Quotes for Entrepreneurs–February 2017

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 have new blog posts sent to you.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs–February 2017

“324. The shortness of life can neither dissuade us from its pleasures, nor console us for its pains.”
Vauvenargues in “Reflections and Maxims” (1746) [Archive.org]

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“Winners have a healthy appreciation of their abilities and an awareness of their limitations.
Losers don’t recognize their true abilities or their true limitations.”
Sydney J. Harris in “Winners and Losers

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

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“(30) There exist some evils so terrible and some misfortunes so horrible that we dare not think of them, whilst their very aspect makes us shudder; but if they happen to fall on us, we find ourselves stronger than we imagined, we grapple with our ill luck, and behave better than we expected we should.”
Jean de la Bruyere in the “Of Mankind” chapter in “Characters” (1668)

I think this an example of a different kind of unknown known: we think we don’t have a skill or gumption to handle a situation we have never faced before, but in the event we grapple with it more creatively or courageously than we imagined we could and prevail. This is a recurring experience for entrepreneurs.

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“Some subjects are to be studied for their own sake, others for the immunity conferred against their adepts. The vaccination principle applies to education as well as to medicine.”
Aaron Haspel  in “Everything

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“The most considerable difference I note among men is not in their readiness to fall into error, but in their readiness to acknowledge these inevitable lapses.”
Thomas Huxley in Aphorisms and Reflections

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“A visited city lacks the ley lines of habit. The tourist and I do not walk down the same street.”
Greg Norminton in “The Lost Art of Losing

I used this as the closing quote in “Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer:” 6 Tips for Entrepreneurs.

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“The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”
Amos Tversky

Tom DeMarco in “Slack” elaborates on the the value of “slack,” of being a little underemployed, or leaving your team a little underemployed. Don Reinertsen approaches it from a different angle but reaches the same conclusion in “Principles of Product Development Flow.” I blogged about “Slack” in “Tom Demarco on Leadership, Trust, and Training,” I have blogged about Reinertsen but not about “Principles of Product Development Flow”–but I should.

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“Solutions Conundrum: Most pressing problems are usually solved by those with zero credentials and few resources.”
Brent Beshore (@BrentBeshore)

Often overlooked in competitive analysis: nothing new ever works but successful innovations have survivable errors that point the way to forward progress.

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“To clarify, add detail. Clutter and overload are not attributes of  information, they are failures of design. If the information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information, instead fix the design.”
Edward Tufte

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“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Harvey Mackay in “Swim with Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

h/t Barry Popik for sourcing this aphorism. It’s not original with Mackay who credits it to a  good friend (bolding added):

“One of my good friends gave me her definition of a goal, and it’s the best one I’ve ever heard. ‘A goal is a dream with a deadline.‘ Write yours down–because that’s the only way to give them the substance they need to force you to carry them out.”
Harvey Mackay in “Swim with Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

If you have not written down your goals for 2017 it’s not too late to have an impact–depending upon when you happen to read this I suppose.

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“A good indicator of an organization that thinks long term is if customer service is seen as an asset and not a liability.”
Scott Berkun (@berkun)

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“All innovations get measured by the marketplace. The trick is to get a preview before you launch.”
Marty Neumeier

The risk here is customer development and validation done wrong. You have no choice but to estimate and then validate likely market acceptance prior to investing in a major launch. This was originally collected in “Seven Quotes on Learning and Measurement From Marty Neumeier.”

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“We’ve now funded more than 800 startups. One advantage of having so much data is that we can recognize patterns pretty clearly. Every one of these traps is one we’ve seen startup after startup fall into. And many of you who read this post will fall into these traps, even though I’ve already warned you about them. That’s how dangerous they are.

It never gets any easier.

The first trap is feeling that now you can relax. You told yourself that all you needed to do was get x–get that funding round, get that big deal, or whatever. Then everything would fall into place and you could relax a bit. So when the startup finally gets x, founders think they can relax. But they shouldn’t. If you find yourself feeling you can relax, that means you’re overlooking something, because the one thing all the most successful founders we’ve funded agree on is that it never gets any easier.

It doesn’t get any easier. It gets different. As your company grows, things stay as hard but the nature of problems change. Startups are a long haul. Pace yourself. Because you can’t keep burning the candle at both ends forever

Jessica Livingston in “Subtle Mid-Stage Startup Pitfalls

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Best people to work with: people you like, people you trust, people who do great work.

h/t Loris Grillet (@loriskumo) Feb 2 tweet: “Best people to work with.”

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“Anger is never sudden. It is born of a long, prior irritation that has ulcerated the spirit and built up an accumulation of force that results in an explosion. It follows that a fine outburst of rage is by no means a sign of a frank, direct nature.”
Cesar Pavese in “The Business of Living: Diaries 1935–1950” (also published as “The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950“)

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“The eradication of poverty is not the same as the creation of prosperity. Development practitioners should focus on the latter.”
Efosa OjomoObsession with ending poverty is where development is going wrong

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Edith Harbaugh: Who wins in a fight between an alligator and a bear?
Sean Murphy: Where does the fight take place? Picking favorable terrain (or the right niche) is the key to winning.

Exchange on twitter. Always worth bearing in mind: you never want a fair fight, you want to pick a situation and a moment that maximize whatever advantages you have and minimizes–or better neutralizes–any advantages a competitor has. This is one of the secrets to starting in a niche, if you first market is small enough and/or consists of customers that your more established competitors view as undesirable, they are much less likely to fight you for them.

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“If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it is that what we think is supposed to happen does not. Brexit was not supposed to happen. Trump was not supposed to happen. The Patriots’ comeback was not supposed to happen. Yet here we are. And no one seems to be drawing lessons from any of this.
Mathew Continetti in Nobody Knows Anything” (Feb-10-2017)

It’s hard to update your worldview even when faced with strong disconfirming evidence. I have seen this bankrupt startups and that continued to invest in product or approaches that were clearly not working. I think this is why B students and dyslexics are more successful as entrepreneurs than “smarter” A students: they realize that even modest success requires a lot of hard work and a lot of things that you may try don’t work.

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“Genius is to mind as mind is to body: to think clearly still your body, to unlock genius still your thoughts.”
Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer” (1934)

A clear statement of the benefits of using meditation to unlock insight and inspiration.

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“Don’t become a jackal to make ends meet. Begin with standards and stick with them: use them to do  great work and make an impact.”
Seth Godin in “Nothing Wrong With Having Standards

My twitter-length summary of:

“Nothing wrong with having standards”

This is the snarky feedback of someone whose bias is to hustle instead of to stand for something. When you say ‘no’ to their pitch, they merely smile and congratulate you on the quaint idea that you have standards.

Their mindset is to cut corners, slip things by if they can. The mindset of, “Well, it can’t hurt to ask.” Predators and scavengers, nosing around the edges and seeing what they score. They talk about standards as if they’re a luxury, the sort of thing you can do as a hobby, but way out of the mainstream.

The thing is, if you begin with standards and stick with them, you don’t have to become a jackal to make ends meet. Not only is there nothing wrong with having standards, it turns out to be a shortcut to doing great work and making an impact.”

Seth Godin in “Nothing Wrong With Having Standards

I find myself in the minority in Silicon Valley about the verb “hustle.” Like “growth hacker” I find that most people who like to call themselves hustlers look at life as a series of short term transactions and seem unable to play a long game. I agree with Godin equating them to jackals–they have their secure ecological niche but it’s not one I would like to occupy.

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“By the time today is over, it will already be tomorrow.”
Ashleigh Brilliant

In a strange way this reminds me of William Gibson’s observation that “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”

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“Nothing begins good, but everything good begins and can be revised, erased, or rearranged later. The courage of creation is making bad beginnings.”
Kevin Ashton in “How to Fly a Horse” (Chapter 7: “Gas In Your Tank”)

More context (see excerpt “Before I Begin.”)

“The first beginning will feel wrong. We are not used to being with ourselves uninterrupted. We do not know the way first things look. We have imagined our creations finished but never begun. A thing begun is less right than wrong, more flaw than finesse, all problem and no solution. Nothing begins good, but everything good begins. Everything can be revised, erased, or rearranged later. The courage of creation is making bad beginnings.”
Kevin Ashton in “How to Fly a Horse

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Periander of Corinth, son of Cypselus, said:

1. Practice is all.
2a. Calmness is fine;
2b. rashness is dangerous.
3. Shameful gain is an accusation against your nature.
4. Democracy is better than tyranny.
5. Pleasures are mortal, but virtues immortal.
6. If you are fortunate, be moderate; if unfortunate, prudent.
7. It is better to die being frugal than to live not having enough.
8. Make yourself worthy of your parents.
9. Be praised while you are alive, be blessed when you have died.
10. Be the same to your friends both when they are fortunate and when they are unfortunate.
11. Avoid the man that you yourself recognize to be wicked.
12. Do not reveal secret words.
13. Blame like someone who wants to quickly become a friend.
14. Use laws that are ancient but food that is fresh.
15. You should not only punish those who commit wrong, but also prevent those who are intending to do so.
16. If you are unfortunate, conceal it, so that you will not make your enemies happy.

h/t Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) I have bolded my favorites

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No Shame/No Blame vs. Learning From Mistakes

“When we talk about money, we make the commitment to avoid blaming each other for past decisions, and we’re not going to feel shame for them either.

  • Remember the past to learn from it.
  • Schedule conversations at times that are good for both parties to discuss the past and plan the future.

Carl Richards in “Take the No Shame / No Blame Challenge

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“I keep needing the reminder that this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Bret Victor (@worrydream)

If you discipline yourself to go the distance you are also able to play a long game–preferably in infinite one–and avoid greedy short term thinking.

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“Insulting potential allies is an effective way to feel good about losing.”
Jason Yip @jchyip

Categories of potential allies include customers, partners, cofounders, employees, current competitors…

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“Bursts of work are not what you are out to establish as your habit, but a good, steady, satisfying flow, rising occasionally to an extraordinary level of performance, but seldom falling below what you have discovered is your own normal output.”
Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer

Part of a longer excerpt in the  “Establish a Habit of a Good, Steady, Satisfying Flow of Work” section of Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer:” 6 Tips for Entrepreneurs

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“Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve.”
John Etchemendy (Stanford Univ. Provost) “The Threat From Within

I used this as part of the introduction to Thirteen from 1517 Assembly’s “New 95 Theses”

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“Only the paranoid survive.”
Andrew Grove

“But they aren’t a happy bunch.”
Naval Ravikant

“Call no man happy till he dies.”
Solon via Herodotus

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“The cruelest disappointment is when you let yourself down.
Self-contempt can do more harm than good.”
Jenny Holzer

It’s hard to have an accurate estimate of what you can accomplish but when you fail to act your values it’s hard to forget. I think the key is to forgive yourself but remember the failure and what led to  it.

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“The curious thing about the various plans hatched in the ’90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan: “Here’s how we’re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!” The details differed, but the core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift. As a result, the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.”


“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.”

Clay Shirky “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” (2009)

This is a great article by Shirky that also includes this passage:

“That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.”
Clay Shirky “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” (2009)

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“The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used to be, but we are now.  Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure. Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”
Seth Godin “The Why of Urgent Vs. Important

This is one of the reasons larger firms find it hard to abandon current lines of business: to do so means having to deal with an order of magnitude more uncertainty and ambiguity, and a substantially higher failure rate, when they could be turning the crank on what they know how to do well.

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“Never burn a penny candle looking for a halfpenny.”
Irish proverb

h/t Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday)

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“Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way around.”
Nassim Taleb

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