Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in October 2020

Quotes for entrepreneurs collected in October 2020. My theme for this month is deliberate practice and walking down the learning curve.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in October 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 deliberate practice and walking down the learning curve.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs: 'Talent is formed in stillness, character in the world's torrent.' Goethe

“Talent is formed in stillness, character in the world’s torrent.”
Goethe in “Torquato Tasso

I referenced this in “Six Excerpts from Carve the Sky,”  Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in July 2015, and  Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in September 2019. And I used a different translation, “Talent develops in tranquility, character in the full current of human life.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Quotes for Entrepreneurs–January 2014. I guess I really like this quote. Our lightning round question at the October Bootstrapper Breakfasts is “what aspect of your character is the world encouraging you to refine this month?”

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Managing uncertainty in a pandemic: five simple rules

  1. Most data will be flawed or incomplete. Be honest and transparent about this.
  2. For some questions, certainty may never be reached. Consider carefully whether to wait for definitive evidence or act on the evidence you have.
  3. Make sense of complex situations by acknowledging the complexity, admitting ignorance, exploring paradoxes and reflecting collectively.
  4. Different people (and different stakeholder groups) interpret data differently. Deliberation among stakeholders may generate multifaceted solutions.
  5. Pragmatic interventions, carefully observed and compared in real-world settings, can generate useful data to complement the findings of controlled trials and other forms of evidence.

Managing Uncertainty In the Covid-19 Era” by Harry Rutter, Miranda Wolpert, and Trisha Greenhalgh (July 22, 2020)

  • Harry Rutter, Professor of Global Public Health, Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  • Miranda Wolpert, Head of Mental Health Priority Area, Department of Clinical Education and Health Psychology, Wellcome Trust, London, UK
  • Trisha Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

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“For the fortunate amongst us, the fourth danger is comfort; the temptation to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of an education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged –will ultimately judge himself–on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”
Robert Kennedy in a speech in Cape Town,  June 6, 1966

h/t Phrase Finder and Garson O’Toole; it’s not a Chinese curse but Kennedy’s phrasing is memorable. 2020 has exceeded my OSHA limit for exposure to living in interesting times. Tolkien knew something about interesting times from his days in WWI trench, suggests a stoical approach in preference to lamentation that things are not easier.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

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“He that cannot endure the bad will not live to see the good.”
Jewish Proverb

On the other hand, he who can foresee the good can endure the bad.

“They can because they think they can.”

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  • Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): I think you can make discoveries in production (exploitation) that need to be carried back to research and development (explore) and you can make discoveries in R&D that are carried forward to production. Many learning curve effects arise from insights during exploitation.
  • Dual Innovation (@Dual_Innovation): Right. Both cases are accommodated in PF2.
    Scaling-Up = Explore -> Exploit,
    Transformation = Exploit -> Explore (-> Exploit).
  • Sean Murphy (@skmurphy): You can define words how you like but discovery belongs on the exploit side as well to account for learning curve effects. The production/exploit side also runs experiments and gains insights from careful observation and tinkering in any firm I have worked in.
  • Dual Innovation (@Dual_Innovation):In a narrow sense: yes. Intention here was to not dilute the visual‘s purpose, indicating an end-to-end process. What‘s more: Discovery in Exploit context (existing biz) is different from Explore context (new biz).

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You survive in a tribe by contributing work useful to others, behaving respectfully, and building up reputation for days when you can no longer contribute. Societies of any scale that deviate from these principles are on a path to destruction.
Slava Akhmechet (@spakhm)

You can always contribute, just in different ways: kindness, listening, offering encouragement, lifting others spirits, passing on what you have learned, etc.. It does not have to be an economic contribution, social and spiritual ones also make a huge difference in others lives.

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“A superior who works on his own development sets an almost irresistible example.”
Peter Drucker

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Highs that don’t lead to subsequent lows:

  • Meditation, gratitude, prayer, journaling, unconditional love.
  • Yoga, exercise, play, nature walks.
  • Creating art, reading for fun, singing, poetry.
  • Practicing a craft, pursuing curiosity, work done for its own sake, flow.

Naval Ravikant (@Naval)

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“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”
T. S. Eliot in “Little Gidding

It’s a good rule of thumb to ask “what is being born” when something else ends. Another perspective: what is promoted or bumped up in priority when an old problem is solved.

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“When people see a role for themselves in the future they tend to stop defending the status quo.”
Fiona Tribe (@white_owly)  from her “about page

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“In physical science a first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and methods for practicably measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it ; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind : it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.

I may illustrate by a case in which this first step has not been taken. The hardness of different solids, as precious stones and metals, is reckoned by a merely comparative test. Diamond cuts ruby, ruby cuts quartz, quartz, I believe, cuts glass-hard steel, and glass-hard steel cuts glass ; hence diamond is reckoned harder than ruby ; ruby, than quartz ; quartz, than glass-hard- steel ; and glass-hard steel, than glass : but we have no numerical measure of the hardness of these, or of any other solids.


There cannot be a greater mistake than that of looking superciliously upon practical applications of science. The life and soul of science is its practical application, and just as the great advances in mathematics have been made through the desire of discovering the solution of problems which were of a highly practical kind in mathematical science, so in physical science many of the greatest advances that have been made from the beginning of the world to the present time have been made in the earnest desire to turn the knowledge of the properties of matter to some purpose useful to mankind.”

William Thomson, Baron Kelvin (1824-1907) in “Electrical units of measure” (from Popular lectures and addresses)

This was originally a lecture delivered at the Institution of Civil Engineers 011 May 3, 1883 ; being one of a series of Six Lectures on “The Practical Applications of Electricity.” It’s worth reading for his clarity of thinking and commitment to taking a scientific approach to observation and problem solving. To tie this back to this month’s theme, an early step down the learning curve is to understand what to observe and to be able to measure those phenomenon or attributes correctly.

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“Similarly, we ran the companies for attracting and retaining talent, regardless of gender, race or ethnic origin. We valued people for their contribution to our goal, not because they had a preferred skin color, gender or ethnic background. Either you are completely focused on and aligned with your goals, or you let in all kinds of noise that dilutes your limited resources. I have nothing against ‘diversity and inclusion’ as long as it results from our goal-oriented modes of execution. We are not a university or a non-profit, this is a business. You lack focus at the top, it will be much more so at the bottom.

Data Domain and ServiceNow hired you on merit, not because you checked a box. Good people don’t want to be hired because they fit a demographic. We made a lot of money for our people, and we delivered more social justice this way than we ever could have, pursuing other people’s ideas of that. I also did not make public statements about anything that did not relate directly to what we do. Focus is a discipline. I avoided having high-minded societal ambitions as part of my role. I am not the leader of the free world, just a CEO working to increase the value of the franchise entrusted to him.”
Frank Slootman in “Amp It Up!” (May 13 2018)

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“Unless you are developing a new space suit for astronauts, your customers won’t be using your product in a vacuum.”
Tristan Kromer in “Customer Validation under Lockdown

My twitter length summary of

Remote interviews are not ideal for customer development. It’s important to see your users up close and in context — from their facial expressions and body language to how they physically use your product at their desk or in the corner of a coffee shop over a steaming latte. Unless they are astronauts, customers do not use products in a vacuum.

So what are some effective ways to conduct customer research under lockdown?

It’s a tough question, with a simple answer: Whatever it takes.

Tristan Kromer in “Customer Validation under Lockdown

It’s always  good idea to see prospects in their native habitat, what is often called an ethnographic approach, primarily because commonplace items that no longer and they would not think to mention can turn out to be very significant. It’s the “everybody knows that …” kind of information which can be critical to unlocking new insights, differentiated approaches, and compelling offers. But even in the pre-Covid era we conducted 90% of our interviews by phone because we forced ourselves to really listen and to think through the implications of what we were hearing. The other things we would ask for was drawings and diagrams that communicated the prospect’s perspective on their current situation and the solution they needed. Their cognitive model of their current process and their needs is only available if you elicit it in conversation.  The other reality is that the customers workplace is increasing digital and can be visited via screen share in a Zoom session. Always ask what they are doing now to address the situation and ask to see a demo.

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“The role of Change Agents in a network is to connect people around shared purpose and to help everyone to see the work to be done. The generative leadership of change agents will help lead people to new ways of interacting by solving real problems. If you don’t yet have change agents, community managers and other leaders will need to show the way.

Links, pictures, jokes and opinions are a good start but not enough. The purpose is in the work.”

Simon Terry “Sharing is not enough”

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Hacks are appealing because they look like paths to prizes without the effort. Which, in the real world, rarely exists. A few of the only useful hacks I know:

  • Marketing: Make a good product that people need.
  • Writing: Write every day for years.
  • Work culture: Trust people and pay them well.
  • Career: Work harder than is expected of you and be nice to people.
  • Organization: Clean up your mess.
  • Product: Solve a legitimate problem.

Morgan Housel’s “Useful Hacks” (six from a longer list)

I like his “paths to prizes without the effort.”

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“The purpose of the margin of safety is to render the forecast unnecessary.”
Ben Graham

h/t Morgan Housel “Common Causes of Bad Decisions” This reminds me of James Geary’s aphorism: “In the margin for error lies all our room for maneuver.”

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“Software companies have parallel career tracks for engineers and managers. This creates two overlapping status hierarchies.”
Slava Akhmechet (@spakhm) in “Parallel Tracks

I used this quote a point of departure in “Cultivate Formal Controls, Informal Collaboration, and Value Creation Networks.” I found Akhmechet’s “Parallel Tracks” article a grim zero-sum view of what it’s like to work in company. Healthy cities and healthy organizations are semi-lattices, not trees, where there are overlapping connections and networks.

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“The hardest years, the darkest years, the roaring years, the fallen years
These should not be forgotten years
The hardest years, the wildest years, the desperate and divided years,
We will remember, these should not be forgotten years”
Midnight Oil in Forgotten Years

This should be a theme song for 2020.

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  • A model is a representation of a concept, system, or process that identifies it’s component parts and the relationship between them.
  • A framework is a model combined with a process for applying it.
  • A template is a document to print off and fill in, guiding you through the process and capturing how you apply this model to your situation.
  • A case study provides a worked example of the model, framework, and template.

From Mike Baxter in “The Strategy Manual.” Beyond this set of definitions, which I found very useful, I did not get a lot out of the book.

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“Good theories allow one to explain novel phenomena and anticipate how events will unfold in unfamiliar contexts. Good theories are useful.”
Stephen Kosslyn in “Practical Knowledge” chapter of “Building the Intentional University

h/t Mike Baxter in “The Strategy Manual

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“To achieve anything really worthwhile in research, it is necessary to go against the opinion of one’s fellows.”
Fred Hoyle

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“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. “The Poet at the Breakfast Table” (1872)

More context:

“I find I have so many things in common with the old Master of Arts, that I do not always know whether a thought was originally his or mine. That is what always happens where two persons of a similar cast of mind talk much together. And both of them often gain by the interchange. Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up. That which was a weed in one intelligence becomes a flower in the other. A flower, on the other hand, may dwindle down to a mere weed by the same change. Healthy growths may become poisonous by falling upon the wrong mental soil, and what seemed a night-shade in one mind unfold as a morning-glory in the other.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. “The Poet at the Breakfast Table” (1872)

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“Genius may not work on an assembly line basis, but the realization of a genius idea does.
And the key to successful writing is maintaining a systematic, pragmatic approach.”
Gaby Joseph in “Cure Writer’s Block in Three Steps

Joseph was inspired by this short speech by Captain Kirk in “The Ultimate Computer

“But a genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. Did Einstein, Kazanga, or… or Sitar of Vulcan produce new and revolutionary theories on a regular schedule? You can’t simply say, ‘Today I will be brilliant.’ No matter how long it took, he came out with multitronics – The M-5.”
Capt. Kirk in “The Ultimate Computer

Which is often shortened to: “A genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. You can’t simply say, ‘Today I will be brilliant.'”

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“Not everyone who is worth knowing is famous.
Not everyone who is famous is worth knowing.
The risk is imbuing famous people you don’t know with powers of insight and discernment that lead you to ignore others you can talk to who do have insight.

This is a variation on

“Not everyone who is worth knowing is famous.
Not everyone who is famous is worth knowing.
You meet your community of practice,
those who can help you see the adjacent possible,
in line waiting for the famous.”
Sean Murphy

Triggered by Elia Freedman’s “Accidental Meetings” this was later used as the opening quote for “Reflections on Startup Conference 2014 in Redwood City.

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“We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye.[…]

We are active; indeed we know, as something more than a symbolic accident in the evolution of man, that it is the hand that drives the subsequent evolution of the brain.
We find tools today made by man before he became man. Benjamin Franklin in 1778 called man a ‘tool-making animal’, and that is right. […]

The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Civilization is not a collection of finished artifacts, it is the elaboration of processes. In the end, the march of man is the refinement of the hand in action.”

Jacob Bronowski in Ascent of Man (1973) ch. 3 “The Grain in the Stone

h/t David Gurteen Unless you interact with the world, perturb it to see what happens, there are limits to observation. In the chapter Bronowski explores using the hand–in conjunction with tools–for shaping and crafting as only half the story. We also crack things open to see how they are made: analysis complements and informs synthesis.

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“Whoever has the best algorithms and the most data wins. A new type of network effect takes hold: Whoever has the most customers accumulates the most data, learns the best models, wins the most new customers, and so on in a virtuous cycle.”
Pedro Domingos

Domingos makes a very strong assumption that the early winner will continue to learn and will follow the implications of what they learn into the redesign and re-invention of their business.  I see many corporations committed to practices that led to success in the past. I see few that remain committed to learning and the related experimentation, redesign, and reinvention that it dictates.

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“He realized suddenly that it was one thing to see the past occupying the present, but the true test of prescience was to see the past in the future. Things persisted in not being what they seemed.”

Frank Herbert in “Dune”

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“We carry in our hearts the true country
And that cannot be stolen
We follow in the steps of our ancestry
And that cannot be broken”
Midnight Oil in “Dead Heart”

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“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. ”
C. S. Lewis  in “Learning in War Time” [PDF]

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“More people, sharing more resources, in new ways, is the history of civilization.”
Howard Rheingold in “Smart Mobs”


“Switching focus from resource efficiency to flow efficiency, delivering in small batches, and continually measuring the impact (value) of work is the way to break that triangle. If you can’t associate work with value, then the only levers you have left are cost, scope and time.”
Daniel Terhorst-North (@tastapod)

h/t @CGLambdin

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“The essence of discovery is that unlikely marriage of cabbages and kings–of previously unrelated frames of reference or universes of discourse–whose union will solve the previously insoluble problem.”
Arthur Koestler in “The Act of Creation”

This juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous concepts or frames of reference leads to both humor and creativity. I think creativity comes from both play and desperation. In play you may create an accidental arrangement of something that is novel and useful. In desperation you may try to combine multiple approaches that appear contradictory or incompatible but turn out to have a previously unappreciated synergy. For some related thoughts on creativity, desperation, and entrepreneurship see “George Gilder: Entrepreneurship is the Launching of Surprises.” Surprise is a marker for a situation or event that presents an opportunity to learn.

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“In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending”
T. S. Eliot in “Little Gidding

Speaking of desperation, when is a more desperate time when you cannot sleep because you are not sure how to solve a problem in your business. The correct answer is to get a good night’s sleep and look at it in the morning, but sometimes staying up and trying to work out a new approach pays off.

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Just have the strength to know you’re wrong
And when you’re right the strength to stand your ground
Brown Bird in “Bilgewater”

Sounds easy doesn’t it?

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