These quotes for entrepreneurs were collected in June 2020. Most are related to the challenges of facing reality with all of its complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected In June 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.


Theme: Facing reality with all of its complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity.

“Bless your uneasiness as a sign that there is still life in you.”
Dag Hammarskjöld in “Markings

+ + +

“A test of our understanding is whether we can apply what we understand in practice.”
Robert Fripp from “Guitar Craft Aphorisms

+ + +

“Real life is the test, the best teachers are motivated by the need to equip their students for the challenges they will face beyond the classroom.”
Sean Murphy

+ + +

“I myself am an ancestor, having reproduced, having written books, being fifty-one years old. I come from simpler times.”
Kurt Vonnegut in his “Commencement Address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges” (May 26, 1974)

Covid-19, Space-X launch, and riots across US: I feel I come from simpler times as well.

+ + +

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
Flannery O’Connor

+ + +

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
Charles Dickens in “A Tale of Two Cities

+ + +

“Who are the happiest people on earth? A craftsman or artist whistling over a job well done. A little child building sand castles. A mother, after a busy day, bathing her baby. A doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation, and saved a human life. Happiness lies in a constructive job well done. […] Get your happiness out of your work, or you will never know what happiness is.
Elbert Hubbard

+ + +

“The generation that won World War II was exposed to so much awful reality that they made mostly good decisions for a long time after. Forget history, and you are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Forget how bad polio was, people stop taking vaccines. Forget how bad world wars are, people start puffing out their chests…The real enemy is arrogance.”

General Naird speech to staff in S1 E10 of Space Force “Proportionate Response”

+ + +

“The pretext for this entire nationwide riot is that America is a racist country. That is not true. America is not a racist country. America is a country that has strived, imperfectly but passionately, to live up to its founding promise that all men are created equal. There is not—and will never be—a greater barrier to racism, or to tyranny in any form, than this American idea.”
Thomas D. Klingenstein and Ryan P. WilliamsAmerica is not Racist

+ + +

“Nothing is so irrevocably neglected as an opportunity of daily occurrence.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

I used this as the closing quote for “Father’s Day 2020: Sudden Responsibility and Slowly Accumulating Wisdom”

+ + +

“Jazz music is an intensified feeling of nonchalance.”
Francoise Sagan

+ + +

“The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more.”
Kin Hubbard

+ + +

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
Benjamin Franklin

+ + +

“Deprive yourself of nothing necessary to your comfort, but live in an honorable simplicity and frugality.”
John McDonogh (1779-1850)

+ + +

“Coronaviruses are well known to undergo genetic recombination, which may lead to new genotypes and outbreaks. The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.”

From “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Reemerging Infection” (Oct-2007 in Clinical Microbiology Reviews p. 660–694 by Vincent C. C. Cheng, Susanna K. P. Lau, Patrick C. Y. Woo, Kwok Yung Yuen [PDF]

h/t “For Experts Who Study Coronaviruses, a Grim Vindication” (June-8-2020) Charles Schmidt Authors of 2007 SARS paper based in Hong Kong, which may explain that region’s rapid recognition and effective response to COVID-19. It’s funny how a few people understand emerging threats but may be unable to mitigate them much less prevent them. It seems easier to be early and effective on emerging opportunities but that may be selection bias on my part.

+ + +

[Many of our problems today are the result of:]

  • treating maximizing output as more important than stability and resilience,
  • relying on correlation as more important than causation,
  • viewing technology as ethically neutral.

We know now that none of these things are true. If we are to come up with better answers, we need to start asking different questions.”

Greg Satell in “We’ve Been Getting The Wrong Answers Because We’ve Been Asking The Wrong Questions” (2020 May 17)

A very thought provoking post. Satell also notes:

“Most important decisions, like those that involve Covid-19 policy, have tradeoffs. It’s not hard to get people to agree that we should do everything possible to save as many lives as we can. Yet it is also true that we need to think about people’s ability to earn a living as well. So coming up with a strategy that saves lives and minimizes economic impact is far from easy, especially when easing restrictions too early could lead to even greater economic and human costs.”
Greg Satell in “We’ve Been Getting The Wrong Answers Because We’ve Been Asking The Wrong Questions” (2020 May 17)

I think the deeper problem is that researchers and technologists ignore the impact they have making or implementing public policy. Their focus seems to be on next grant or next sale and not the impact on people’s lives. It’s a hard problem because you need the next grant or the next sale to make a living but that’s not the only goal.

+ + +

“There are a handful of people whom money won’t spoil, and we all count ourselves among them.”
Mignon McLaughlin

I am at least willing to run a controlled experiment for a decade or two to assess the personal risk.

+ + +

“However, looking back on those years, I believe I accomplished something just as rare: I fulfilled my potential.”
James Clear “Atomic Habits”

To whom much is given, much is expected. Mindful of “mene mene tekel upharsin” my fear is to be weighed and found wanting.

+ + +

“To hurry pain is to leave a classroom still in session.
To prolong pain is to remain in a vacated classroom and miss the next lesson.”
Yahia Lababidi

+ + +

“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.”
Iris Murdoch

+ + +

“Secrecy–the first refuge of incompetence–must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society, for a fully informed public is the basis of self-government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than the people.”

House Committee on Government Operations, “Availability of Information from Federal Departments and Agencies” 86th Congress, second session (July 2, 1960) House Report 86-2084, page 36

Quoted in “Secrecy” by Daniel Patrick Moynihan

+ + +

“All sunshine makes a desert.”
Arab proverb

+ + +

“To change and to better are two different things.”
Greek proverb

In “Filters Against FollyGarrett Hardin observed: “The world is a complex of systems so intricately interconnected that we can seldom be very confident that a proposed intervention in this system of systems will produce the consequences we want.” Some related quotes by Hardin:

“The natural world is organized into a web of life more complex than we know. We have only a limited ability to predict what will happen in time as the result of any intervention, however well meant, in the natural order of things. Caution and humility are the hallmarks of the ecolate attitude toward the world.”
Garrett Hardin in “Filters Against Folly

“Whatever plan of action we adopt in our attempt to remake the world, our usual first step is to pin a laudatory label on what we are doing. We may call it development, cure, correction, improvement, help, or progress. We load untested conclusions onto ill-stated premises. But every intervention in an existing system is, for certain, only an intervention. We will make progress faster if we honestly call the changes “interventions” only, until an audit shows what we have actually done. Needless to say, such honesty will be resisted by most promoters of change.”
Garrett Hardin in “Filters Against Folly

+ + +

“A distributed approach enables experimentation. Challenge with a monolithic approach is exploration of alternatives and controlled experiments. Local feedback loops encourage faster improvisation that’s more responsive than central planning model. Parts can fail but whole learns and advances.”
Sean Murphy

US runs 50 states as microservices. For health decisions it’s closer to 2,800+ health departments in 3,141 counties operating somewhat independently. Managing a novel threat requires exploration and experimentation for success, not centrally planned execution. Small pieces loosely joined works for the Internet and for the US.

+ + +

Quotes for Entrepreneurs: True Method of Knowledge is Experiment. William Blake

“The true method of knowledge is experiment.”
William Blake

+ + +

“When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”
Jeff Bezos

Successfully navigating the chaos and disruption of 2020 requires you to hold on to fundamental values and to steer by what you know to be true.

+ + +

Three of Morgan Housel’s “Nine Permanent Assumptions” (Jun-4-2020) [renumbered]

  1. More people wake up every morning wanting to solve problems than wake up looking to cause harm.
  2. History is mostly the study of unprecedented events, ironically used as a map of the future.
  3. Unsustainable things can sustain for a long time, because of incentives and the power of storytelling that turns nonsense into influential action.

+ + +

Market Rejection Hurts.

That’s why most people

  • procrastinate on real market testing and
  • waste time on no-skin-in-the-game surveys, hocus-pocus focus groups, and fantasmagorical business plans.

Failure delayed is failure amplified. Take your rejection early and move on.”

Alberto Savoia (@Pretotyping) in June-17 tweet

+ + +

“What she did not know, and would never have believed, was that though her soul seemed to have been grown over with an impenetrable layer of mold, some delicate blades of grass, young and tender, were already pushing their way upwards, destined to take root and send out living shoots so effectively that her all-consuming grief would soon be lost and forgotten. The wound was healing from inside.”
Leo Tolstoy

I like this quote because it highlights that in the depths of despair on the entrepreneurial roller coaster, the track has turned upward and we are recovering from our setbacks and the emotional impact they can have.

+ + +

“The only thing that seems sure is that those longing for a return to normalcy will be disappointed. What’s normal now is this.”
Jacob Siegel “Our Deathwish: how we got to the new normal

+ + +

“After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity. […]

I felt that way. I felt that a story was over, that what had begun a long time ago had been played out, that the lemon had been squeezed dry. But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only a chapter in a story which will not be over, and it isn’t the game that is over, it is just an inning, and that game has a lot more than nine innings. When the game stops it will be called on account of darkness. But it is a long day.

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

+ + +

“Be careful of your thoughts; they may become words at any moment.”
Iara Gassen

A reminder to all of the extroverts out there. It’s easy to say the first thing that comes to mind, it can be hard to recover from. Those of you who are introverts have no idea what I am talking about–at least in terms of personal risk of embarrassment.

+ + +

“To be content with little is difficult; to be content with much, impossible.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

+ + +

“Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.”
Ron Haskins in “Three Simple Rules Poor Teens Should Follow to Join the Middle Class” (March 13, 2013)

+ + +

“Once a beehive of activity, the airport is a ghost town now. When I started traveling at the beginning of COVID, I actually enjoyed walking through the empty corridors, as though I owned the place. But now my echoing footsteps bring a feeling of unease.”

Sandeep K. Aggarwal, MD in “A Locum Tenens MD Works During COVID: Eerie, Empty Hotels, Desolate Airports

+ + +

“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

+ + +

“That every thing has a real constitution, whereby it is what it is,  and on which its sensible qualities depend, is past doubt.”
John Locke in “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1690)

The original version of “it is what it is.”

+ + +

Sensemaking is the ability or attempt to make sense of an ambiguous situation.

More exactly, sensemaking is the process of creating situational awareness and understanding in situations of high complexity or uncertainty in order to make decisions.

It is “a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, and events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively

Gary A. Klein

h/t David Gurteen “Sensemaking