Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in December 2017

I collect these 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 December 2017

Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Delight in Little Things--Rudyard Kipling

Delight in Little Things — Rudyard Kipling

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“Opportunities are optional, problems aren’t.”
Keith Gregory in “Problems and Opportunities

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“An alternative view is that this feeling that understanding is just a few steps away is a recurring and necessary delusion that keeps scientists from dwelling on the extent of the complexity they face and how much more remains to be discovered.”
Martin Raff

An alternative view to Virgil’s “They can because they think they can.”

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 “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
Charles Kettering

Always ask: “What is the problem you are trying to solve.” See also

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“The Programmers’ Credo: we do these things not because they are easy, but because we thought they were going to be easy.”
Maciej Ceglowski (@pinboard)

Both a humorous riff on JFK’s moon speech “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard” and a recognition of the reality of many creative acts–at least according to Albert Hirshcman:

“Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore, we can never count on it as we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we could not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.”
Albert Hirschman in “Development Projects Observed“

I referenced this quote in

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“There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace.”
John Ruskin

I used this in “Yodit Stanton on “The Internet of Things: a New Evolution for Business.” I quote from David Gelertner‘s “Mirror Worlds” in the post, this quote was in the preface to the book.

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“Silicon Valley has become too powerful to be rebellious.”
Angela Jiang (@angjiang)

Like many bankruptcies it happened slowly and then suddenly. This reminds me of a quote by John F. Parker I included in my Sep-2008 roundup of Quotes for Entrepreneurs from his book “If Elected I Promise

“All reform comes from below.
No man with four aces howls for a new deal.”
John F. Parker in “If Elected I Promise

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“Entrepreneurship is the discovery of secrets to enable the launching of surprises.”
Sean Murphy in “George Gilder: Entrepreneurship is the Launching of Surprises”

Concluding sentence to blog post, it includes Peter Thiel’s definition of secret to better focus Gilder’s insight to include the need for secrets to be able to launch a surprise.

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Five Immutable Laws of Affordable Housing

  1. Developers don’t pay the costs of construction; tenants and buyers do.
  2. Housing demand is regional.
  3. If your zoning and building code mandates expensive housing, housing will be expensive.
  4. Affordable housing isn’t affordable if your transportation costs are too high.
  5. Today’s affordable housing was the last generation’s luxury housing.

From “Five Immutable Laws of Affordable Housing” by Spencer Gardner

Since housing and transportation costs are having a serious impact on Silicon Valley’s ability to attract talent I found this article timely and insightful (my “quotes for entrepreneurs” blog posts are becoming more of a commonplace book some months). #4 is counter-intuitive for those who don’t understand the laws of supply and demand: increasing the stock of housing lowers the average cost of housing regardless price point it’s aimed at.

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“Fortune favors the brave, as the old proverb says, but forethought much more.”

“Fortune favors the brave” is attributed to Pliny the Elder (by Pliny the Younger). The combination of forethought and courage is a potent one for entrepreneurs.

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“The art of programming is the art of organizing complexity, of mastering multitude and avoiding its bastard chaos as effectively as possible.”
Edsger Dijkstra (1970) in “Notes On Structured Programming” (EWD249), Section 3 (“On The Reliability of Mechanisms”), p. 7.

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“In 1574 the Venetian Arsenal used a standardized design with interchangeable parts to construct a new galley using a continuous flow process in less than a day. They built hundreds of galleys a year.  These techniques were then largely forgotten for several centuries.”
James Womack “A Lean Walk Through History

My brother toured the Venetian Arsenal and mentioned that they had developed all of the modern manufacturing concepts more than four hundred years ago. I did some research and found this quote, here is a longer passage it is excerpted from:

“Most of us don’t realize that we are heirs to a remarkably long struggle in human history to see beyond isolated points in order to optimize the entire value creating process. We tend to think instead that lean ideas were mostly created by Toyota a few years ago and that the history of lean thinking has been short and easy.

I was recently reminded of the length of our struggle when my colleague and co-author Dan Jones visited the Arsenal in Venice, established in 1104 to build war ships for the Venetian Navy. Over time the Venetians adopted a standardized design for the hundreds of galleys built each year to campaign in the Mediterranean and also pioneered the use of interchangeable parts. This made it possible to assemble galleys along a narrow channel running through the Arsenal. The hull was completed first and then “flowed” past the assembly point for each item needed to complete the ship. By 1574 the Arsenal’s practices were so advanced that King Henry III of France was invited to watch the construction of a complete galley in continuous flow, going from start to finish in less than an hour.

The point I took particular note of from Dan’s visit was that the idea of continuous flow – which many in our community probably think was invented by Henry Ford – was being practiced more than 400 years ago, but then largely forgotten!”
James Womack “A Lean Walk Through History

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“Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds.”
Charles Caleb Colton

Let’s hope we can thrive on the chaos of these turbulent times. I think we face the need to adjust customs, social protocols, regulation and laws to better manage what the last 20 years of technological innovation has wrought.

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“We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”
Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO, on the acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft

If you find yourself saying this there are likely incorrect assumptions and early indications of a change in customer needs or competitive offerings that you viewed as outliers instead of harbingers. It’ essentially telling yourself, “It’s not my fault.” The real question is, knowing what you know now, what will you do differently going forward.

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“Happiness is like food at a feast: a surplus brought out to share with others.”
Kevin Simler (@KevinSimler)

I like this, it reminds me of:

“And so it turned out only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…And this was most vexing of all, HAPPINESS IS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”
Chris McCandless (quoted in “Into Thin Air” by John Krakauer)

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“Startups are (by necessity) filled with generalists; big companies are filled with specialists. People underestimate how effective a generalist can be at things which are done by specialists. People underestimate how deep specialties can run. These are simultaneously true.”
Patrick Mckenzie (@patio11) part of a long tweet stream captured at “Things Many People Find Too Obvious To Have Told You Already

I expressed some similar sentiments in “Now What? Your Post Launch Growth Plan” (bolding added)

“At a company level, what’s the challenge after launch? The challenge is that you have to build an effort that you can sustain and scale, which means you have to develop things like process and metrics and dashboards. So…process, metrics, and dashboards…most of you probably have left big companies where you had process dashboards and metrics, and you are thinking “I don’t want any more of that.”

Just as little process as possible is a good thing, but you can’t get away from it completely.

After launch, you grow from a small team of generalists to a larger team of primarily specialists, because with that comes division of labor and the ability to scale. You can’t just keep hiring generalists, utility infielders who are comfortable in the white space on the org chart–an org chart that used to be pretty much entirely white space now has a lot of boxes on it. You’ve got to hire people that are outstanding in that one particular box, in part because they can rely on the folks in the boxes around them to be outstanding as well.”

Sean Murphy in “Now What? Your Post Launch Growth Plan”

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“Next to the assumption of power is the responsibility of relinquishing it.”

What role or office should you let go of as 2017 prepares to depart?

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“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”
W. T. Purkiser

I used this in my Thanksgiving 2013 blog post. The end of the year is a good time to look back so that you can plan your next move. To not only count your blessings but to determine how best to build on them.

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“Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.”
Soren Kierkegaard

This is why you actually have talk to folks who have been on the playing field and had to make the real decisions in a timely manner.

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“Why very small payments are hard: it’s important to distinguish between technological and mental transaction cost, and the latter are usually more important.”
Nick Szabo in “Micropayments and Mental Transaction Costs” [PDF]

This mental transaction cost also applies to your pricing scheme: the harder it is to understand and harder for them to predict total cost, the more risk a prospect feels that they have overlooked something and the more “expensive” they feel your product is.

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“Errors are most frequent during the requirements and design activities and become more expensive the later they are removed. Prototyping significantly reduces requirement and design errors, especially for user interfaces.”
Barry Boehm

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“The biggest transaction cost is trust.”
Elaine Ou (@eiaine | Bloomberg columns) in “If No One Spends Bitcoin, How Can it Have Value?

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“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’

That difference–asking good questions–made me become a scientist.”

Isidor Isaac Rabi

h/t Crispin Burdett; curiosity is also a marker for success among entrepreneurs as well. Asking good questions is one of the five key skills for entrepreneurs listed in “The Innovator’s DNA” by Clayton Christensen.

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“When there’s high uncertainty, you don’t need static plans, but dynamic models”
Ash Maurya in “Continuous Innovation

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“But do reflect; your life is passing away, some day for you too the time will come when your life is drawing to a close, when no longer is there any expedient that can prolong it, when memories alone are left, but not in the sense in which you love them, this mingling of poetry and truth, but the serious and faithful memory of conscience; beware lest it unroll before you a list, not properly of crimes, to be sure, but of possibilities wasted, phantoms which it will be impossible for you to drive away.”
Soren Kierkegaard in “Either/Or”

A quote about minimizing regret that seems strangely appropriate for a clear winter morning as the year draws to a close.

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“We want so desperately to believe that those who have great empires set out to build one.
Why? So we can indulge in the pleasurable planning of ours.
So we can take full credit for the good that happens and the riches and respect that come our way. Narrative is when you look back at an improbable or unlikely path to your success and say: I knew it all along.”
Ryan Holiday “How to Change the Story in Your Head That’s Stopping You from Succeeding”

This reminds me of

“Watching my career explode on the launchpad caused some soul searching. I tell you all this because it’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.”
An excerpt from Bill Watterson‘s May 20, 1990 graduation address at Kenyon College

I used this in “Overnight Success” and “Bill Watterson on the Real World.

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“Slow and steady: the hard part is steady. Anyone can go slow. It takes a special kind of commitment to do it steadily, drip after drip, until you get to where you’re going.”
Seth Godin

The trick is picking a pace you can sustain for a long time and not plan on a burst of energy to finish.

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“Success: a not entirely unbroken record of failure.”
Aaron Haspel in “Everything

Now that you put it that way I guess 2017 was something of a success.

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“Every decision is like surgery. It is an intervention into a system and therefore carries with it the risk of shock.”
Peter Drucker in “The Effective Executive”

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“Desire for instant gratification is the same as procrastination. Both forget that creation takes time. They represent a lack of respect for the process.”
Ed Latimore (@EdLatimore)

Procrastination is giving in to desire for instant gratification, substituting transient pleasure for larger longer term accomplishment. Epictetus was also a big fan of letting situations ripen.

“Nothing great is created suddenly, anymore than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

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“Process consulting: the creation of a relationship with the client that permits the client to perceive, understand and act on the process events that occur in a client’s internal and external environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client.”
Edgar Schein

This approach is certainly one of our modes of engagement, but I think we also get hired to diagnose and prescribe directly (e.g. for demo reviews, for win/loss interviews) and do direct skilled work (e.g. content development, customer discovery interviews, website development).

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“The hallmark of a serious commitment to a product or service is an active and ongoing search for ways that it could be improved to create more value for a prospect or an existing customer.”
Sean Murphy in “In the Beginning..The Founders Are The Business”

More context, bold in original

“When it’s your idea you have to act as if you believe in it and avoid continually seeking validation. Instead ask for criticism and suggestions for how to make it more useful, more valuable, less painful or cumbersome. The hallmark of a serious commitment to a product or service is an active and ongoing search for ways that it could be improved to create more value for a prospect or an existing customer.”
Sean Murphy in “In the Beginning..The Founders Are The Business”

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“Don’t create a sense of urgency, foster a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose is a deep understanding of the reasons behind our efforts and a desire to pour in time and energy because that purpose resonates with the impact we’d like to make on the world.”
Kimber Lockhart in “Don’t create a sense of urgency, foster a sense of purpose.

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“Interdisciplinary progress starts with a shared vocabulary.”
Angela Jiang (@angjiang)

Successful startups normally require blending different kinds of expertise, shared understanding is the foundation of effective joint action. The other place where this shared understanding is also essential is when your startup is leveraging one or more types of expertise with prospects who are unfamiliar with it.

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“Specialize: the great human achievement is to specialize as a producer of goods or services so that you can diversify as a consumer. Self-sufficiency is another word for poverty.”
Matt Ridley

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Stuff You Can’t Say in Silicon Valley

  • It’s okay to support Trump.
  • Diversity of thought is more important than diversity of skin color.
  • Silicon Valley uses H-1B visas to lower wages and crowd out American minorities.
  • If San Francisco residents really believed that sea levels were rising, they’d have all sold their homes by now.
  • “The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech”
  • The only way to achieve equality is by hatchet, axe, and saw…

Elaine Ou (@eiaine | Bloomberg columns)  in “Stuff You Can’t Say in Silicon Valley

Elaine Ou offers links to particular examples to support most of her statements.

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“Trust is built through effective commitments. Trust is lost through inconsistent behavior on matters of importance. If trust has been cultivated and grown over time … the project will be highly resilient to problems.”
Scott Berkun in “The Art of Project Management”

h/t Glenn Alleman

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“The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living. Without some such contrast or comparison, without some such shifting of the point of view, we should see nothing whatever of our social surroundings. We should take them for granted, as the only possible social surroundings. We should be as unconscious of them as we are, for the most part, of the hair growing on our heads or the air passing through our lungs. It is the variety of the human story that brings out sharply the last turn that the road has taken, and it is the view under the arch of the gateway which tells us that we are entering a town.”
G. K. Chesterton in “St. George in Our Time” (June 18, 1932)

h/t PJ Thompson in Vantage and Mike in  Laughter and Humility. I used this in Eliza Calvert Hall: Piecing a Quilt is Like Living a Life

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“Prayer is also anesthesia, so we can cut deeper, and clean out our wounds.”
Yahia Lababidi in “Aphorisms on Art, Morality, Spirit

I used this as the closing quote for “2018 Renunciations.

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“If we can see the present clearly, then we shall ask the right questions of the past.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing

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“The sole concern of Google and Facebook is to convert the most intimate details in your life into revenue. A few billion bucks of Zuckerberg’s philanthropy does not offset the catastrophic human damage caused by his life-desiccating invention.”
Tom Peters (@tom_peters)

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“The sweet spot for bots is building them to tackle tasks they can handle better or faster than a human, as opposed to those that require empathy or problem solving skills.”
Des Traynor in “What 2017 taught us about product

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Seven Traits of Elite Captains

0. Team success comes before personal success.
1. Extreme doggedness and focus in competition.
2. Aggressive play that tests limits of the rules.
3. A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows.
4. A low-key, practical, and democratic communication style.
5. Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays.
6. Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart.
7. Ironclad emotional control.

Traits of effective captains of championship teams according to Sam Walker in “The Captain Class

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Rural Metaphors

Like a porcupine making love–very, very carefully.

As full of shit as a Christmas goose.

You win some, you lose some, but you always suit up.

“He could sell bobby pins to a bald headed witch”

Colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra.

Frustrated: Like trying to grill a steak on the pilot light.

excerpts from C.R. McPherson’s  “A Minor Thesaurus Of Rural Metaphor”

I heard these or variations of them growing up. My father would compare people to a Christmas Goose from time to time and I was curious of the origin and found this collection while I was searching for it.

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“We’re looking for things we can’t say that are true, or at least have enough chance of being true that the question should remain open.

Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that’s unthinkable.”

Paul Graham in “What You Can’t Say” (2004)

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“There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”
C S Lewis in “Learning in War Time” (collected in The Weight of Glory“)

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“Many Product people don’t talk to their Sales team. This is a critical mistake. Your Sales team knows your product’s failings better than you do. I learned this too late in my career, and I still don’t do it enough. Don’t be me.”
Paul Adams (@Padday)

Adams elaborates on this in his year end conversation with Des Traynor

Throughout most of my career, there are two areas of the company that many, many product teams ignore. That’s sales and support. Lots of people will say they don’t ignore them, but when did you last talk to somebody in those teams? Many people pay them lip service, but they never talk to them. The irony is that these are the two teams that talk to customers everyday all day. We’ve had a longstanding relationship with our support team here, where they input heavily into our roadmap process. We’ve had a growing one with the sales team over the past year or two, and it’s matured as our sales team has grown because sales is a relatively newer function at Intercom.

There’s research happening in your company every day, and most product teams are not tapping into it.

These things just get real when you end up on a sales call and talking to the people on the sales team. I was listening in on a couple of sales calls and the amount of insight, the subtleties and nuances that customers are talking about, how the sales team had to talk to them…I just found myself thinking, “How do we turn these hundreds of sales calls we’re having into product insight that we can turn into actual product?” I don’t have any answers to how we do that. We’re working on it. There’s research happening in your company all day, every day, and most product teams are not tapping into it.”
Paul Adams in “What 2017 taught us about product

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“Where bees are, there is honey.
Where there are industrious persons, there is wealth,
for the hands of the diligent makes riches.”
English Proverb

The last clause echoes Proverbs 10:4 “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.”

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“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

W. H. Murray in his 1951 book, “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.”

I used this as the opening quote for “Burn Your Boats But Not Your Bridges

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“In God we trust, others must provide data.”
Edwin R. Fisher (in 1978 testimony to Congress) [Fisher characterized it as a well recognized scientific cliche, disclaiming credit]

It’s surprising the number of times others–not myself or my readers, of course–attempt to substitute opinion, anecdote, and thought experiments for data. While all of these are useful points of departure to guide your data collection and experimentation, none constitute evidence.

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“My strength is the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson in  “Sir Galahad

True most mornings, but my mileage varies as the day wears on.

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“Our best work derives from a continuity of our daily selves.”
William Stafford

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“The time to worry is when you know what you’re up against, and then there isn’t time to worry.”
Carol Kendall in “The Gammage Cup

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“If you trust in yourself…and believe in your dreams…and follow your star…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
Terry PratchettWee Free Men

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I am always interested in new “quotes for entrepreneurs” so if you have come across one you found insightful or useful please leave a comment or use the contact form to let me know.

2 thoughts on “Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in December 2017”

  1. I sometimes wish we could upvote (like on Quora), or otherwise personally tag, quotes that resonate particularly well. Short of that, we have to curate our own personal list based on your master list :)

  2. I have been working on some ideas for a book but a data base with tags and the affordance for end-user customized annotations is another very interesting idea.

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