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 July 2018
“Climax Design Theorem: A large system, produced by expanding the dimensions of a smaller system, does not behave like the smaller system.”
John Gall in Systemantics
Beyond a certain point, more is different. This makes planning your firm’s growth a challenge.
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“The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it–once you can honestly say, ‘I don’t know,’ then it becomes possible to get at the truth.”
Robert Heinlein in “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls“
This reminds me of
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance–it is the illusion of knowledge.”
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“Love the Problem, Not Your Solution.”
Ash Maurya in “Love the Problem, Not Your Solution.”
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“Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
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Q: Do you have advice for landing a phone call with someone you don’t know and don’t have a mutual contact with?
- Reach out with a succinct, clearly personalized note that demonstrates you’ve done your homework.
Handwritten > Physical, but typed > Email
- Give context about you, your situation, and why you’re looking to connect.
- Ask for 10 minutes.
Brent Beshore (@BrentBeshore)
Great advice. Our rule of thumb is to spend an hour of research to save a minute in an important first conversation. Blogged about it in Customer Interviews: Spend an Hour to Save a Minute. To develop an actual business relationships takes hours of conversation and shared successes. But it starts in the first ten minutes. Have that go well and let the other party unilaterally extend the time. More powerful than “I cannot be succinct and need a lot of your time.”
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“Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.”
Samuel Butler in The Note-Books of Samuel Butler
This is also the art of entrepreneurship, if you include learning from experience and a focus on the fair exchange of value.
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“The vast population of this earth, and indeed nations themselves, may readily be divided into three groups. There are the few who make things happen, the many more who watch things happen, and the overwhelming majority who have no notion of what happens. Every human being is born into this third and largest group; it is for himself, his environment and his education, to determine whether he shall rise to the second group or even to the first.”
Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947) in a speech at the University of California on March 23, 1931.
h/t Barry Popik “Those Who Make Things Happen” I had referenced a shorter version of this quote in “C. Kent Wright’s “Nectar in a Nutshell” Has Some Great Quotes” (because that was all that Wright had included “There are the few who make things happen, the many more who watch things happen, and the overwhelming majority who have no notion of what happens”) but I like this longer version because it acknowledges that we all begin in ignorance and must apply ourselves to become knowledgeable and effective.
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“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
Mark Twain “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson“
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“The evidence is clear: When you let advertisers pay for your user’s experience, you create the conditions that will force your user experience to deteriorate so you can provide ever increasing value to your advertisers. It’s a deepening, darkening downward spiral of bad UX.
Despite what everyone will tell you, it does not have to be this way. You’re only stuck as long as there are competitors using an ad-based model AND you’re not offering any additional value. Make a great experience that delivers more value than your competitors and people will pay for it. I think there are more effective business models that can engage all the members of the niche community without having to be advertiser-sponsored.
If you are truly committed to delivering the best user experience possible, then avoid an advertising-based business model at all costs. Make your experience great enough that users see the value in paying for it themselves. Make your users your primary customer. ”
I agree the digital advertising can create a race to the bottom, offering digital heroin to maximize onscreen attention instead of off screen impact or benefits, see “Superstimulus: Refining Online Interactions into Digital Heroin.”
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“You always have prior information before you do an experiment, because something motivated you to do the experiment.”
John D. Cook tweeting as “Data Science Fact” (@DataSciFact)
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“There is no such thing as a great talent without great willpower.”
Honore de Balzac
I have seen many others with willpower nurture talent through diligent practice. As for my own case I find I often dissipate my talents with a lack of focus and application. I have a very detailed imagination which allows me to visualize an end state, which can offer enough satisfaction for me that I never actually achieve what’s within my power.
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Survivorship bias is a mistaken evaluation of a strategy or course of action that evaluates the likely range of outcomes by restricting the focus on only the ending population’s results without regard to the total number who started or attempted the same strategy.
“Never stop buying lottery tickets, no matter what anyone tells you.
I failed again and again and again, but I never gave up. I took extra jobs and poured money into tickets.
And here I am proof that if you put in the time, it pays off!”
Every inspirational speech by someone successful should have to start with a disclaimer about survivorship bias.
[mouseover text]: “They say you can’t argue with results, but what kind of defeatist attitude is that? If you stick with it, you can argue with ANYTHING.”
Randall Munroe “Survivorship Bias” (XKCD 1827)
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“To know the import of a single indication and the power of single remedies lies at the root of all sound practice; and I am persuaded that no man can clearly see and prosecute many indications together, or can safely and successfully use many remedies together, who has not begun by studying both indications and remedies one by one.”
Peter Mere Latham in “Aphorisms from Latham“
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“Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”
People who don’t care if they fail are not courageous.
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“Never claim as a right what you can ask as a favor.”
John Churton Collins
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“The purpose of models is not to fit the data but to sharpen the questions.”
Useful insight for entrepreneurs and engineers–and those who combine both mindsets.
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“An hypothesis is a very personal matter: a scientist usually works much better when pursuing his own than that of someone else. It is the originator who gets both the personal satisfaction and most of the credit if his idea is proved correct, even if he does not do the work himself. A man working on an hypothesis which is not his own often abandons it after one or two unsuccessful attempts because he lacks the strong desire to confirm it which is necessary to drive him to give it a thorough trial and think out all possible ways of varying the conditions of the experiment.”
William I. B. Beveridge in “The Art of Scientific Investigation“
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“I think we need to radically expand the idea of mutation as the sole underlying mechanism for changing the heredity of an organism. I advocate four main mechanisms, Mutation, Epigenetic Inheritance Systems, Symbiogenesis at genetic level, and Hybridogenesis – the acronym “MESH”. I suspect there may well be additional mechanisms in microorganisms.”
Frank Ryan from “Third Way of Evolution“
Ryan is the author of “Darwin’s Blind Spot” which highlights symbiosis as an important mechanism for evolution, complementing mutation-driven natural selection or competition for resources and survival. I think blending competition and cooperation is a richer and more useful framing for how a startup can prosper.
“Symbiogenesis is evolutionary change arising from the interaction of different species. It takes two major forms: Endosymbiosis–interaction is at the level of the genomes. Exosymbiosis–interaction may be behavioral or involve the sharing of metabolites, including gene-coded products.”
Frank Ryan in Darwin’s Blind Spot
I think there are significant implications for business model design arising out of ecosystem-level thinking beyond pure competition. For example, we can learn a lot from the human body’s multiple microbiomes as models for complex business ecosystems. I got this reply on witter and I think I will do a longer blog post exploring this concept in the next few weeks.
“The key is to break the overemphasis on competition. Turns out that competition is but a small part of evolution. Explosions in change and diversity or when the balance between species and resources is disrupted leasing to period of extreme imbalance. The result of this imbalance is a sharp increase in change as species take advantage of newly discovered resources or adapt to find new sources. This is what happens when a changes in the economy creates a new set of business conditions and/or obsoletes the primary model.”
James Keeney (@fitterweb)
I think competition is still a strong driver, but it can be at the partnership or network level not just individuals. Also, if a species (or a business) can find a way to extract energy or food (or revenue) in a previously unoccupied niche or landscape (e.g life leaving the ocean and colonizing land, marine life that can live in the ocean depths vs. near the surface, extremophiles that can live in conditions (e.g. very dry, very acidic, very hot) that would kill most other life forms. The approach of “attacking undefended hills” or targeting unoccupied market niches forms the basis for a “Blue Ocean Strategy” moving to uncontested spaces. I blogged about this in “Rock Paper Scissors.”
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“When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.”
Adelaide-Edouard le Lievre, Marquis de La Grange et de Fourilles (1796–1876), Pensees (1872)
Reminds me of one of the rules of thumb in fund raising: “ask for money and get advice, ask for advice and get money.” It’s also at the heart of Rob Fitzpatrick’s “Mom Test.” Don’t ask for affirmation ask for real feedback.
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The secret of every amazingly productive individual or team is the endless pile of work they decide not to do.
Steve Purcell (@sanityinc)
Posteriorities–deciding what not to do–are as important as priorities; especially when it comes to organized abandonment: the decision to stop doing things that are not longer working instead of continuing due to force of habit and organizational inertia. For more on this see “Discovery, Invention, Growth, and Renewal” and “Ebb and Flow.”
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“You can’t rapidly prototype a quantum computer, a cure for cancer, or an undiscovered material. There are serious ethical issues surrounding technologies such as genomics and artificial intelligence. We’ve spent the last few decades learning how to move fast. Over the next few decades we’re going to have to relearn how to go slow again.”
Greg Satell in “The Industrial Era Ended, and so Will the Digital Era.”
There are serious issues around digital systems designed to attract and monetize our attention, see “Superstimulus: Refining Online Interactions into Digital Heroin.” Satell’s argument is that we are entering a new era powered by genomics, new materials (nanotechnologies), and robotics. My votes are for sensor/IoT and pervasive use of media–in particular video and sound become as easy to create and edit as text, but it make take another decade or two to see what’s really happening. People did not appreciate the impact of shipping container as a standardization model for logistics for many years, there may be changes that have already occurred we have yet to fully appreciate.
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- If you’re a founder you’ve probably heard someone say “I’ve seen this idea before–it didn’t work” or “isn’t this just like that other thing that person/company X tried?”
- As a founder, I heard this dozens of times. It’s likely to come from investors, but you hear it from other founders, potential employees, advisors, customers, even family members. Like it or not, pattern matching is strong.
- I get contacted from a new company every 3 months working on a idea that’s similar to our old startup idea, and our idea was similar the earlier ones– but with a unique twist, of course.
- Each generation of founders comes back to a few ideas that were tried by a previous cohort.
- So here’s the thing if you’re a founder hearing “someone tried this before” isn’t a reason to be discouraged.
- Successful companies often look like previously unsuccessful ones, but with a few differences that are only obvious in retrospect.
- The future often starts off looking pretty similar to the past. In fact, because consumers favor things they know, this can be a feature, not a bug.
- Hearing ‘someone tried this before’ doesn’t mean your startup is doomed, it does mean you need to do your homework. And that is much easier said than done.
- In this discovery phase, you to need to answer three questions:
- Has this been tried unsuccessfully before?
- Why did that company fail?
- How are we really different?
This is a good checklist, I blogged about this approach as “Picnic in the Graveyard” in Pretotyping–Techniques for Building the Right Product
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“Consider four basic capabilities that any true AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) would have to possess:
- object-recognition capabilities of a 2-year-old child,
- language capabilities of a 4-year-old child
- manual dexterity of a 6-year-old child
- social understanding of an 8-year-old child
Rodney Brooks in “I, Rodney Brooks, am a Robot” [Part of IEEE Spectrum’s June 2008 Special Report: The Singularity]
- IEEE Spectrum 2017 Special Report: Can We Copy the Brain
- Rodney Brooks: 7 Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI
- Rodney Brooks Home Page at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (note in particular Publications and Historical Documents sections).
- Steps Toward Super Intelligence Series
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In product development we want our delivered product to meet the real market needs. We usually decompose this problem by positing a specification. Then
- Make product match specification
- Make specification match true market need.
Part (2) has always been the weak link.
The word requirement tempts us to think of an attribute as required; it implies any deviation eliminates viability. In most cases this massively overstates value. If an attribute is truly mandatory then requirement is a correct term.
Often it is more useful to think of it as a customer’s perishable hypothesis of value which must be weighed against the cost of its realization. Too often a so-called requirement is actually the customer’s proposed solution to an unstated problem now mislabeled as a requirement. In my experience the most valuable query of a requirement is not “What do you want?” but “Why do you want it?”
In a more general sense I think of it as managing the distance between a value surface and a cost surface that both evolve with time. Many degrees of freedom, including price and performance in some areas can change by 25% per year: this favors a dynamic approach over a static one.
In my experience good architectures make carefully reasoned choices about degree of coupling to predecessor, contemporaneous, & future products. Good planned architectures seem more common than good emergent architectures. IME emergent architectures have bias towards local optimization.”
Donald Reinertsen @DReinertsen in a mid-July-2018 tweetstream (edited for clarity)
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“It’s Google’s attitude to customers that is the ingrained and deep problem. Google has built into its DNA from the beginning that it does not want to be in contact with you, that you cannot get emergency attention, and that you are probably wrong.”
This is a fantastic insight, it crystallizes a sense of foreboding about Google I have had for several years now since a friend got locked out of his GMail account by Google and had no redress. Dealing with Google is like dealing with an insect colony in contrast to Amazon or Apple support–especially the ease with which you can get an Amazon or Apple support person on the phone. Other large tech firms like Atlassian offer excellent support as well. I think hguhghuff is right: they don’t seem to want a real conversation with their customers. No human touch.
- Why You Should Not Use Google Cloud (June 29, 2018; updated July 2, 2018) [see also https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17431609]
Documents an incident where entire infrastructure was almost deleted by Google over a credit card problem.
- Ben Treynor Sloss, Google VP 24×7: “Improving our account management policies to better support customers” (July 18, 2018)
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“Genius is sometimes difficult to be distinguished from talent, because high genius includes talent. It is talent and something more. The usual distinction between genius and talent is, that one represents creative thought, the other practical skill; one invents, the other applies. But the truth is, that high genius applies its own inventions better than talent alone can do.
Talent repeats; genius creates. Talent is a cistern; genius a fountain. Talent deals with the actual, with discovered and realized truths, analyzing, arranging, combining, applying positive knowledge,and,in action, looking to precedents. Genius deals with the possible, creates new combinations, discovers new laws, and acts from an insight into new principles. Talent jogs to conclusions to which genius takes giant leaps. Talent accumulates knowledge, and has it packed up in the memory; genius assimilates it with its own substance, grows with every new accession, and converts knowledge into power. Talent gives out what it has taken in; genius, what has risen from its unsounded wells of living thought. Talent, in difficult situations, strives to untie knots, which genius instantly cuts with one swift decision. Talent is full of thoughts; genius, of thought. One has definite acquisitions; the other, indefinite power.”
Edward Percy Whipple in chapter on “Genius” (1848) in “Literature and Life“
The chapter on “Genius” is based on a talk that Edward Percy Whipple delivered before the Boston Mercantile Library Association in February 1848.
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You can always tell when a business or a consultant is striving to honor the very important principle of the separation of the buying public from its money.
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“We are generally better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”
I think it’s a common mistake–certainly one I am frequently guilty off–to start at the end of your chain of logic and give what you think is the correct course of action or “the answer,” instead of walking step by step with the person you are trying to help. First of all, there my be a misstep in your sequence or an additional constraint you did not take into account. Secondly, it’s as important to teach the problem detection and solving skills as it is to give the “right answer” for a particular situation. This applies to managing people, sales, parenting, and advising your friends.
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“Anxiety is very different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite,: anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility.”
Too many options can be as paralyzing as too many constraints. When entrepreneurs remove all constraints too many options can create a sense of dread instead of wonder. I used this quote as a point of departure in “Kierkegaard: Creativity Must Master Dread of the Unknown” and if you are looking for article that combines insights from existentialism and XKCD to explore barriers to creativity and process improvement, this one’s for you.
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“Left a good job in the city
Working for the Man every night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleeping
Worrying about the way things might have been”
I identify with this song as a blueprint for an entrepreneurial career. I was able to successfully execute the first two lines but the last two have proven more problematic–not that I am anxious to go back to life in a cubicle, much less an open office plan.
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“Most technological breakthroughs come from technologists tinkering, not from researchers chasing hypotheses.”
True for successful bootstrappers and new ventures as well. Organized tinkering allows you to move down the learning curve more rapidly but often the initial product idea or the first time you spot a need is
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I had a recent conversation with an entrepreneur about gleaning insights from customer interviews: it’s about organizing story fragments–anecdotes–into insights that suggest further questions and refinements to your feature set. By the time you have a “data set” that comprises a statistically significant set of data points you have succeed or failed — or eked out an existence to establish a base camp for further market exploration.
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“In writing, a trick is to give yourself good assignments.”
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“Data is only available about the past. A useful theory, however, can help you look into the future.”
This is a great insight into what makes hypotheses about emerging markets hard to verify. For larger firms who cannot make small bets on uncertain futures it means they play a “watch and wait” game that allows startups to go first. There are also implications for “Big Data” enthusiasts who want to launch a new startup: probably the best approach is to find a way to re-purpose or recombine two or three existing data stores for a novel application or purpose. Scott Anthony made a similar point in “The Key to spotting Disruption Before it happens” which I explored in “Distant Early Warning Signs of Market Disruption” cross-referencing other quotes from Clayton Christensen to conclude:
Christensen’s use of “disruptive technology” leads people to focus on the technology and its application and not the business model assumptions behind it. In a later interview with the Economist “Still Disruptive,” he is more explicit: “Technology per se is not disruptive or sustaining: it is the way it is deployed in the market.” The disruption occurs not when the incumbents are felled, but when the new entrants find a fresh market that they can take root in. This is the point of both Anthony’s and Christensen’s observations: established firms either say “we are still standing” or “we see the threat but we cannot figure out how to apply the technology for our current customers.” They need to counter the threat in the adjacent markets that may in time blend into theirs.
Sean Murphy in “Distant Early Warning Signs of Market Disruption“
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“Don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
Just try your best
Try everything you can
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away
It just takes some time”
Jimmy Eat World “The Middle”
Music for a mid-year review. Another quote to bear in mind when you find yourself in the middle of an experience:
“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”
Margaret Atwood in “Alias Grace”
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“Food for thought will remain on the free list.”
Kin Hubbard in “Abe Martin’s Almanack (1909)”
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“Mispronunciation is a sign of the autodidact. Making fun of mispronunciation is a sign of the fool.”
Robert J Frey (@financequant)
This is part of a broader category of mistakes you can make in customer interviews. It’s important to mirror a prospect’s language to encourage them to share their insights.
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