Quotes for Entrepreneurs, Collected in January 2018

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

Quotes for entrepreneurs collected from a variety of sources in January 2018, tweeted first 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 January 2018

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“Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”
Luke 12:48

I quoted this Thanksgiving 2013, adding “We have so much in Silicon Valley, I hope we can do more in the next year to help others less fortunate not only with charity but by innovations that create new opportunities for employment, education, and better medical care.” I renew this hope for 2018.

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“It is of more consequence to act considerately than to think sagely.”
Cicero

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs: 4 Skills that All Great Innovators Share

  1. Applied Curiosity: great innovators are more than just dreamers. The random ideas they come across only become useful when applied to a specific problem. Often, they spend years or even decades working on something before they hit on that one missing piece to the puzzle. So it is that kind of tenacity, combined with the eagerness to probe new spaces that makes the difference.
  2. Effective Networking: great innovators are incredibly nice, generous people who were eager to share their insights. Great innovators are knowledge brokers, not knowledge hoarders.
  3. Comfort With Confusion: creating something new and useful requires work in the realm of the unknown, where things don’t work very well and things never go quite according to plan. The more radical and disruptive a new idea is, the less it makes sense in the current context. Any significant innovation–e.g. electricity, the automobile, or the computer–took decades to make an impact. In the interim, nobody really knows where it’s all going. Effective innovators are comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty and confusion.
  4. Rigor: Great innovators have breakthrough ideas and then see them through by checking their facts, answering questions and alleviating concerns. They see themselves as problem solvers working to figure things out.
    Greg Satell in “4 Skills that all Great Innovators Share

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“Genius is the power of carrying the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Childhood feelings: a sense of curiosity, a sense of wonder, a willingness to make mistakes, to take things apart to see how they work, to ask questions, especially fundamental questions.

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“Winners take a big problem and divide it into smaller parts so that it can be more manageable.
Losers take a lot of little problems and roll them together until they are unmanageable.”
Sydney J. Harris in “Winners and Losers

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

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“In the destitution of the wild desert does our young Ishmael acquire for himself the highest of all possessions, that of self-help.”
Thomas Carlyle

This reminds me of Toynbee’s theory of “Withdrawal and Return”

“The creative personality undergoes a duality of movement we call withdrawal and return. The withdrawal makes it possible for the personality to realize powers within himself which might have remained dormant if he had not been released for the time being from his social toils and trammels. Such a withdrawal may be a voluntary action on his part or it may be forced upon him by circumstances beyond his control; in either case the withdrawal is an opportunity, and perhaps a necessary condition, for the anchorite’s transfiguration; ‘anchorite’, in the original Greek, means literally ‘one who goes apart’; but a transfiguration in solitude can have no purpose, and perhaps even no meaning, except as a prelude to the return of the transfigured personality into the social milieu out of which he had originally come: a native environment from which the human social animal cannot permanently estrange himself without repudiating his humanity.  […] The return is the essence of the whole movement as well as its final cause.”

Arnold Toynbee A Study of History: “Withdrawal and Return: Individual”

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“A Proverb is a short sentence based on long experience”
Miguel de Cervantes.

Principles are experience compressed into pithy guidelines. I also like Cervantes observation that “a stout heart breaks bad luck and used it in “The Heart That Holds On.”

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“The end of facts is not a fact. Post-truth is a bogus story and ersatz truth that let us off the hook for failing to arrive at common ground, an excuse for avoiding the hard and heavy work of changing people’s minds.”
Daniel Engber (@DanEngber) in “LOL Something Matters: We’ve Been Told We are Living in the Post-Truth Age, Don’t Believe It

Conclusion condensed from a long and thoughtful Slate cover story, more context:

“Or it could be that our declarations of a post-truth age are more akin to another form of rumor catalogued during the 1940s: the “pipe dream” tale. These are the stories—the Japanese are out of oil; Adolf Hitler is about to be deposed—we tell to make ourselves feel better. Today’s proclamations about the end of facts could reflect some wishful thinking, too. They let us off the hook for failing to arrive at common ground and say it’s not our fault when people think there really is a war on Christmas or a plague of voter fraud. In this twisted pipe-dream vision of democracy, we needn’t bother with the hard and heavy work of changing people’s minds, since disagreement is a product of our very nature or an unpleasant but irresolvable feature of our age.

It’s time we came together to reject this bogus story and the ersatz science of post-truth. If we can agree on anything it should be this: The end of facts is not a fact.”

Daniel Engber (@DanEngber) in “LOL Something Matters: We’ve Been Told We are Living in the Post-Truth Age, Don’t Believe It

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“Net Promoter Score (NPS) is, it turns out, it’s neither simple nor profound. It doesn’t help businesses grow. It doesn’t even tell the management how loyal the customer is.”
Jared Spool (@jmspool) in “Net Promoter Score Considered Harmful

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CCCXCVII. “We are ruined, not by what we really want, but by what we think we do; therefore never go abroad in search of your wants; if they be real wants, they will come home in search of you; for he that buys what he does not want, will soon want what he cannot buy.”
Charles Caleb Colton in “Lacon or many things in few words

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“It’s best to wear the mentor and mentee hats simultaneously.”
Safia Abdalla (@captainsafia) in StarCon keynote “Open Lessons from Open Source

This is a great insight and the foundation of the “community of practice” model: learning cultures are also teaching cultures and everyone can both teach and learn.

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“Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius.”
Benjamin Disraeli

So are humility and confidence, somewhat paradoxically.

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The NFL franchises are like tortoises who grew up in the Galapagos Islands, shielded on all sides from predators by the ocean, who one day see the moat dry up, connecting them all of a sudden to other continents where an infinite variety of fast-moving predators dwell.

Eugene Wei in “Beware the Lessons of Growing up Galapagos

Originally titled “Outdated Playbooks from the Age of Scarcity” Wei’s insights are applicable not only to media properties. Wei offers another perspective on game length:

“If you disregard any historical romantic notions and examine the typical NFL football game, it is mostly dead time (if you watch a cut-down version of a game using Sunday Ticket, only about 30 minutes of a 3 to 3.5 hr game involves actual game action), with the majority of plays involving action of only incremental consequence, whose skill and strategy on display are opaque to most viewers…”
Eugene Wei in “Beware the Lessons of Growing up Galapagos

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“Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.”
Reed Hastings (@ReedHastings)

Except for the many startups who die from premature scaling.

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“In prosperity caution, in adversity patience.”
“Roses fall, but the thorns remain.”
Dutch proverbs cited in “Dictionary of Quotations”
by Rev. James Wood (1899) http://www.bartleby.com/345/

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“He found that there is nothing honorable in a real combat, where rules count for nothing. The only standard is to win, whatever the cost. The blades did not ring in an elegant choreography, as they did in fencing classes, but were aimed directly at the enemy to run him through. Gentlemanly conduct was forgotten; blows were ferocious and gave no quarter.”
Isabel Allende in Zorro

Incumbents in a market give no quarter when you are competing for customers that they have and prospects that they want. It’s better to start with “undesirable” prospects and customers than try and go head to head before you have your processes debugged and your business model worked out.

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“Amazingly if your hiring process filters for the top 1% of engineers, engineering expertise is the least differentiating factor among employees.”
Adam Emmanuel Blackstone (@MeadBadger)

This is in response to “among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last” from “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees–and what it means for today’s students” by Cathy N. Davidson. The results are hyperlinked below, but “top employees” was actually managers. See Google Rework site as well; more context:

“All across America, students are anxiously finishing their “What I Want To Be …” college application essays, advised to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by pundits and parents who insist that’s the only way to become workforce ready. But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”
The surprising thing Google learned about its employees–and what it means for today’s students” by Cathy N. Davidson

A more accurate accounting would be that STEM skills get you in the game and allow you to advance a couple of steps on a technical hierarchy but that a lot of work is done in teams and the ability to work with others is essential to success in a project context. But without at least basic STEM skills / experience to understand the work content, it’s unlikely that many opportunities will be open to you.

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“The quality of a society is more important than your place in that society.”
Ruut Verhoeven

Quote from Eric Weiner “The Geogaphy of Bliss” which he interprets as “Better to be a small fish in a clean pond than a big fish in a polluted lake.” I blogged about this using De Tocqueville’s insights as a point of departure in “De Tocqueville on ‘Self-Interest Rightly Understood’” The is certainly true for those who take a longer view of the legacy they want to leave their family, friends, and community.

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“Science investigates, religion interprets.
Science gives man knowledge which is power;
religion gives man wisdom which is control.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Strength to Love”

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“Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next ten.”
Neil Armstrong in an address to a Joint Session of Congress, Sep-16-1969

I used this in “Ten from Safia Abdalla’s ‘Things I learned in 2017’” as a closing quote for the section labeled “Few people notice the changes that matter because they happen very slowly.”

This predates “Amara’s Law” by at least a decade and may have inspired him.

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Roy Amara

The ten year horizon Armstrong refers to is a reminder that in 1961 when President Kennedy set a goal for putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade it was widely viewed as impossible, but nonetheless accomplished 8 years later.

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“No scientific discovery is without it’s religious and moral implications.”
William Ralph Inge

New business models have moral and ethical implications as well: gig economy, social media, GMail, YouTube. Algorithms don’t negate need for personal accountability.

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“For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together. And the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.”
Vincent van Gogh in letter to Theo van Gogh Sun-Oct-22-1882

h/t Quote Investigator’s “Impulse” for source; more context (quote is combination of first and last sentence):

“For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.

What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently. And behold, how can one remain dedicated to such a task without allowing oneself to be lured from it or distracted, unless one reflects and organizes one’s life according to principles? And it’s the same with other things as it is with artistic matters. And the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.”
Vincent van Gogh in letter to Theo van Gogh Sun-Oct-22-1882

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“The Internet is an architectural philosophy, rather than a technology. The evolution of the Internet is similar to that of electricity. First, technologies emerged that replaced old products and services then new concepts were introduced. It’s time for the new Internet based ideas to come forth.”
Robert Kahn (2002)

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“Sensational failures get reduced while quiet ones linger.

Example: the airline industry has become safe while hospitals remain dangerous.

There are catastrophic failures due to mistakes in both. Medical error is just very opaque”

Michael Mayer (@mmay3r)

It’s not exactly a fair comparison because planes normally only take–off when it’s viewed as safe to fly–but people come to the ER or are hospitalized because the current trajectory of their health and well being is trending downward.  Still airplanes have black box flight recorders and air crashes always trigger root cause analysis investigation teams. It would be useful to apply some version of both approaches to hospital outcomes.

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“Writing maintainable software requires speculating well, anticipating and preparing for change. Good software developers place good bets, and these tend to be small bets, going to a little extra effort to make software much more flexible. Disputes between developers often involve hidden assumptions about probabilities. Whether some aspect of the software is responsible preparation for maintenance or wasteful gold plating depends on your idea of what’s likely to happen in the future.”
John D. Cook in “Bugs, Features, and Risks”

In the same way that may bugs are not detected,  many features are not exercised, and different features have different levels of impact on productivity in the same ways that bugs cause varying levels of lost time, lost data, lost dollars, or worse.

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Better predictions don’t guarantee adoption

Sam De Brule: Do you have any opinions about machine learning that would be unpopular amongst the VC crowd?

Sarah Catanzaro: I don’t think that adoption of AI will hit a tipping point until we have more effective mechanisms and interfaces for consuming machine learning results. These mechanisms and interfaces must enable us to interpret and reason about uncertainty associated with our models. In other words, they should show what an algorithm based a decision on and how confident it is in its decision.

For example, people get excited about academic research on medical diagnoses, then jump to the conclusion that these methods will be adopted by physicians. What people fail to recognize is the output of machine learning models must be used by people, employed by organizations, with responsibilities and liabilities. A physician, who faces malpractice risk, won’t accept a diagnosis just because your model is “more precise.”He/she is going to want to know how the model arrived at the diagnosis, why it might be wrong, and who is most likely to be affected if it is wrong.

We don’t yet trust AI and I don’t think we will or can trust it until it can “admit” what it doesn’t know.

For example, consider a system that recommends certain drug treatments based on medical records. The model underlying this system was developed on a training dataset. If the system encounters a patient who is unlike the patients profiled in the training set–that is, who lies outside its data distribution–it may make an unreasonable recommendation about a treatment plan. In this case, we would want to know that the system is not confident in its recommendation.

Likewise, think about an autonomous vehicle, which is trained to identify trucks, motorcycles, and cars. If this vehicle encountered a new object, say a scooter, which it could not classify with certainty, we might want it to alert the user to take control of steering. People won’t use self-driving cars or accept treatment from doctors aided by black-box algorithms if they can’t ask questions like “how do you know this” or “why are you sure?”

Excerpt from “Machine Learning won’t reach its potential without the human element

h/t Eric Topol, MD (@EricTopol); I think the specific category of machine learning as a new technique is starting to dissolve back into  “software.” We don’t let laymen practice medicine without a license, it’s unlikely we will not impose substantial  and similar restrictions on software and require that it be subject to oversight and mediation by medical personnel. The requirements for the explainability of a decision or recommendation and pro-active notification of the self-awareness of the limits are just table stakes for great adoption.

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“Neural networks” are a sad misnomer. They’re neither neural nor even networks. They’re chains of differentiable, parameterized geometric functions, trained with gradient descent (with gradients obtained via the chain rule). A small set of high school-level ideas put together.

“Differentiable programming” is a lot better, but to be honest that seems a lot more general than what we do in deep learning. Deep learning is a very very small subset of what differentiable programming could be.
François Chollet (@fchollet)

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“Great discoveries which give a new direction to currents of thoughts and research are not, as a rule, gained by the accumulation of vast quantities of figures and statistics. These are apt to stifle and asphyxiate and they usually follow rather than precede discovery. The great discoveries are due to the eruption of genius into a closely related field, and the transfer of precious knowledge there found to his own domain.”
Theobald Smith in Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (volume 172, 1915, page 121)

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“That one sees these long lists of little tables coming out of the printers, is because too many scientists, especially in the social sciences, have not adapted their methods to the power of these new computing tools. They are like an engineer who builds a bridge by designing blocks of concrete in the form of bricks.”
Jean-Paul Benzecri

The idea that you could cast larger forms out of concrete must have taken the Romans a little while to figure out, we always try to put the new into old use using old forms. It can take a while to see other possibilities. Steam engines originally replaced horses walking in a circling pulling on a rotating shaft to pump water out of mines. It took the better part of 75 years to realize that a steam engine could also be used to replace horses pulling a cart, creating the railroad engine.

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Q: What do you wish you had known when you started putting lean start up into practice?

Sean Murphy: It’s not really “build-measure-learn” it’s “measure-learn-build.” You need to start with careful observation of customer behavior and serious conversations about their needs and mental models for the tasks they are trying to accomplish and the results they want to obtain. And if you can quantify at least a few critical aspects of the stories and data you collect then you have some measurements you can learn from.

From a thread on LinkedIn Lean Startup Circle.

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“Don’t learn to do, but learn in doing. Let your falls not be on a prepared ground, but let them be bona fide falls in the rough and tumble of the world; only, of course, let them be on a small scale in the first instance till you feel your feet safe under you. Act more and rehearse less.”
Samuel Butler in “The Note-Books of Samuel Butler

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“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”
Tony Robbins

h/t David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) who asked: what are your good questions? My answers

Self-diagnosis / self-debugging:

  • What is the problem I am trying to solve?
  • Who can I talk to that understands the situation I am facing?
  • What are the goals and needs of the person I am across the table from?

Asking others:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What have you already done to try and solve the problem?
  • What would you like to have happen next?

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Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it.

We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, “Dammit, stop!”

I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.

From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: “Tough and Competent.”

  • Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for.
  • Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.

When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write “Tough and Competent” on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

Gene Kranz in address to his branch and flight control team on the Monday morning following the Apollo 1 disaster (30 January 1967), known as “The Kranz Dictum”; as published in his book “Failure Is Not An Option”

A good motto for startups and devops teams. And hospitals for that matter.

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“Engineering is knowledge work. That is, although the goal of engineering may be to produce useful objects, engineers do not construct such objects themselves. Rather they aim to generate knowledge that will allow such objects to be built.”
Dorothy A. Winsor in “Writing Like An Engineer

Entrepreneurs produce specifications for products; entrepreneurs develop viable business models.

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“Risk is hard to define, to me, it’s anything that prevents you from doing what you want in the future that could be avoided with an action today.”
Morgan Housel in “Risky Business

Interesting essay, still trying to wrap my head around this definition, but I think it means failing to act on preventable/avoidable problems. Housel’s focus on self-efficacy is one that entrepreneurs will instinctively relate to.

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“Strategy is a plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.”
J.C. Wiley

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“Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it is too late.”
Robert Rawls Updegraff

Updegraff is also the author of “Obvious Adams” [Full Text in Google Books]

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“To find out what happens to a system when you interfere with it you have to interfere with it (not just passively observe it).”
George Box’s conclusion to “The Use and Abuse of Regression

True for startups as well, it’s useful to start with observation but you have to enter the market to determine the viability of a product.

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“Social media is an opinion-fracturing prism that shatters social cohesion by replacing a shared public sphere and its dynamically overlapping discourse with a wall of increasingly concentrated filter bubbles.”
Natasha Lomas (@riptari) in “Social Media is Giving Us Trypophobia

Her conclusion: “across the spectrum people are crying out for tech firms to show more humanity, and tech firms are still trying to force-feed us more AI.” Too many tech firms act like insect colonies trying to simulate a human being. A commitment to human and humane interaction will be a differentiator for the shape of firms to come as the axis of competition shifts from lowest cost per user transaction to building as much trust as possible in each interaction.

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“Be patient–you can’t do everything in one day–or even in one lifetime.”
Ashleigh Brilliant”

A nice one liner highlighting the value of perseverance and focus to achieve your purpose.”

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“Unheeded, pricks of conscience might return as harpoons of circumstance.”
Yahia Lababidi in “Aphorisms on Art, Morality, Spirit

Only if you’re lucky, they can also transform into ICBM’s of fate.

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“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
Jim Ryun

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How to negotiate without breaking the relationship

  1. Keep People separate from Problem – emotions matter and you can’t negotiate if you make the other person angry, frustrated, feeling like they are losing.
  2. Keep Interests separate from Positions – interests are what we each really want to achieve, positions are what we ask of the other person.
  3. Keep Options separate from Analysis – you can’t be creative with options if both parties are analysing during brainstorming.
  4. Keep Emotions separate from Analysis – agree criteria first, use criteria to discuss options.

Conor Neill in “12 Tips to Change Someone’s Mind without Breaking the Relationship

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The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.”
Linus Pauling

Exploration fosters positive deviance, execution/exploitation focuses on making the average more reliable. You can throw away less successful–less surprising–exploration efforts because it’s the best or most useful that move you forward.

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“Knowledge used does not need to be remembered; practice forms habits and habits make memory unnecessary. The rule is nothing; the application is everything.”
Henry Hazlitt in Thinking as a Science

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