Quotes for Entrepreneurs March 2019

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 March 2019

My focus this month is on self-respect and self-awareness.

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“The wise treat self-respect as non-negotiable, and will not trade it for health or wealth or anything else.”
Thomas Szasz

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“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. Such a man may be generous; he may be honest in something more than the commercial sense; he may love his friends with an elective, personal sympathy, and not accept them as an adjunct of the station to which he has been called. He may be a man, in short, acting on his own instincts, keeping in his own shape that God made him in; and not a mere crank in the social engine-house, welded on principles that he does not understand, and for purposes that he does not care for.”
Robert Louis Stevenson in “An Inland Voyage” (Royal Sport Nautique chapter)

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“Bureaucracy is a massive, role-playing game. If you’re an advanced player, you know how to deflect blame, defend turf, manage up, hoard resources, trade favors, negotiate targets and avoid scru­tiny. Unsurprisingly, those who excel at the game are unenthusiastic about changing it.

Yet it’s impossible to dismantle bureaucracy without redistributing authority. We have to face the fact that a post-bureaucratic organization is also a post-managerial organization, where power is no longer calibrated by headcount, budget or decision rights.


post-bureaucratic companies are an artful integration of three organizational innovations:

  • Socially dense markets comprised of internal contracts that achieve the allocation effi­ciency of arm’s-length markets without falling prey to Coasian transaction costs.
  • Naturally dynamic hierarchies that are built bottom-up, based on peer-attested competence.
  • Performance-oriented communities where interested parties self-organize to manage inter­de­pendencies.

Gary Hamel in “Busting Bureaucracy

h/t Neil Perkin; it’s actually from a speech at Drucker Forum

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“What cannot be taught always teaches the greatest lesson.”
Drew Byrne

My start on a list of things that need to be experienced to be understood: earthquake, business shutdown, riding a bike, death of a close friend, overcoming a fear (or feeling the fear and doing it anyway), etc.. This quote reminded me of an earlier observation I made about the ability to integrate multiple simultaneous activities–it’s very hard to teach in a narrative form or as a diagram, it often has to be experienced:

“At a deeper level the ability to have a serious conversation looks like a lot like riding a bike, you have to integrate several simultaneous activities into a mindful whole. Sustaining a serious conversation requires not only self-awareness and the ability to manage your own transient emotional reactions to their statements or reactions, but empathy for nuances of the other person’s responses (verbal and non-verbal).”
Sean Murphy in “Conversations With Prospects: Practice, Review, Share Notes, Ask for Feedback

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“The actual minimum wage is zero. Increasing the nominal minimum wage increases some salaries and drives others to zero.”
John Cook (@JohnDCook)

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“My island of knowledge is surrounded by a mist-enshrouded marsh of ignorance and bounded by a shoreline of unexplored possibilities and combinations.”
Sean Murphy

Inspired by Stuart Kaufmann’s model of the “adjacent possible.” Related  quote:

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as one explores them.”
Steven Johnson in “Where Good Ideas Come From”

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“The necessary order for improvement is effective then efficient then sustainable.”
Hermanni Hyytiala (@hemppah)

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“Every time you see a call for culture change, imagine trying to change the assumptions, values, beliefs, and behaviors of one person, then multiply that by the number of people who are part of the culture.  Mostly, what we are talking about is practice change. Something tangible. Like wearing seat belts. Or washing hands. Or not drinking and driving. Be specific. Focus on practice. Values and assumptions lag a long way behind practice. Direct appeals to values are rarely effective, and have the disadvantage of seeming paternalistic or insulting. Once practices change, so does social proof and feedback, then often beliefs, and even values and assumptions.”
Steven Shorrock (@StevenShorrock)

Condensed from a series of tweets in March 2019.

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“You can’t change the music of your soul.”
Katharine Hepburn

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“To manage people effectively you must not only accept but praise work that you could have done better yourself.”
Aaron Haspel in “Everything

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“Microsoft’s entry into most new technologies follows this same plan, with the first effort being a preemptive strike, the second effort being market research to see what customers really want in a product, and the third try is the real product.”
Robert Cringely in “Accidental Empires”

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“What you would really be, seem to be.”
Steven Carter in “Collected Aphorisms 2008-2018

Related quotes

  • “Believe that life is worth living,  and your very belief will help create the fact.” William James
  • “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” William James
  • “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Susan Jeffers

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“Never attribute to stupidity or malice that which can be adequately explained by structural alignment of incentives.”
Kevin Kwok (@kevinakwok) in “Aligning Business Models to Markets” (Feb-22-2019)

The allusion to Hanlon’s Razor is intentional. The article offers great advice for entrepreneurs to study the incentives implicit in larger and more established competitors’ business models. Here is a longer excerpt for more context:

“Instead, to riff on Hanlon’s Razor, “never attribute to stupidity or malice that which can be adequately explained by structural alignment of incentives.” Providing a high level of service is a choice that must be supported by your business model. Few can afford the investment. But for those that can the dividends are significant.”
Kevin Kwok (@kevinakwok) in “Aligning Business Models to Markets” (Feb-22-2019)

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Three rules for a good career:

  • Don’t sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself.
  • Don’t work for anyone you don’t respect and admire.
  • Work only with people you enjoy.

Charlie Munger

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“It’s hard not to become pushy when the wind is at your back.”
James Geary

A reminder that power and prosperity are much more difficult test of character than adversity: it’s hard to maintain accurate self-awareness when you are surrounded by people who are praising and deferring to you. Here are two related quotes, the first I collected in June 2018:

“Fortune does not change men, it unmasks them.”
Suzanne Necker

The second in October 2015:

“A man is never so on trial as in the moment of excessive good-fortune.”
Lew Wallace in “Ben Hur

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“It is not in the nature of things for any one man to make a sudden violent discovery; science goes step by step, and every man depends on the work of his predecessors. When you hear of a sudden unexpected discovery—a bolt from the blue, as it were—you can always be sure that it has grown up by the influence of one man on another, and it is this mutual influence which makes the enormous possibility of scientific advance. Scientists are not dependent on the ideas of a single man, but on the combined wisdom of thousands of men, all thinking of the same problem, and each doing his little bit to add to the great structure of knowledge which is gradually being erected.”
Ernest Rutherford


“From the bandwagon it’s hard to see everyone you’re running over.”
Lawrence Musgrove

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“We‘re ALL slowly figuring out via trial and error in the kangaroo courts of social media why non-kangaroo courts have:

  • Presumption of innocence
  • Right to face one’s accuser
  • Right to be represented
  • Evidentiary admissibility standards
  • Right to remain silent
  • Statutes of limitations
  • Etc..”

Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein)

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“It is said: ‘It is better to be lucky than good.’ Wrong! ‘It is better to be good and leave nothing to chance.”
Peter Siviglia “The Sidelines of Time

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“It’s what a feller thinks he knows that hurts him.”
Kin Hubbard in “Abe Martin’s Primer (1914)”


“I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.”
Josh Billings “Aphorisms” (1874)

“The map is not the territory.”
Alfred Korzybski “Science and Sanity” (1933)

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“A wise man fights to win, but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat.”
Louis L’Amour

h/t Dr Mardy Grothe (@drmardy) who summarizes this as “Have a Plan B.”

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Sheridan:”Who are you?”
Justin: “Now, that’s really not important.”
Sheridan: “Who are you?”
Justin: “Who decides that the workday is from 9 to 5, instead of 11 to 4? Who decides that the hemlines will be below the knee this year and short again next year? Who draws up the borders, controls the currency, handles all of the decisions that happen transparently around us?”
Sheridan: “I don’t know.”
Justin: “Ah! I’m with them. Same group, different department. Think of me as a sort of middleman, and the name is Justin. Come in, sit, sit. The tea is getting cold.”

Sheridan meets Justin in “Z’ha’dum” episode of Babylon 5

h/t Pasi “Albert” Ojala’s Babylon 5 Quote Collection

A lot of “decisions” are actually equilibrium solutions from repeated negotiations /bargaining: what mechanical and structural engineers call “a sum of forces.”  Any change initiative in an organization, and a startup selling to an enterprise is offering a change initiative, has to master this calculation: strengthening the forces that are driving the change forward, and finding ways to reduce or eliminate forces that are pushing against the change.

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“To see things in the seed, that is genius.”
Lao Tsu

Here is a luminary who is outstanding in the field,  there is a farmer who is standing in the field. Make sure you know what people are really calling you.

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“Humans are the learning organism par excellence. The drive to learn is as strong as the sexual drive – it begins earlier and lasts longer.”
Edward Hall

h/t Peter Senge Fifth Discipline

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“Survival is about results. Growth is about process. You must first survive before you can grow.”
Angela Jian (@angjiang)

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“All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.”
Spike Milligan

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“Military strategy is based not on war memories but on systematic analysis of the situations. The same applies to crisis: everybody can think of interesting anecdotes, but that is not the way you learn to win wars.”
Enrico Quarantelli

Beware advice offered only in the form of stories without systematic analysis. More context:

Enrico Quarantelli explains that an actor generally has only a limited amount of experience, from which he or she may well try to make generalizations. In fact, he or she may actually draw the wrong conclusions from this ‘battle experience’, yet will cling to them with irrational fervour. To use a metaphor developed by Enrico Quarantelli, ‘military strategy is based not on war memories but on systematic analysis of the situations. The same applies to crisis: everybody can think of interesting anecdotes, but that is not the way you learn to win wars’. Such actors can only speak for one point of view–their own, which is not even necessarily representative of their organization as a whole. This heightens the danger of one ever-present risk: that of reasoning in terms of the past, when a crisis is most often a confrontation with a new set of givens.

Excerpt from Patrick Lagadec’s Preventing Chaos in a Crisis

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