Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in January 2020

My January 2020 collection of quotes for entrepreneurs has a focus on seeing the present clearly, with all of its promise and risk, and managing your actions and expectations accordingly.

Quotes For Entrepreneurs Collected in January 2020

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.

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“Every successful person I have heard of has done the best he could with the conditions as he found them, and not waited until next year for better.”
Edgar Watson Howe in “Country Town Sayings”

Welcome to 2020, now let’s get to work.

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“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”
Steven Johnson in “Where Good Ideas Come From

h/t Michael Batnick (@MichaelBatnick)Smart People Saying Smart Things.”  I am batting about 50% so my path looks more like a random walk than a well structured exploration.

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“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”
Tom Magliozzi

Good advice I am keeping in mind as I make plans for the next decade. Tom Magliozzi (1937-2014) was one half of the car talk brothers.

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“Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.”
William Stafford

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“Few archetypes worse than the secret king, the man whose accomplishments are few but who knows, just knows, in his heart how great he is, and one day all of you will see. This attitude is poison because such a man thinks he’s not the one who needs to change.”
Zero HP Lovecraft (@0x49fa98)

I think this is one of the root causes of the “build it and they will come” failure mode that I explored in “Vision Is Critical But Avoid The ‘Field of Dreams’.

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“The greatest test of courage on the earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.
Robert Ingersoll

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Rajan Maruthavanan (@mtrajan): A promise sells better than reality.

Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): A startup has to offer a prospect proof (“reality”) to beat an incumbent and win the business. An incumbent may not be as encumbered by the need for proof if they have built up a reservoir of trust over time with the customer.

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“You may not have saved a lot of money in your life, but if you have saved a lot of heartaches for other folks, you are a pretty rich man.”
Seth Parker

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Statistics is the art of stating in precise terms that which one does not know.”
William Kruskal

A known unknown or a problem well stated is a problem half-solved. In contrast to an unknown unknown or a problem you don’t yet realize that you will need to solve or at least manage.

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“The paradox of leverage: since highly leveraged tasks take the least amount of time, in most projects you’ll end up spending the most time on the least leveraged tasks.”
Michael Mayer (@mmay3r)

In many projects you spend  a lot of time in exploration to find a viable approach and then improved approaches. Exploration feels like low leverage but the alternative is to stall your productivity improvement efforts.

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“Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations.”
Edward de Bono

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“To know one’s own limitations is the hallmark of competence.”
Dorothy L. Sayers

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Incentives > Stupidity > Malice

Don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.”
Hanlon’s Razor

“Don’t attribute to stupidity what can be explained by incentives.”
Mike Elias (@harmonylion1) [also did pyramid drawing]

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“Crap delivered quickly, even if we deliver it sustainably, is still crap; unless we learn something and act on that learning. We need to distinguish between delivering features and creating value, the latter requires that we optimize for learning and innovation in addition to speed and sustainability.”
John Cutler in “Creating Flow and Value in Product Development.

This quote is condensed from two paragraphs of text in the article. Cutler also created a 7 minute video that nicely summarizes his insights:

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Seven Lessons from a Top-Down Change

  1. A change usually represents someone’s best idea on how to solve a problem or respond to an external event.
  2. One person’s carefully considered idea is another person’s incomprehensible surprise.
  3. The people seeking a change may value different things than the people expected to change.
  4. Change always involves loss.
  5. Choice or coercion depends on where you sit.
  6. How people respond to a change is a rich source of information.
  7. People change to retain something they value.

Esther Derby “Seven Lessons from a Top-Down Change

Key lesson for me was #6. Esther elaborates on it,

When people don’t do as we want or expect, it may be because they…

  1. don’t know how to do what they’re being asked to do.
  2. don’t feel they have time to learn the new way and still meet existing goals and targets.
  3. believe the existing way is better.
  4. don’t think the new way will work.
  5. believe the new way will cause harm—to customers, the company, the employees, etc.
  6. don’t like or don’t respect the person requesting the change.
  7. find the new suggestion counter-intuitive given how they believe the world works
  8. see that the new way runs counter to existing reward structures or other organizational systems.

Esther Derby “Seven Lessons from a Top-Down Change

Which builds on an insight she credits to Dale Hemery

All I have to do is to stop thinking of people’s responses as resistance. I can think of each response as simply a response. Even better, I can think of each response as information. With every response, I learn something that I did not know before. I learn about other people’s expectations, or about my own. I learn about how I am communicating about what I want. I learn about the relationships I have established and how I may need to strengthen those relationships. I learn about what is possible here and now how I may need to adjust the environment around me to better support the requests I make. Each thing I learn gives me new possibilities, new ideas about what I can do to move a step closer to resolution.

When I think of people’s responses not as resistance, but as information, I am better able to work with people to create results that satisfy them as well as me. This approach works well for me. I believe it will work for you, too.

Dale Hemery in Resistance is a Resource

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“Remember this, if you can–there is nothing, nothing more precious than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you haven’t. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end–only in the end it becomes more obvious.”
Herman Wouk in “The Caine Mutiny”

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“The friend of my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”
Ulysses S. Grant

Also good advice on picking advisors: seek out those who have experienced setbacks and misfortune and prevailed.

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“Don’t be afraid
If you’re all alone
That’s how you started
That’s how you’re gonna go”
Lee Michaels in “Heighty Hi”

I believe in self-efficacy–don’t be afraid if you are all alone–but I don’t believe his reason or his conclusion. I used a quote by Jim Butcher in “Memorial Day 2014” that I think comes closer to the truth:

“Son. Everyone dies alone. That’s what it is. It’s a door. It’s one person wide. When you go through it, you do it alone. But it doesn’t  mean you’ve got to be alone before you go through the door. And believe me, you aren’t alone on the other side.”
Jim Butcher, in “Dead Beat

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“Being kind is a free action, so don’t forget about it when it’s your turn.”
Paige Ford (@paige_games) Mar-15-2019 tweet

Brent Beshore identified kindness as one of five habits to cultivate for success, writing “Be kind. Business is often referred to as a “full contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be, and you’ll be a lot happier if you sidestep that game.”

I used this as a point of departure to talk about kindness in “Brent Beshore: 5 Habits to Cultivate that Enable Success.

“I think that kindness is barely mentioned in the typical startup success story because is mistakenly viewed as weakness.  It’s strange how the insight “you only live once” splits people into two camps: one that focuses on extracting as much enjoyment from a situation (sometimes without regard to the impact on others) and another perhaps best captured by:

I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Stephen Grellet

All opportunities come with an expiration date, but I think the ones I regret the most are where I neglected the opportunity to do a kindness.”

Sean Murphy in “Brent Beshore: 5 Habits to Cultivate that Enable Success.

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“A good life isn’t passionate, it’s purposeful. Passion is the spark that lights the fire; purpose is the kindling that keeps the flame burning all night.”
Brianna Wiest in “How to Measure a Good Life” (in “101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think”)

I find Wiest’s writing to be insightful and directly actionable.

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“AI won’t replace radiologists, but radiologists who use AI will replace radiologists who don’t.”
Curtis Langlotz in “Rise of Robot Radiologists

h/t Dr. Eric Topol (@EricTopal) who tweets a stream of excellent link on the evolution of medicine and medical technology. Tasks get automated, not jobs, careers, or callings.

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“Careers are very long. People may get lucky early, but it is amazing to observe how the passage of time eventually favors the persistent and focused. I have now seen this play out so many times.”
Matt Turck (@mattturck)

Patience and persistence are so hard to learn. I have been helping entrepreneurs for more than 15 years and it always pays off to make plans that allow for small and medium size mistakes and minimize the risks of major failures.

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“It is a maxim with me not to ask what, under similar circumstances, I would not grant.”
George Washington

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“Yet despite the antiquated nature of what Pioneer Equipment makes and how they make it, the company is a success. Started in the 1970s as a part-time hobby business in a barn, it has grown explosively. The company employs nearly fifty people, making it one of the largest Amish businesses in the world—a dozen of whom are members of the Wengerd family. (All but one of the staff are Amish.) Leon Wengerd, the CFO, told me that the company’s goal is not solely financial success. They want to be a “light to the world and grow sustainably to further the kingdom of God.”

Adam Davidson in “An Amish Lesson for Small Business Success

A thought provoking example of a startup a combining a strong sense of mission with a clear focus on an under-served niche. It’s adapted from Davidson’s “The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the 21st Century” which offers these seven rules:

  1. Pursue Intimacy at scale.
  2. Only create value that can’t be easily copied.
  3. The price you charge should match the value you provide.
  4. Fewer passionate customers are better than a lot of indifferent ones.
  5. Passion is a story.
  6. Technology should always support your business, not drive it.
  7. Know what business you’re in, and it’s probably not what you think.

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“Much like the fish doesn’t know she is in water, we often take the system we are in for granted. Pay more attention to what game you are playing rather than how to play it.”
Gaurav Sharma (@Gaurav1105)

This is good, it reminds me of three others:

“Look for patterns, and then ask why those patterns exist.”
Debra Kaye

“All is pattern, all life, but we can’t always see the pattern when we’re part of it.”
Belva Plain

“What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.”
Chuck Palahniuk

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“You must learn from the mistakes of others–you will never live long enough to make them all yourself.
Harry Myers and Mason Roberts in Human Engineering

h/t Davidson’s “The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the 21st Century”

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“Life is slippery like a piece of soap. If you think you have a good grip on it, you are wrong.”
Martha Mitchell

quoted by Max Gunther in “The Luck Factor” it reminds me of this quote by Lew Wallace from Ben Hur:

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

Gunther quotes Mitchell on what she might have done differently if she had kept in mind how uncertain life can be.

“There was a time when I had the world on a leash. I had everything I wanted, and I also had a feeling of control. I felt I was in control of my life, that as long as I was careful nothing could slip away from me. That feeling was false: it all slipped away. There were precautions I could have taken, things I could have done, if only I hadn’t felt so strong and confident.”
Martha Mitchell

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When we try to imagine the future, the past offers two lessons.

  1. The most influential new technologies are often humble and cheap.
  2. New inventions do not appear in isolation, as we struggle to use them to their best advantage, they profoundly reshape the societies around us.

Tim Harford “What We Get Wrong About Technology”

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“You give up something for everything you get,
but because your attention is on what you get,
you don’t notice.  The gain is noticed;
the loss may become noticeable later.”
William Stafford

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Seven design principles from “Programming Pearls” by Jon Bentley:

  1. Work on the right problem.
  2. Explore the design space of solutions.
  3. Look at the data.
  4. Use the back of the envelope.
  5. Build prototypes.
  6. Make trade-offs when you have to.
  7. Keep it simple.

John D. Cook (@CompSciFact)

A “back of the envelope” estimate or model is a simple one that uses basic principles and analyzes first order effects. It’s a quick and dirty order of magnitude estimate of the impact of an approach.

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“Mental models are as important as facts and artifacts: they frame the prospect’s definition of the problem to be solved or job to be done. Your message and product features will need to satisfy their expectations for what constitutes a useful solution. The customer’s mental model of the process is the slowest thing to change: a new tool is always introduced in the context of the prior solution–consider horsepower for cars, candlepower for light bulbs, “dodge” and “burn” commands in Photoshop that come from darkroom techniques. Even “cut” and “paste” edit commands come from when print jobs were put together by hand with glue and scissors. The truly novel is very hard to comprehend and very slow to be adopted.”
Sean Murphy in “40 Tips for B2B Customer Development Interviews

This is tip #5 on the “preparing for the interview” list. I wrote a blog post in 2011 “Tips for B2B Customer Development Interviews” and updated it regularly for six years, writing other blog posts dedicated to additional tips–leaving several in various states of completion. Earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon B-School asked to use that post in their Lean Entrepreneurship course as a handout. I decided to curate all of my tips for B2B customer development interviews and came up with a list of 40.

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“If you want to make something new, start with understanding.

Understanding what’s already present, and understanding the opportunities in what’s not.

Most of all, understanding how it all fits together.

There are possibilities all around us if we take the opportunity to be brave.

If we only had the guts.”

Seth Godin in “Learning how to see

Note that this is condensed from the original.

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“There are two ways to find your bearings. One way is to go back in time to understand the origin of the puzzle. The other way is to go internal, to find the quiet to report honestly what you feel, to escape the iron force field of social expectation. That’s amazingly hard to do.”

Jaron Lanier in  his introduction to “Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its discontents.

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