Quotes for entrepreneurs collected in September 2020 around a theme of respectful discourse, seeking common ground, and how to disagree constructively and support a working consensus.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in September 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 for this month is respectful discourse, seeking common ground, and how to disagree constructively and support a working consensus. A number of these quotes were drawn from an excellent collection of “Dialogue & Deliberation Quotes” by Sandy Heierbacher (@Heierbacher) a co-founder of the  National Coalition for Dialog and Deliberation

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) is a network of innovators who bring people together across divides to discuss, decide, and take action together effectively on today’s toughest issues. NCDD serves as a gathering place, a resource center, a news source, and a facilitative leader for this vital community of practice.

Dialogue and deliberation are innovative processes that help people come together across differences to tackle our most challenging problems. In a time of extreme political partisanship and increased conflict between religious and ethnic groups, teaching, spreading, and supporting the skills of dialogue and deliberation are vital.
From “About National Coalition for Dialogue and Debate”

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quotes for entrepreneurs: respectful discourse

“What Do We Want?  Respectful Discourse.
When Do We Want it? Now Would Be Agreeable to Me, But I Am Interested In Your Opinion.

Author Unknown (see Image Credit section below)

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“Every business opportunity we’ve explored has started small. We’ve researched, looked into consumer insights, prototyped our products, and tested them in smaller markets before a big launch. Go big or go home sounds great to say. But whenever we’ve done the opposite, it’s worked.
Harsh Mariwala (@hcmariwala)

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“The only two ways to coordinate human societies at scale are free markets and physical power. Any ideology rejecting free markets is just advocating for power. Socialism, communism, and fascism all converge to the same endpoint–rule by the biggest thug.”
Naval Ravikant (@Naval)

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“You don’t have to be strong to survive a bad situation; you simply need a plan.”
Shannon L. Alder

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“Beginning to think agile vs. waterfall is a red herring and false dichotomy, whereas agile and ux are actually fundamentally opposed to one another.”
Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin)

Certainly true for user research vs. “build-measure-learn.” If you start with customer interviews and low fidelity prototypes you can shave several iterations off of the “build it then show it” model. The UX Measure-Learn-Build is a better model.

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“Hope is a risk that must be run.
Hope is despair, overcome.”
George Bernanos

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“The first step in giving feedback is inviting feedback”
L. David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet)

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May the things we burn light the way.

Echoes of “Move fast and break things”–and Austin Kleon’s rebuttal “leave things better than you found them.”  Photo by Nancy Rommelman (@NancyRomm) from “A Quiet Night in Portland.” This line also reminds me of Don Henley’s “Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge” from his “My Thanksgiving. ”

“Have you noticed that an angry man
Can only get so far
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be
With the way things are

Here in this fragmented world, I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege
Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge”

Don Henley in “My Thanksgiving”

Nancy Rommelman followed up “A Quiet Night” with  “You are not allowed to film” offers a perspective on the value of an independent media for sensemaking and how suppressing independent reporting distorts public perceptions of events). Journalism is a key element of our collective civic sensemaking. Kent Bye worked on a model for collaborative journalism he called “The Echo Chamber Project” see https://archive.org/details/KentByeEchoChamberProjectVlogEpisode1_2 His goal was that documentary film makers could post all of the material they collected. This would allow viewers to judge what was excluded and to remix it from other points of view. The site is gone but his “Roadmap for Open Source Documentary & Citizen Journalism Toolset Development” is available from archive.org

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Maps may begin as a hypothesis and end as a measurement or an embarrassment.
Ihab Hassan in “Maps and Stories: a Brief Meditation” (“The Georgia Review ” Spring 2005)

How do we draw and update maps of emerging market opportunities? These conceptualizations of a market also begin as a hypothesis and either as measurable outcomes or embarrassments. More context.

“Maps may begin as a hypothesis and end as a measurement or an embarrassment. It was Pythagoras in the Fifth Century BC who speculated on a vast, southern land mass that must exist to balance the earth. Two thousand years later, in 1493, a German illustrator, Hartmann Schedel, drew a native Australian with feet pointing backwards—hence the name Antipodes. Three centuries after that, Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the continent—with his famous mouser, Trim the Cat—and named it Terra Australis, the Southern Land.”
Ihab Hassan in “Maps and Stories: a Brief Meditation” (“The Georgia Review ” Spring 2005)

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“There are two kinds of opportunities: one which we chance upon, the other which we create. In time of great difficulty, one must not fail to create his
opportunity.”
Takamori Saigo

h/t Ruth Benedict in “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture.” The “chance upon” kind of opportunity reminds me Louis Pasteur’s “Chance only favors the prepared mind.”

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“Collective sensemaking is a conversational event where people intentionally come together for the purpose of using their varied perspectives and cognitive abilities to make sense of an issue or problem they are mutually facing, that will allow them to act collectively.”
Nancy Dixon (@NancyMDixon) in “Collective Sensemaking -The Democratization of Organizations

Collective sensemaking is a method for finding common ground and then a working consensus on a plan of action. It’s a useful model for internal deliberation in a startup and for startups collaborating with multiple players from a major customer or a set of major customers. Developing a “due process” model for making decisions renders executive team actions more predictable.

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“This much I think I do know–that a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save.”
Learned Hand

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“What users experience as pain points or perceive as their needs is always relative to their frame and what options they perceive as being available to them. What they know how to ask for is not a good indicator of value. Underlying issues are frequently not felt as pain points. Users aren’t even aware of them. There is a sense then in which identifying felt pain points is more a sales tactic than good design research.”
Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin)

This is a useful distinction: felt pain vs. real risks.

  • High blood pressure kills with few symptoms, and needs special instruments to detect/monitor.
  • Arthritis is painful but does not kill

I think you have to ask about felt pain to be empathetic, but the analysis cannot end there.

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“Listening is not a skill; it is a discipline.”
Peter Drucker

Too many engineers undervalue qualitative research, the diagnostic aspects of customer support, and the discovery aspects of sales. They may view it as talking not doing–or in the case of sales lying instead of doing. But qualitative research, customer support, and sales all involved a structured approach to listening  that enable organization-wide learning if they are done well and the results are shared.

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“Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.”
Alan Kay

h/t Ozzie Osman in “Disrespectful design: users are not stupid or lazy” Which argues for respectful discourse between developers and customers. In researching the origin of the Alan Kay quote I came across a Quora answer by him that provides a lot of useful context. See Q: What is the story behind Alan Kay’s simple things should be simple… Here are two excerpts where have added hyperlinks for clarity.

I think I came up with this slogan at PARC during discussions on children, end-users, user-interfaces, and programming languages. Chuck Thacker (the genius behind the PARC hardware) also liked it and adopted it as a principle for many of his projects.

For example: Smalltalk needed to work with children and end-users even more intuitively than JOSS or Logo. But we also wanted to write the entire system in itself, so that those who were curious–especially later on–could “pop any hood” in the system and see a live program/object written in exactly the same terms as what the children were learning.

Similarly, the GUI had to be easily learnable by children, but–looking ahead–it had to handle “50,000 kinds of things we hadn’t thought of done by 50,000
programmers we hadn’t met” and be as simple as possible.

Another part of this was that we were determined to have a very easy to learn UI that would also incorporate end-user programming (scripting) as a natural part of it–in other words to combine what had to be simple yet possible with the programming language with what had to be simple yet possible with the UI.

The general zeitgeist was against this idea and remains so: those artifacts that do simple things usually wall off next levels of complexity, and those that do complex things don’t do anything simply. But, given that there have been some really good examples of how to do both, it’s hard not to see most computer people as (a) not caring, or (b) being lazy or unskilled, or (c) both.”
Alan Kay

Neal Stephenson explores how too many firms embrace the “should be simple” while eliminating the ability to “pop the hood” or achieve the complex in his “In the Beginning was the Command Line.Bonnie Nardi explores the value of applications that support end-user programmabilty in “A Small Matter of Programming: Perspectives on End User Computing” [please note this is not an Amazon affiliate link, I am disappointed the book is out of print and now retails for $100; I don’t know that it’s worth that price but it was worth the $31.50 I paid for it in 1999.] I added a condensed version of his Quora comments to the original quote to arrive at this:

“Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible. Despite good examples to the contrary, it’s unfortunate that those artifacts that do simple things usually wall off next levels of complexity, and those that do complex things don’t do anything simply.”
Alan Kay

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“Minsky’s Admonition: In order to succeed it is necessary to know how to avoid the most likely ways to fail.”
Dr. John Gall, MD in “Systems Bible

The “Systems Bible” is the third edition of “Systemantics” and well worth reading. I think it’s significant that Gall was a pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics. The “Minsky” that Gall is referring to “Marvin Minsky” and from footnotes in the “Systems Bible” this law is based on a quote from Patrick Huyghe:

“He believes that the mind, in order to succeed, must know how to avoid the most likely ways to fail.”
Patrick Huyghe “Of Two Minds” Dec-1983 Psychology Today (“he” is “Marvin Minsky”).

You can see more context at page 116 of “Questioning Technology: A Critical Anthology” by John Zerzan, which contains the “Of Two Minds” article–and a number of other good ones. Here is the quote in more context:

“Why has common sense been so hard to achieve in machines?  Minsky thinks it’s because we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what line of thought produced a good decision, we should be asking what prevented us from making a bad decision. He believes that the mind, in order to succeed, must know how to avoid the most likely ways to fail. So he borrows from Freud the concept of censors to explain how the mind avoids making certain blunders.  We not only accumulate censors for social taboos and repressions, he says, but also for knowing what is not proper to do in ordinary  activities.”

Patrick Huyghe “Of Two Minds” Dec-1983 Psychology Today (collected in “Questioning Technology: A Critical Anthology” by John Zerzan, see page 116)

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“Greater cause for insomnia lay in not knowing the proficiency of one’s crew. Admiral Ghormley had been hampered by this uncertainty. He didn’t know what his ships and commanders were capable of. He hadn’t spent time with them, or among them; hadn’t been physically present to assess critical variables, from their intangible esprit to the physical soundness of their machinery. He was candid about this. “I did not know, from actual contact, the ability of the officers, nor the material condition of the ships nor their readiness for battle, nor did I know their degree of training for warfare such as was soon to develop in this area. Improvement was acquired while carrying out combat missions,” he would write. This was a startling admission of a leadership failure. Norman Scott wasn’t about to emulate it, and certainly wasn’t satisfied to leave the education of his men to the enemy.
[…]
The Navy was reshuffling its decks and getting the footing it needed for a new kind of fight. Distinctions were being drawn between officers who were battle-minded and those whose savage instincts were reserved for advancing their own careers. Qualities that got you ahead in peacetime were yielding to skills equally ageless, but prized only in desperate times: a glint in the eye, a forward-leaning, balls-of-the-feet bearing, a constitutional aspect of professionalized aggression.”

James Hornfischer in “Neptune’s Inferno: The US Navy at Guadalcanal

This lack “go and see” of mutual respect and shared situational awareness leads to a lack of “Finger Tip Feel” (Fingerspitzengefühl) and the realization that the map is not the territory. More on principles of maneuver warfare at https://fasttransients.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/allbyourselvesshow.pdf

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“We start with gifts. Merit comes from what we make of them.”
Jean Toomer

This reminds me of the “Skill vs. Will” in Ozzie Osman’s “Hiring for Conscientiousness

Let’s put together a simple model by starting with Andrew Grove’s “skill-will” framework. In High Output Management, Grove says that someone’s effectiveness at a task is a function of both their “skill” (their ability to do the task) and their “will” (their willingness to do the task). […]

[…] While I incorporate all of the above five factors (relevant experience, intelligence, engagement, conscientiousness, and values alignment) in any hiring decision, I’ve found conscientiousness to be especially important and often overlooked.”

Ozzie Osman in  “Hiring for Conscientiousness

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“Conversation means being able to disagree and still continue the discussion. ”
Dwight Macdonald

Conversation also implies both parties are listening and reflecting on what the other is saying. See also 13 From Zeldin’s 36 Topics for a Serious Conversation” and “A Serious Conversation Can Change Your Life.” A different version of the quote in “Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family” by Linda Wagner-Martin ascribes this to Alice B. Toklas and adds “and this implies a deep-down basis of agreement no matter how sharp the surface dispute.”

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“You rise, and before you
stands the fear and prayer and shape
of a vanished year.”
Rilke “Memory”

We are entering the fourth quarter, now is the time to salvage time remaining from all of the stunning developments of 2020.

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“What is essential here is the presence of the spirit of dialogue, which is in short, the ability to hold many points of view in suspension, along with a primary interest in the creation of common meaning.”
David Bohm

This is a fantastic perspective: “hold many points of view in suspension to achieve common meaning.” It reminds me of

These are important because most systems produce events with multiple causes, the “five why’s” model to the contrary.

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“Curiosity can feel so naive in a world that celebrates “knowing”. Yet that’s how we find new ways of being.”
Nilofer Merchant (@nilofer)

The successful entrepreneurs I meet start out curious and humble or are transformed by the hard knocks and setbacks of the entrepreneurial journey into that mindset. If you think you already know what is needed and that you deserve success it’s rare that you actually achieve it.

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“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

An important principle to remember as our common ground in civic discourse seems to be coming apart in 2020. Also useful advice for founders who have been the smartest person in the room when they trying to close early deals for their startup.

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“In dialogue, individuals gain insights that simply could not be achieved individually.”
Peter Senge

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  • Behavior is hard to fix. People say they’ve learned but they underestimate how much of their previous mistake was caused by emotions that will return when faced with the same circumstances.
  • Being good at something doesn’t promise rewards. It doesn’t even promise a compliment. What’s rewarded in the world is scarcity, so what matters is what you can do that other people are bad at.
  • People learn when they’re surprised. Not when they read the right answer, or are told they’re doing it wrong, but when their jaw hits the floor.
  • Most fields have only a few laws. Lots of theories, hunches, observations, ideas, trends, and rules. But laws–things that are always true, all the time–are rare.

Morgan Housel (@morganhousel) A Few Rules

These were my top four from a longer list that is also worth reading.

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I find auditory processing expensive, noises distracting. In calls, one person with background noise or an echo and I’m struggling to parse the meeting. Anyone else? Bad sound quality is cognitively expensive.
Jessica Joy Kerr (@jessitron)

The other effect of being hard to understand is that both parties think the other is less intelligent than they are:
“I cannot understand what she is saying.” vs. “Why is she having so much trouble understanding me?

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“From time to time, however, and specially, I think, in talking art, talk becomes effective, conquering like war, widening the boundaries of knowledge like an exploration.”
Robert Louis Stevenson in “Talk and Talkers” (see page 81 “Works of Robert Louis Stevenson” Swanston Edition Volume 9

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“Democracy begins in human conversation. A democratic conversation does not require elaborate rules of procedure or utopian notions of perfect consensus. What it does require is a spirit of mutual respect—people conversing critically with one another in an atmosphere of honesty and shared regard.”

William Greider in Who Will Tell the People

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“We do not see the lens through which we look.”
Ruth Benedict

A team with multiple perspectives can help you correct the astigmatism in your paradigm. This quote reminds me of one I used in my June 2010 Quotes for Entrepreneurs and then again in January 2020.

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

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“We create our world and its future through a process of connecting with each other, sharing knowledge and know-how, and building relationships–all through the process of collaborative conversation. When we consciously focus attention on ‘questions that matter’–for our families, organizations, and communities–we are contributing to the evolution of the knowledge and wisdom that we need co-create the future. We ‘grow what we know’ individually and collectively. We notice the possibilities for mutual insight, innovation, and action that are already present, if only we know where to look.”
credited to The World Café by Sandy Heierbacher in list of “Dialogue and Deliberation Quotes” (2010)

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“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T. S. Eliot in “Little Gidding

Exploration and discovery provide context for home, answering the question, “Compared to what?”
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“People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.”
Elie Wiesel

Especially the stories they tell themselves. Which is why I wrote ‘Be Careful How You Tell Yourself “The Story So Far”‘ and why your origin story is so important.

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Image Credit: “Respectful Discourse” I saw this “See Guile” by Atomic Feminist who noted “I’d love to credit this cartoon I share in the piece but I found it uncredited.  If you know who created the art let me know so I can give credit where it’s due.” I have searched as well but have not been able to find an original source. It’s at least as old as 2012 and similar wording can be found on signs in other photographs, such as this one by Cactus Bones.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Evidence-Based ChangeI came across this “Evidence Based Change” image to the right when trying to trace the source for “Respectful Discourse.” I sourced it L. D. May; it comes from “When is March for Science” on Stat News.
What Do We Want?
Evidence-Based Change
When Do We Want It?
After Peer Review