These quotes for entrepreneurs were collected in May of 2020. Many of this month’s quotes relate to doubt, inquiry, and enlightenment.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in May 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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“Some people say this is China’s Chernobyl. On the contrary. While both disasters happened under totalitarian Communist regimes, COVID19 makes Chernobyl look like a kitchen ketchup spill.”
Nitay Arbel in “COVID19 update, May 4, 2020: French evidence that epidemic got to Europe in December; intriguing hydroxychloroquine find; Michael Levitt interview.”

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“There is no substitute for genuine lack of preparation.”
Andrew Sobel in “12 Common Business Mistakes” (also in his 2003 book “Making Rain“)

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“In his mid-fifties, he was one of those big men who by dint of clean living and regular exercise have failed to go to fat and instead compacted down to the tensile strength of teak.”
Ben Aaronovitch in “False Value

I have seen several men undergo this transformation in the last decade but I have been unable to emulate it. The primary impact of the COVID-19 lock down has been to enable hyper-focus on all aspects of the coronavirus and diffuse and scattered activities elsewhere.

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“Always set a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.”
Kevin Kelly in “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice

My brother has a riff on the proverb “Rome was not built in a day.”

Rome wasn’t built without deadlines.”
Kevin Murphy

I used both of these quotes in “Use the Cult of Done Manifesto to Avoid Procrastination and Perfectionism

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“You don’t know the value of the bird in hand if you don’t know what options were in the bush.”
Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin) in “The Birds in the Bush

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“The object of reasoning is to find out, from the consideration of what we already know, something else which we do not know.”
Charles S. Pierce in The Fixation of Belief

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“The stronger your current beliefs, the weaker your future insights.
The hand that clings to an old friend cannot embrace a new one.”
James Clear (@JamesClear)

I see two cases where this does not hold.

  1. If your current beliefs flow from a deep understanding of an unfolding events (e.g. you have relevant domain expertise) then your future insights are strong.
  2. If you are baffled by today’s events you may have no useful insights about future.

Moreover, a first rate intellect can hold onto two people who don’t agree with each other–at least according to F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up” (1936)

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“We need a rational discussion of policy alternatives and a thoughtful debate among experts, including not just epidemiologists, but also economists, psychologists, and social scientists.”
Joel Kotkin (@Joel Kotkin) in  “Viral Politics”

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“All models rely on a small set of critical assumptions.
A good (simple) model uncovers them, while a bad (complicated) model obscures them.”
Naval Ravikant (@naval)

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“The longer the shutdown continues, the tougher things could become for many of the estimated 30 million small businesses that employ roughly half of all Americans. The prospects are particularly bleak for restaurants, small retail establishments and “personal service” establishments like salons and gyms whose primary selling point against larger firms has been their scale and familiarity with customers.”
Joel Kotkin in “Letter from Los Angeles: the death of small business is a tragedy for Jewish community and democracy

His conclusions:

“To survive this economic downturn, Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools need more than legacy money— they require the contribution and energy of those still on the way up. An entrepreneurial bloodbath will become a communal disaster.

Yet we should not forget that devastating small business is not just about the fate of our economy or our philanthropy. It is also about the nature of our society and the durability of our Republic’s institutions. Throughout history, as Aristotle noted, independent proprietors have been the driving force for self-government and republican order. Aristotle also warned about the dangers of an oligarchy that would control both the economy and the state. Ultimately, ever greater consolidation of wealth played a major role in undermining Greek democracy and the citizen-led Roman Republic. When the small proprietor declines, as in ancient Greece and Rome, and now in America, we see the irrepressible rise of oligarchy.

This suggests for political and social as well as economic reasons, it is imperative to find ways to help Main Street survive. A country dominated by a small group of mega-corporations and an ever more intrusive state may retain the forms of a republican democracy, but will become essentially ever more feudal, repressive and constrained.

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“The vision of the future that San Francisco offers: highly stratified, with little social mobility. It’s feudalism with better marketing. Today’s “sharing” economy resembles the “sharecropping” of yesteryear, with the serfs responding to a smartphone prompt rather than an overseer’s command.”
Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) in”Silicon Valley Fuels an Informal Caste System

I find his “feudalism with better marketing” insight particularly apt.

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“When you take away bureaucracy and hierarchy and politics, you take away the ability to negotiate the distribution of resources on explicit terms.”
Fred Turner in “Don’t Be Evil

More context:

“Engineers try to do politics by changing infrastructure. […] We don’t have a language yet for infrastructure as politics. […] To the extent that technologies enable new collaborations and new communities, more power to them. But let’s be thoughtful about how they function. […] the built environment, whether it’s built out of tarmac or concrete or code, has political effects.

Think about an auditorium where someone sits onstage and the audience watches, versus a Quaker meeting where everyone sits in a circle. They’re very different. So, structure matters. Design is absolutely critical. Design is the process by which the politics of one world become the constraints on another. How are those constraints built? What are its effects on political life?

To study the politics of infrastructure is to study the political ideas that get built into the design process, and the infrastructure’s impact on the political possibilities of the communities that engage it. […]

The Valley’s utopian promise is: Come here and build the future with other like-minded folks. Dissolve yourself into the project and emerge having saved the future.”

Fred Turner in “Don’t Be Evil

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“Perilous though the path is, we cannot wait for the fog to lift before we start down the mountain.”
Matt Ridley in “We Know Everything–And Nothing–About Covid-19

He also offers the insight, “it’s data, not modeling, that we need right now.”

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“The refereeing process is very noisy, time consuming and arbitrary. We should be disseminating our research as widely as possible. Instead, we let two or three referees stand between our work and the rest of our field.”
Larry Wasserman “A World Without Referees

His opening paragraph is also interesting (hyperlinks added):

“The peer review system that we use was invented by Henry Oldenburg, the first editor of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, in 1665. We are using a refereeing system that is almost 350 years old. If we used the same printing methods as we did in 1665 it would be considered laughable. And yet few question our ancient refereeing process.In this essay I argue that our current peer review process is bad and should be eliminated.”
Larry Wasserman “A World Without Referees

Wasserman also references Walter Noll’s “Future of Scientific Publication” as a potential replacement for current referee system in addition to arxiv.org approach.

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“Academics and administrators at the top universities have decided over the last 30 years that they are no longer public servants; they are luxury goods.”
Scott Galloway in quoted in “Scott Galloway predicts a handful of elite cyborg universities will soon monopolize higher education.

An interesting perspective from an entrepreneur turned part time academic. He continues:

“We get a lot of ego gratification every time our deans stand up in front of the faculty and say, “This year, we didn’t reject 85 percent of applicants; we rejected 87 percent!,” and there’s a huge round of applause. That is tantamount to the head of a homeless shelter bragging about turning away nine of ten people who showed up last night. We as academics and administrators have lost the script.”
Scott Galloway in quoted in “Scott Galloway predicts a handful of elite cyborg universities will soon monopolize higher education.

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Four from Georges Bernanos

  • “Hope is despair, overcome.”
  • “Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterward.”
  • “Hope is a risk that must be run.”
  • “There remains the unforeseen. And the unforeseen is never negligible.”

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quotes for entrepreneurs: 'To gain insight into what your customers need, want, and are willing to pay for, follow this 80/20 rule: 20% of the time ask open-ended questions,80% of the time observe and listen. Ellen Grace Henson

“To gain insight into what your customers
need, want, and are willing to pay for,
follow this 80/20 rule:
20% of the time ask open-ended questions,
80% of the time observe and listen.”
Ellen Grace Henson (@eghenson)

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“Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and eclipse.”
G. K. Chesterton in “Heretics” [Gutenberg]

To earthquake and eclipse I would add–based on recent experience–pandemic.

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“Real progress in understanding nature is rarely incremental. All important advances are sudden intuitions, new principles, new ways of seeing. We have not fully recognized this process of leaping ahead, however, in part because textbooks tend to tame revolutions, whether cultural or scientific. They describe the advances as if they had been logical in their day, not at all shocking.”
Marilyn Ferguson in “The Aquarian Conspiracy” [Archive.org]

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“For like nothing else in the world, hope arouses a passion for the possible.”
William Sloane Coffin “A Passion for the Possible” (1993)

This quote led me to this paragraph from Sloane’s More context: there are half a dozen excellent quotes in the paragraph.

“There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about our immediate future. […] But things can and may well change. And in the meantime, if not optimistic, we can be hopeful, hope being a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If faith puts us on the road, hope is what keeps us there. It enables us to keep a steady eye on remote ends. It makes us persistent when we can’t be optimistic, faithful when results elude us. For like nothing else in the world, hope arouses a passion for the possible, a determination that our children not be asked to shoulder burdens that we let fall. Hopeful people are always critical of the present but only because they hold such a bright view of the future.”
William Sloane Coffin “A Passion for the Possible” (1993)

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“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured. Young people should also identify and encourage beliefs about life on which sane human beings almost everywhere can believe.”
Kurt Vonnegut in his “Commencement Address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges” (May 26, 1974)

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“I have spoken of the rich years when the rainfall was plentiful. But there were dry years too, and they put a terror on the valley. The water came in a thirty-year cycle. There would be five or six wet and wonderful years when there might be nineteen to twenty-five inches of rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then would come six or seven pretty good years of twelve to sixteen inches of rain. And then the dry years would come, and sometimes there would be only seven or eight inches of rain. The land dried up and the grasses headed out miserably a few inches high and great bare scabby places appeared in the valley. The live oaks got a crusty look and the sage-brush was gray. The land cracked and the springs dried up and the cattle listlessly nibbled dry twigs. Then the farmers and the ranchers would be filled with disgust for the Salinas Valley. The cows would grow thin and sometimes starve to death. People would have to haul water in barrels to their farms just for drinking. Some families would sell out for nearly nothing and move away. And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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“A group comes together in service of an aim. At a particular level, each member of the group is that group, and the group may act in and through that person.”
Robert Fripp from “Guitar Craft Aphorisms

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“There’s a need to act with deliberate, greater urgency. We’ve long been a business that’s been steeped in analysis. Going forward we will place more emphasis on testing, less on analysis.”
Keith Knopf, president and CEO of grocery-store operator Raley’s. “Bay Area CEO’s talk about re-opening

More context

“I’m operating on the premise that every economic model is wrong. History has blown up and is not predictive of the future now.
There’s a need to act with deliberate, greater urgency. We’ve long been a business that’s been steeped in analysis. Going forward we will place more emphasis on testing, less on analysis.

The requirements for sanitation are an ongoing thing. Businesses or brands that establish a reputation with the customer that they’re going to be more vigilant will–at least for the next year–be appreciated and rewarded. I’m also operating under the presumption that this crisis will continue in some form or re-surge in the winter months ahead, so our preparations today will have to stay in place for good reason.”

Keith Knopf, president and CEO of grocery-store operator Raley’s. “Bay Area CEO’s talk about re-opening

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A small business is not simply a little version of a big business
“Fewer meetings, fewer resources, fewer constraints.
The biggest advantage that a small business has is that the owner can look customers in the eye. And vice versa.”

Seth Godin in “A small business is not simply a little version of a big business

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“Certain knowledge, to the extent that it ever comes, is given us only after the moment of opportunity has passed.”
George Gilder in “Knowledge and Power

More context:

“The seeker of assurance and certainty lives always in the past, which alone is sure, and his policies, despite the “progressive” rhetoric, are necessarily reactionary. Certain knowledge, to the extent that it ever comes, is given us only after the moment of opportunity has passed. The venturer who awaits the emergence of a safe market, the tax-cutter who demands full assurance of new revenue, the leader who seeks settled public opinion, will always act too timidly and too late. The future is available only to entrepreneurs, on the crest of creation, seeking the entropy of giving.”
George Gilder in “Knowledge and Power” (2013) [closing paragraph of the book]

In “Wealth and Poverty” from (1981) Gilder has the same first two sentences, in “Knowledge and Power” he adds, “The future is available only to entrepreneurs, ..” I have blogged about this as well:

“Startups see fluid opportunities in dynamic environments, but no certainties before opportunities pass or the ‘situation changes.’ If you have all of the facts it’s not a decision it’s a choice. You have to act when you are about 60-70% confident, even 80% can be hard to achieve before someone else is already moving to seize it.”
Sean Murphy in “Early Markets Offer Fluid Opportunities

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Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
[…]
And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
Oh, But it’s all right, it’s all right
[..]
Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest”

Paul Simon in “American Tune” [Written and Recorded in 1972]

h/t Richard Fernandez (@wretchardthecat) who notes “The Dragon flight takes place as Minneapolis burns. Fifty years ago Apollo launched in the midst of the Vietnam turmoil.”

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“I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”
William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

h/t Dr Mardy Grothe (@drmardy)

Image Credit: “Value of a Bird” by Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin) from “The Birds in the Bush