Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in February 2018

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes

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 February 2018

Several quotes this month Warren Zevon a talented if somewhat idiosyncratic singer-songwriter.

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“Now I’m hiding in Honduras
I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan”
Warren Zevon “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”

Three ways to solve problems: litigate, use force, or buy your way out. In other circumstances he might looked for more creative solutions and asked for software engineers, hardware designers, turnaround experts, or expediters.

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“A solution is a synthesis of component elements which hurdles the obstructing difficulties and, neither exceeding the available resources nor encroaching on the limits set by constraints, accomplishes the prescribed goals. […]  There is always more than one solution to a problem.”
Morris Asimow in “Introduction to Design” [online]

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“One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.”
John W. Gardner

h/t PJ Thompson “Risk Averse

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“I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years. It was one of those phobias that really didn’t pay off.”
Warren Zevon (on David Letterman Show Oct-30-2002).

It’s easy to miss that transition from young and immortal to normal life. Startup entrepreneurs burning the candle at both ends sometimes make the transition at high speed. Even if YOLO is your motto a long slow transit has a lot to recommend itself over “live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse.”

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“Developmental work is always a slightly organized chaos”
Charles Kettering

Hill climbing is a monotonic improvement in a neighborhood but it can become trapped in a  local minimum. Tinkering adds disorder to enable a design to climb out of a local minimum. Brokerage juxtaposes seemingly incongruous elements to arrive at a new synthesis (discarding many combinations along the way).

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“Q: “You are a builder, I believe?”
A: “No, Sir, I am not a builder; I am an architect.”
Q: “They are much the same, I suppose?”
A: “I beg your pardon, Sir, I cannot admit that; I consider them to be totally different.”
Q: “Oh, indeed! Perhaps you will state wherein this great difference exists?”
A: “An Architect, Sir, conceives the design, prepares the plan, draws out the specifications–in short, supplies the mind; the builder is merely the bricklayer or the carpenter. The builder, in fact, is the machine; the architect the power that puts the machine together and sets it going.”
Q: “Oh, very well, Mr. Architect, that will do. And now, after your very ingenious distinction without a difference, perhaps you can inform the court who was the architect of the Tower of Babel?”
A: “There was no architect, Sir, and hence the confusion.”
Daniel Asher Alexander questioned by Sir James Courlett in A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840 by H. M. Colvin

This approach of construction without architecture reminds me of “Big Ball of Mud” by Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder:

“A BIG BALL OF MUD is haphazardly structured, sprawling, sloppy, duct-tape and bailing wire, spaghetti code jungle. We’ve all seen them. These systems show unmistakable signs of unregulated growth, and repeated, expedient repair. Information is shared promiscuously among distant elements of the system, often to the point where nearly all the important information becomes global or duplicated. The overall structure of the system may never have been well defined. If it was, it may have eroded beyond recognition. Programmers with a shred of architectural sensibility shun these quagmires. Only those who are unconcerned about architecture, and, perhaps, are comfortable with the inertia of the day-to-day chore of patching the holes in these failing dikes, are content to work on such systems.”
Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder in “Big Ball of Mud

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“You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared”
Warren Zevon Song Title from album “My Ride’s Here

Entrepreneurs have to learn to master their fear or at least find the courage to feel the fear but proceed anyway.

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“The fundamental task of leadership is to create the environment where everyone can contribute, distributing responsibility and listening carefully as everyone works to interpret the vision and make it real.”

Jim McGee (@jmcgee) in “Leading from the middle by getting out of the way

More context the quote joins two key sentences in a much longer well written passage:

“It’s complicated” is an appropriate response to most organizational issues that surface in today’s environment. Yet, you still must act. None of us have the capacity to keep it all in our heads; the broad vision, the players, the sequence of events that must be orchestrated. It’s why organizations exist; to do more than we can as individuals.

The fundamental task of leadership is to create the environment where everyone can contribute. What’s surprising and difficult is how much of that depends on your ability to get out of the way. There are lots of ways to get in the way. Getting out of the way turns out to be more difficult. Get too far out of the way and you create a vacuum. Simply articulating a grand vision leaves too much space for others to get in each others way.

Where is that middle space that shapes without dictating? My claim is that it revolves around distributing responsibility and listening carefully as everyone works to interpret the vision and make it real. The listening is where you learn how well the vision is understood. You say “yes” far more often than not because the questions are coming from those who are better positioned to grasp how the vision, the action, and the environment are interacting.

Jim McGee (@jmcgee) in “Leading from the middle by getting out of the way

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“In nature you’ve got continuous very-small-feedback-loop adaptation going on, which is why things get to be harmonious.”
Christoper Alexander

More context:

“Things that are good have a certain kind of structure. You can’t get that structure except dynamically. Period. In nature you’ve got continuous very-small-feedback-loop adaptation going on, which is why things get to be harmonious. That’s why they have the qualities we value. If it wasn’t for the time dimension, it wouldn’t happen. Yet here we are playing the major role creating the world, and we haven’t figured this out. That is a very serious matter.”
Christopher Alexander quoted in Stewart Brand’s “How Buildings Learn

It’s not just fast feedback, Nature uses a hierarchical approach to design and assembly, recycling layers of subsystems and using changes in their configuration to escape from local minima.

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Benjamin Crane (@bjc290): Would be really cool to have a list of science fiction works organized by the realities they predicted
Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): see http://www.technovelgy.com and http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Tropes

While both sites are quite thought provoking be warned that what seems subjectively like a few minutes of browsing can turn out to be the better part of an afternoon.

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“School imprints a bad mental habit: evaluating all questions as if the goal is to find one right answer.”
Michael Mayer (@mmay3r)

Another difference from school: real life often presents us with challenges where we have to search for new information, knowledge, and tools to address. Many important problems require just in time learning and experimentation. A timely decision that selects action that’s “good enough” is often a better approach than a long search for the best answer. If it’s an important question you will have many chances to revisit and refine your approach.

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“Preserving the old ways from being abused.
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you.
What more can we do?”
Ray Davies in “Village Green Preservation Society” (lyrics)

It’s important for change agents to identify and support key elements of an existing system that should be preserved and protected as they strive to alter–and hopefully improve–other aspects of a system. The formulation of Stop, Start, Continue explicitly addresses what should be preserved in the “Continue” list.

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“When it comes to large scale activities, nothing about change is easy, and top-down change generally fails.”
Dan Hanson quoted in “Will Truckers Be Automated” (originally an comment in “Will self-driving trucks increase the demand for truck drivers?“)

Strong implications for selling new technology or methods into enterprise.

More context (bold added) but the entire post is worth reading:

“I’ve been working in automation for 20 years. When you see how hard it is to simply digitize a paper process inside a single plant (often a multi-year project), you start to roll your eyes at ivory tower claims of entire industries being totally transformed by automation in a few years. One thing I’ve learned is a fundamentally Hayekian insight: When it comes to large scale activities, nothing about change is easy, and top-down change generally fails. Just figuring out the requirements for computerizing a job is a laborious process full of potential errors. Many automation projects fail because the people at the high levels who plan them simply do not understand the needs of the people who have to live with the results.”
Dan Hanson quoted in “Will Truckers Be Automated

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“Good habits are personal capital. They require investment, but many pay off 1000X over a lifetime.”
Michael Mayer (@mmay3r)

I think good habits are more like autonomic processes or a powerful notation, they provide more effective action for much less mental overhead or processing. Forming a new good habit is the investment that pays off with lower conscious thought required later.

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“But don’t look down
It’s a long, long fall”
Warren Zevon from lyrics to “You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared”

For more on “don’t look down” see Crossing the Chasm Using Cartoon Physics

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“You haven’t mastered a tool until you understand when it should not be used.”
Kelsey Hightower (@kelseyhightower)

Diagnosis must inform prescription to allow intelligent selection of the appropriate intervention. It’s only the person with one tool, like the child with a hammer, who can only offer one approach.

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“The building metaphor has outlived its usefulness. It is time to change again. If, as I believe, the conceptual structures we construct today are too complicated to be specified accurately in advance, and too complex to be built faultlessly, then we must take a radically different approach.

Let us turn nature and study complexity in living things, instead of just the dead works of man. Here we find constructs whose complexities thrill us with awe. The brain alone is intricate beyond mapping, powerful beyond imitation, rich in diversity, self-protecting, and self renewing. The secret is that it is grown, not built.

So it must be with our software-systems. Some years ago Harlan Mills proposed that any software system should be grown by incremental development. [H.D. Mills, “Top-Down Programming in Large Systems,” in Debugging Techniques in Large Systems, R. Ruskin, ed., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.] That is, the system should first be made to run, even if it does nothing useful except call the proper set of dummy subprograms. Then, bit by bit, it should be fleshed out, with the subprograms in turn being developed–into actions or calls to empty stubs in the level below.

I have seen most dramatic results since I began urging this technique on the project builders in my Software Engineering Laboratory class. Nothing in the past decade has so radically changed my own practice, or its effectiveness. The approach necessitates top-down design, for it is a top-down growing of the software. It allows easy backtracking. It lends itself to early prototypes. Each added function and new provision for more complex data or circumstances grows organically out of what is already there.

The morale effects are startling. Enthusiasm jumps when there is a running system, even a simple one. Efforts redouble when the first picture from a new graphics software system appears on the screen, even if it is only a rectangle. One always has, at every stage in the process, a working system. I find that teams can grow much more complex entities in four months than they can build.”
Fred Brooks in “No Silver Bullet” [PDF] (1995)

I used part of this quote in “Fred Brooks ‘No Silver Bullet’ Revisited

This matches Gall’s Law: “Successful complex systems evolve from successful simple systems.”

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“Medicine is a strange mixture of speculation and action. We have to cultivate a science and to exercise and art. The calls of science are upon our leisure and our choice; the calls of practice are of daily emergence and necessity.”
Peter Mere Latham in “Aphorisms from Latham

Also true for entrepreneurs, if you don’t prepare you won’t master the flurry of pop quizzes that running a business day to day will throw at you. Of course you can learn on the job but a crisis will reveal your lack of preparation in painful ways.

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“I do not regard myself as a dead shot, but I am a pretty dangerous man with a wet towel. But all in all I think my favorite weapon is a twenty-dollar bill.”
Raymond Chandler in a Feb-5-1951 letter to Edgar Carter

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“I’m the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I’m down on my luck”
Warren Zevon “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”

The entrepreneurial roller coaster ride requires perseverance, grit, gumption, and what the Finns call sisu. Some related blog posts:

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“One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make a great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision. Life is a whole, and luck is a whole, and no part can be separated from the rest.”
Winston Churchill in “My Early Life

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“I have been a committed skeptic since grade school. What bothers me deeply is that many people’s skepticism seems to manifest as a sense of superiority. Arrogance is antithetical to skepticism. The foundation of skepticism is humility, best served when directed against oneself.”
Robert J. Frey (@financequant)

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“No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.”

William James (1842-1910) in “The Principles of Psychology, Volume I” (1890) Chapter IV “Habit”

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“In the enterprise, software doesn’t fix problems, good process fixes problems.
Software merely helps a good process scale.
Get this out of order and you may not like what you scale.
Yet, it seems we get these out of order often.”
Moe Arnaiz

Another rule of thumb to bear in mind: “people manage people, tools manage data.” If you are trying to use software to manage people without a clear shared understanding and good communication you will lose to firms that do.

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“The greatest piece of good fortune is that which corrects our deficiencies and redeems our mistakes.”
Goethe in Maxims and Reflections

I think the best entrepreneurs can plan on is to make our own good fortune by learning from our mistakes and in their pattern identify and address our deficiencies.

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“Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions. After looking at the Alps, I felt that my mind had been stretched beyond the limits of its elasticity, and fitted so loosely on my old ideas of space that I had to spread these to fit it.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. “The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

A new insight that adds to an existing category of your knowledge or adds a new category offers one kind of stretch, the more painful ideas to master are those that require restructuring and some unlearning of old understandings.

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“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.
Thomas Szasz in “The Second Sin” chapter on education.

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“Fate, Destiny, Chance, particular and special Providence; idle words! Dismiss them all, sir! A man’s fate is his own temper; and according to that will be his opinion as to the particular manner in which the course of events is regulated. A consistent man believes in Destiny, a capricious man in Chance.”
Benjamin Disraeli in “Vivian Grey” [Gutenberg]

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“Between 2010 and 2015, employment in the region increased by almost 25%, while the population increased more than six percent. However, housing units grew by less than three percent over the same period. While the economy added 367,064 jobs in Silicon Valley during this period, only 57,094 new housing units were created.”

Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project2017 Report (page 23)

One housing unit added for every 6.43 jobs has fueled dramatic increase in housing costs and a number of follow on effects: lower school enrollments (housing too expensive for families compared to same space filled with full time workers), higher occupancy of existing house stock (e.g. hacker houses that sleep four or six to a room using bunk beds), and economic growth constrained by need to pay new workers to cover housing.

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Well, I went to the doctor. I said, “I’m feeling kind of rough”
“Let me break it to you son. Your shit’s fucked up.”
I said, “My shit’s fucked up? Well, I don’t see how–”
He said, “The shit that used to work–it won’t work now.”
Warren Zevon “My Shit’s Fucked Up”

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“Albert: How do you know when you’re an adult?
Pogo: It’s largely a matter of looking back…and not counting your mistakes.”
Walt Kelly in “Pogo, Prisoner of Love”

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“71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans. He didn’t believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren’t true. He believed instead in the things that were true in which no one else believed.”
Terry Pratchett in Jingo

Substitious: a word I recently learned that captures an aspect of expertise and entrepreneurship.

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“The reason so many people misunderstand so many issues is not that these issues are so complex, but that people do not want a factual or analytical explanation that leaves them emotionally unsatisfied. They want villains to hate and heroes to cheer — and they don’t want explanations that do not give them that.”
Thomas Sowell “The Audacity of Hype

This reminds of the question that my boys would always ask when we were watching a movie when they were young: “Who are the good guys, Papa?” Most of us are really a shade of gray.

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