Quotes for entrepreneurs curated in March of 2021, theme this month is ying-yang, paired opposites, and taking two steps forward after taking a step back.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in March 2021

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 ying-yang, paired opposites, and taking two steps forward after taking a step back.

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs: Be Brave Enough to Suck at Something New

“Be Brave Enough to Suck at Something New.”
Author Unknown

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“At this moment I believe I can create more value working as an engineer for someone else’s growing and successful company than starting a company for the sake of starting a company, lacking a mission I’m passionate about, and without as self-sufficient a set of skills, resources, or insights as would give me confidence in my ability to be successful in a meaningful product- and team-building endeavor.
[…]
I believe I can set myself up for creating more value down the line by learning as much as possible about building products and teams in my current environment at Pinterest and in the broader Silicon Valley ecosystem.”
Tracy Chou in “When Are You Going to Start Your Own Company”

I always like to see entrepreneurs playing a long game. Also, you can make a significant contribution without founding a company.

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Everything is its opposite, particularly competition and cooperation. Neither can rise to its highest potential unless seamlessly blended with the other. Either without the other swiftly becomes dangerous and destructive.
Dee Hock in “Birth of the Chaordic Century” (1996 speech)

A yin-yang view of competition and cooperation.

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“Many entrepreneurs get a jolt in their new venture when they discover that their credibility with strangers, which was once freely granted by virtue of their employer, must now be earned one painstaking step at a time.”
Sean Murphy in “Working Capital: It takes more than money

Cited by Phil Liao as a “nugget of wisdom” in his review — Phil Liao Reviews “Working Capital: It Takes More Than Money”

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“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”
Henry David Thoreau

Whether the disappointment is due to a plan not working or expectations being violated it’s an opportunity to update your planning process and your model for a particular person or system. It starts with Conor Neill’s (@cuchullainn) advice to “Write. Stuff. Down.” This gets it out of your head where you can review, reflect, revise, and rework.

“We do not learn from experience.
We learn from reflecting on experience”
John Dewey.

See also “Record to Remember, Pause to Reflect.

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“True myths may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. […] When the true myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message: “You must change your life.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

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“We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our worst enemies.”
Roderick Thorp in “Rainbow Drive

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“A potentially expensive illusion: Cost cuts feeling more “certain” as value because we know the “numbers,” while the longer-term fallout and value sapped from the larger org is less “real” because it’s not as readily represented with “numbers”–doesn’t mean it’s not reality.
Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin)

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“Civic value is like public value in its openness, but for groups dedicated to creating civic value, improving society is their explicit goal. Civic participants don’t aim to make life better merely for members of the group. They want to improve even the lives of people who never participate.”
Clay Shirky in “The Cognitive Surplus

We need a return to dialog and discussion predicated on a search for common ground and a commitment to true civic engagement.

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“You can’t get to new outcomes without changing the processes that you use to achieve them. The deepest innovation of Silicon Valley companies is not a specific technology or set of technologies that can be taken out of context and pasted into an old organization. In many ways, it is an approach to solving problems iteratively, learning as you go.”
Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly)

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“X: tell them clearly what to do then use audit to ensure they do it.

Me: How about ask them what will work best, collaborate to come up with solutions that fit, iterate rapidly to actually get it right, and be close enough to the work to actually know what’s going on.

I like the principle of trust but validate. It’s the how that matters. How you validate shows whether you truly trust or not.

It’s just feedback. People make mistakes, misunderstand…
And people at the other end need reassurance.
I don’t think we should take it personally.
Nor ever think a process will be perfect.”

Rob England (@rob_england) in a short essay from twitter Jun 24, 2020

h/t Charles Lambdin (@CGLambdin)

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“The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may think what we like and say what we think.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes in “The Professor at the Breakfast Table”

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“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

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“I’ll have to take your word for it.”
(translation: Bollocks)
@SoVeryBritish (Very British Problems)

I don’t speak British so I asked a British friend and he translated this as “I am sorry, but I don’t believe you” or “Your story is so fantastic, it’s unbelievable.” I will have to incorporate “we’ll have take your word for it” as one of the handy phrases to use in a negotiation.

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“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else, everything. And that’s the way I live.”
Danny Trejo quoted in “Actor Danny Trejo helps save baby trapped in car in LA”

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“The old Eskimo hunters she had known in her childhood thought the riches of life were intelligence, fearlessness, and love. A man with these gifts was rich and was a great spirit who was admired.”
Jean Craighead George in “Julie of the Wolves

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“I never ask a man what his business is, for it never interests me. What I ask him about are his thoughts and dreams.”
H. P. Lovecraft

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“States like New York and California, where millions have been driven into financial ruin, imposed top-down draconian measures in order to “stop the spread.” They have only registered significantly worse outcomes, on both a disease burden front in addition to the ruinous economic and societal side effects of lockdowns. Not a single top-down restriction supposedly intended to “stop the spread” did anything statistically demonstrable to quell the virus problem.”
Jordan Schachtel (@JordanSchachtel) in “Free States vs. Lockdown States: Freedom Prevailed

This reminds me of an observation by H. L. Mencken: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.”

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Quotes for Entrepreneurs from Working Capital Vol1

“Look for a niche where your know-how and relationships will provide significant competitive advantage. More than energy and enthusiasm, you need distinctive competence (the ability to deliver results) and both knowledge of and affinity for the customers you will serve.”
Sean Murphy in an interview with Etienne Garbugli on “The Three Kinds of Working Capital Your Startup Needs to Succeed

It was very thought provoking conversation. I had just finished reading Etienne’s latest book “Solving Product” which is a fantastic survey of lean thinking for B2B firms. When you are interviewed someone who has done their homework and given a lot of thought to the topic it always raises your game. I really liked his parting words in the book because they stress the importance of learning:

“I hope you go on to create a company that relentlessly learns from its customers and makes every interaction count: (1) your customers’ satisfaction increases (2) your business fends off stagnation (3) growth accelerates.”
Etienne Garbugli in “Solving Product

We did talk about “Working Capital It Takes More Than Cash” but we covered other topics. This quote is a more succinct version of my answer to his question ” So, say someone has failed a few times, has built some form of career, what kinds of business approaches do you feel that they should be prioritizing?”

I got a follow up question from Stefan Ottl “In my opinion it’s when you have both industry knowledge and functional and you believe that the timing is right–which is always hard to anticipate ex ante!”

I agreed with him, preferring to err on the side of too early: “You can compensate for being too early with frugality and patience, you can try to overcome being too late with money and impatience. I try to be a little early, in that if I can justify “why now” then I start to investigate. It’s the difference between kairos (the opportune moment) and chronos (trying to time your entry for maximum effect). Rizwan Virk has some good insights on how to analyze a market in “Startup Myths and Models.”

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“The scout’s job is to understand. The scout is the one going out, mapping the terrain, identifying potential obstacles. And the scout may hope to learn that, say, there’s a bridge in a convenient location across a river. But above all, the scout wants to know what’s really there, as accurately as possible. […]

For example, scouts are curious. They’re more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or an itch to solve a puzzle. They’re more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations. Scouts also have different values. They’re more likely to say they think it’s virtuous to test your own beliefs, and they’re less likely to say that someone who changes his mind seems weak. And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn’t tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic.”

Julia Galef in “Why You Think You’re Right Even If You’re Wrong

Her book “The Scout Mindset” is due out in April 2021.

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“We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down.”
Dave Snowden

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“Before you build a better mousetrap, it helps to know if there are any mice out there.”
Mortimer B. Zuckerman

I updated “Customer Development and Its Discontents” to add this as a closing quote. That post already explored the ‘better mousetrap” theory of new product development. If I had known about this quote when I was writing the post I would have included it.

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“You can’t understand why an accident occurred until you discover why the actions taken made sense at the time. Pointing out mistakes made along the path to disaster is not as useful as figuring out why the people who made them didn’t know they were mistakes.”
Troy Amir

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Formula for creativity: Not enough resources need to achieve a goal given current methods triggering a shift in perspective  that changes methods or enables one ore more key constraints to be relaxed. This is the essence of Hirschmann’s “Hiding Hand.”
Sean Murphy

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“Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.”
Gustav Mahler

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“Q: What is the difference between preparing for a launch vs. customer development?
A: My perspective: The launch is the wedding. Customer development is dating before marriage and keeping the romance alive after.”
Sean Murphy (recent email exchange)

If your product is not meeting revenue expectations, schedule an office hours call.

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“In an industry that has become closely standardized, where nearly all competing companies are comfortably making profits, minor improvements can readily be introduced, but major improvements are up against a stone wall.”
Vannevar Bush in “Pieces of the Action” [Internet Archive]

Entrepreneurs can invert this to hunt for areas ripe for disruption–over, under, or around the stone wall.

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“A key aspect of managing trust for entrepreneurs is clarity on commitments. They must be careful in articulating their vision that prophecies don’t become promises they may not be able to keep. Because entrepreneurs are often very optimistic, this is hard.”
Ramesh Samabisvan (@ramlistens)

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“People generally don’t do what they’re told, but what they expect to be rewarded for. The people whose compensation depends on your opinion have ample time to remember and analyze your past words and decisions – more time than you, in fact, and a stronger incentive. And so their mental model of you is often much better than your own.”
Yossi Kreinin (@YossiKreinin) in “People Can Read Their Manager’s Mind

Employee actions are guided by the real incentive that you create–what you actually reward–not by what you say.

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“It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.”
Lucille Ball

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“Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social media junkies and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle and gripe.”
Victor Davis Hanson (@VDHanson) in “Members of previous generations now seem like giants” (2019)

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“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered of both.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack Up” (1936)

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“No one is coming, it’s up to us. My generation is not the best you can imagine, we’re just the best that’s available. And I guess some of us, at least, will keep trying to do our best.”
Glenn Reynolds in an Instapundit Blog Mar-28-2021

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“There are two kinds of talent, man-made talent and God-given talent.  With man-made talent you have to work very hard. With God-given talent, you just touch it up once in a while.”
Pearl Bailey

I think we all have natural talents that we enjoy practicing and developing. They may be based on interests we have had since we were young or natural gifts and abilities. I think real expertise or expert performance always requires deliberate practice. But our interests make it easier to engage in, and sustain engagement in, the kinds of practice that develops and extends that interest into talent and then expertise.

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“What you should learn when you make a mistake because you did not anticipate something is that the world is difficult to anticipate. That’s the correct lesson to learn from surprises: that the world is surprising.”
Daniel Kahneman

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”If now isn’t a good time for the truth, I don’t see when we’ll get to it.”
Nikki Giovanni

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