Quotes for entrepreneurs collected in November 2020 around a theme of spiritual renewal–bouncing back from defeat and losing your way.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in November 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 spiritual renewal: bouncing back from defeat and losing your way. Sometimes inflated expectations can create the perception of a defeat when a more careful analysis might view it as in the normal or expected range of outcomes.

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“In human problems, there are no solutions, only trade-offs.”
Thomas Sowell

h/t Nitay Arbel’s “Laws of Politics

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“The bad news is there’s no silver bullet.
The good news is there’s no werewolf either.”
Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin)

I think there are both werewolves and silver bullets: some silver bullets work on more than one kind of werewolf and for some werewolves we have yet to discover a silver bullet.

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“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
William Wordsworth

This reminds me of a quote I have used in “Bouncing Back” and “Getting Unstuck Revisited

“Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”
James Thurber

I wonder if worry is anticipating emotional chaos in tranquility–with action the remedy.

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“We owe almost all our knowledge not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed.”
Charles Caleb Colton

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“Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and the simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and the corrupt.”
Graham Greene in “The Human Factor

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“The ultimate effect of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.”
Herbert Spencer

This stresses the importance of after actions reviews (also called post mortems or retrospectives). It forces the team to review and acknowledge mistakes so that it does not become “stuck in folly” due to a lack of willingness to admit mistakes.

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“An election is a bet on the future, not a popularity test of the past.”
James Reston

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“People consume news to find out what’s going on in the world.
It does the opposite–it tells you what’s rare.”
Thought Unfinished (@unfinishthought)

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“Humans do not engage in activities that are meaningless. If you think you see people doing things you find meaningless, look again and try to understand what the activities mean for them.”
Henry Jenkins (@HenryJenkins) in “If You Saw My Talk at South by SouthWest

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“Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned.
Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich.
Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy.
Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy.
At least, you will, by such conduct, stand the best chances for such consequence.”

Benjamin Franklin in a letter to John Alleyne, 9 August 1768

This is a reformatted version of a passage from the letter, here is a longer excerpt for more context:

“I shall make but small Use of the old Man’s Privilege, that of giving Advice to younger Friends. Treat your Wife always with Respect. It will procure Respect to you, not from her only, but from all that observe it. Never use a slighting Expression to her even in jest; for Slights in Jest after frequent bandyings, are apt to end in angry earnest. Be studious in your Profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy. At least you will by such Conduct stand the best Chance for such Consequences.

I pray God to bless you both, being ever
Your truly affectionate Friend
B Franklin

Benjamin Franklin in a letter to John Alleyne, 9 August 1768

This is also good advice for how to treat team members: “For slights in jest, after frequent bandyings, are apt to end in angry earnest.”

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“Wisdom comes with winters.”
Oscar Wilde

I am worried the winter of 2020 may prove as educational as the rest of year already has been.

“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”
Oscar Wilde

Live and learn as they say. It beats either alternative: don’t live or live and don’t learn.

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“Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success, you know.”
William Saroyan

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“Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset,
Two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes.
No reward offered, for they are gone forever.”
Horace Mann

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“It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.”
Tom Stoppard

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Changing Legacy code, and legacy organizations, is complex

  • Daniel Terhorst-North (@tastapod): Fun thing I do with clients. Legacy is replaced with current.
  • Bernard Vander Beken (@jawndotnet): Also heard the recommendation of calling legacy the “revenue generating” part of the system.
  • Daniel Terhorst-North (@tastapod): New or replacement is replaced with speculative. Calling it speculative rather than “next gen” or “replacement” conveys that risk better, since it means “unproven.” So people working on “the cool stuff” are writing software that may never go live, or that may never achieve the business goal. I’ve seen both happen on many occasions. Makes quite a difference to the conversations you have, especially about which code base is paying the bills!

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“If you aren’t curious about it, you’ll never be good at it.”
Naval Ravikant (@naval)

I see his point for knowledge work. I think you may be able to substitute a commitment to excellence–or a strong desire to achieve a level of competence to be able to make a living or attain financial independence–for curiosity. Perhaps if you define curiosity as a dissatisfaction with your current level of knowledge you get to the same place.

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“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
Somerset Maugham in “The Summing Up” [Gutenberg]

This is from a passage where Maugham suggests that we must do everything we can to encourage the  development of culture in its natural direction, with have patience, firmness and enthusiasm.

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“Free markets allow humanity to explore what’s possible.”
Thought Unfinished (@unfinishthought)

Unlike regulatory and governmental approaches a market can provide a breadth of solutions, exploring and supporting both very high performance and very low cost requirements with different products. At best regulation provides a few sizes fits most and freezes evolution.

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quotes for entrepreneurs: flow needs clear goals, clear feedback, and challenges that match skills

“Flow has a fairly simple set of conditions which I find myself using as a little mental checklist:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Clear feedback about your progress
  3. Matched challenge and skills”

Jono Hey in “Flow

I think one of the things that makes market exploration difficult is that the process of customer discovery can pull the team out of flow because there can be significant lags between a conversation and even an offer and a final acceptance. Some answer come quickly, some come as expected, and some may come back positive weeks later after silence. This lag between action and feedback–or where initial and even lengthy silence can be interpreted as negative–mean that you need to persist in the face of what appears to be rejection but is in fact a “slow yes.” It’s also the case that you can be facing a polite no in the form of silence or deflection. I think this means you are better served to explore two or three related ideas in parallel, planning for a high failure rate but allowing for a slow yes. I think you have to distinguish between a no decision–where the prospect decides to live with the status quo for what feels like a long time after your offer–and a clear no where they invest in an alternative or spend additional money and effort on their existing solution.

The second thing that works against flow is that you can be handed an insurmountable opportunity: a prospect says yes and hands you a problem that your product cannot solve–yet. So the challenge is suddenly much greater than your skills.  One tactic to ameliorate this is to force yourself to develop an implementation plan based on what you know about the prospect’s situation so that you are ready with at least preliminary answers to

  • How long will it take to see results?
  • How do we get started?
  • What will we have to do to see results that are reliable and repeatable?

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“What I ‘discovered’ was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us come to being happy.”
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”

h/t Jono Hey in “Flow

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“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable–the art of the next best.”
Otto von Bismarck

“Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
John Kenneth Galbraith

See also this exchange from the movie Argo I blogged about in “The Best Bad Plan”

Tony Mendez: “There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.”
Warren Christopher: “You don’t have a better bad idea than this?”
Jack O’Donnell: “This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.”

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“In every man’s mind, some images, words and facts remain, without effort on his part to imprint them, which others forget, and afterwards these illustrate to him important laws. All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end, it shall ripen into truth and you shall know why you believe.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson “Intellect

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Six decades of social science have established that the most efficient way to increase dysfunction is to increase fatherlessness.”
Mary Eberstadt in “The Fury of the Fatherless

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“A wise man recognizes the convenience of a general statement, but he bows to the authority of a particular fact. He who would bound the possibilities of human knowledge by the limitations of present acquirements would take the dimensions of the infant in ordering the habiliments of the adult. It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. “The Poet at the Breakfast Table

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“The road to proficiency is marked by spurts, setbacks, and periods of little or no progress. Much time is spent on plateaus with small gains in between.”
Albert Bandura in “Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control” [Amazon]

This is a twitter length contraction of a longer passage:

“Most competencies must be developed over a long period. For complex ones, different subskills must be acquired, integrated, and hierarchically organized under continually changing conditions that can enhance or mar particular performances. Because attainments are governed by many interacting processes, the road to proficiency is marked by spurts, setbacks, and periods of little or no progress. The rate of improvement varies with the stage of skill acquisition. Improvements come easily at the outset, but rapid gains are harder to come by in late phases of skill development. By then, gross mistakes have been eliminated, and more intricate skills are demanded than in early or intermediate phases. Much time is spent on plateaus with small gains in between.”

Albert Bandura in “Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control” [Google Books]

Two related thoughts by Marcelo Rinesi on the acquisition of expertise the lag time to appreciate full implications of a new technology or invention.

“Should we manage to defeat the “expertise light speed barrier” and find ways to teach and learn much more effective than anything before, it would have an astounding impact on our societies and economies. Until then, we need to be wary of the time investment associated with the development of expertise… and realize that just because a technology has been with us for a few years, it doesn’t mean we are fully aware of what it can be used for.”
Marcelo Rinesi in “The Expertise Light Speed Barrier” (Original publication 2009)

See also Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s passage on “half-invented” from Anti-Fragile that I curated in “Quotes for Entrepreneurs Collected in July 2020.” Key excerpt:

“Implementation does not necessarily proceed from invention. It too requires luck and circumstances, and the wisdom to realize what you have on your hands.
The Half-Invented. For there is a category of things that we can call half-invented, and taking the half-invented into the invented is often the real breakthrough.”
Nicholas Nassim Taleb in “AntiFragile”

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chrysalismn. the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of built-up tension you understand perfectly.”
John Koenig in the “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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Conversations first, then relationships, then transactions: There is a sequence of activities that occur in networks that can seldom be bypassed. Namely you start with lots of conversations, some of which will lead to a smaller number of some kind of relationships. Eventually, and almost certainly long after the first time people met, some transactions may follow that create value, be it commercial or social.

Therefore to judge an event by the number of transactions on the day misses the point. I think you can only observe the conversations and relationships that were created. Over the longer term you may be able to analyze the transactions that followed but this is still very hard.

Roland Harwood (@rolandharwood) in “Connecting Dots and Valuing Relationships” (Dec-2008) [Archive link]

I think Roland Harwood has captured a key aspect of new initiatives, early markets, and an emerging consensus around either defining a common challenge or a range of acceptable solution.

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“All markets work at three levels, transactions, conversations and relationships”
Eric Raymond quoted by Doc Searls in “Building the Relationship Economy

h/t Robert Galoppini; an interesting addendum to the ClueTrain Manfesto’s “All markets are conversations.” For more on Cluetrain see

Eric Raymond is the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” which explores market directed vs. hierarchically managed projects.

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“Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition.”
Henry Clay

Cooperation and Collaboration are a close second.

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“Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for you?”
Ralph Waldo Emerson “Intellect” [Gutenberg]

Education has value, but be careful of blind spots it can create. Doubly true for advanced study and professional degree programs. True not only for a college degree–or a law degree or a medical degree for that matter–but for any paradigm or lens on the world: a microscope, a television show, an X-Ray, a set of religious beliefs, opinion and election polls, a commitment to atheism, an EEG, a customer interview, to name a few. The key is to embrace insights that other perspectives offer without letting them blind you to what they cannot detect or filter out.

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“What surprised me most was how unsure the founders seemed to be that they were actually on to something big. Some of these companies got started almost by accident. The world thinks of startup founders as having some kind of superhuman confidence, but a lot of them were uncertain at first about starting a company. What they weren’t uncertain about was making something good—or trying to fix something broken. […]

People like the idea of innovation in the abstract, but when you present them with any specific innovation, they tend to reject it, because it doesn’t fit with what they already know. […]

People think startups grow out of some brilliant initial idea like a plant from a seed. But almost all the founders I interviewed changed their idea as they developed it.”

Jessica Livingston in “What Makes Founders Succeed” her introduction to Founders at Work (2006)

Livingston identifies three key traits of successful entrepreneurs:

  1. Committed to making a difference, which she terms perseverance
  2. Comfortable with rejection and “being wrong” for an extended period of time
  3. Adaptability and improvisation

This matches with my experience. I think many successful entrepreneurs see a problem they would like to solve or a customer they would like to serve and they manage the uncertainties of the “how” for an extended period of time as they explore for people who can use what they have as they tinker with improving it.

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