to Explore.

“Dare to be unprepared.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

An echo of Buckminster Fuller‘s “Dare to be naive.” You cannot always wait for everything to be “just right.” Improvisation is another skill entrepreneurs need to master.

Conscious Attention to Detail

“Thought begins where habit ends.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

It’s a paradox that habit and routine free up time and attention to focus on opportunities but also blind us to them.

“Small stuff tells big stories.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

In my experience effective entrepreneurs are not only see the “Big Picture” but also notice the details that matter, they can detect the weak signals of emerging opportunities.

Geary’s Spontaneous Combustion Method of Aphorism Composition

I first started writing aphorisms in the early 1980s, when I was about 20. I practice the “spontaneous combustion” method of composition; that is, the aphorisms spontaneously occur in longer stretches of text.

This is in contrast to the “deliberate composition” method, whereby an author deliberately sits down to write aphorisms and consciously works on individual lines to that end.

Once an aphorism appears, I do revise and rework it, if necessary. But most of my aphorisms emerge pretty much complete and intact.

James Geary in “My Aphorisms

Related Blog Posts

Related Books by Roger von Oech

One of the section headings is taken from a quote by Heraclitus that Roger von Oech used for the title of his book: “Expect the Unexpected or You Won’t Find It.” He has two older books on creativity that are also excellent:

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