Quotes for entrepreneurs curated in April of 2021, theme this month is faster learning.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in April 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 faster learning.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs: The great thing about ideas is that every new idea leads to two more. Ideas breed. -- Jeff Bezos

“The great thing about ideas is that every new idea leads to two more. Ideas breed.”
Jeff Bezos

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“We always recommend that entrepreneurs start with a service-first approach to shorten time between product iterations. Instead of spending money to build a product and then asking for feedback, sell the incomplete solution as a service.”
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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“The great institutions of the twenty-first century – government, political parties, media – received their shape in the twentieth. That was the heyday of the top-down, I-talk-you-listen model of organizing humanity – and this model could be accepted as legitimate only so long as it enjoyed a semi-monopoly over information in every domain. The elites at the top of the pyramid talked, certain that nobody would talk back. They promised utopia and asked to be judged on their intentions, not their performance.

The digital tsunami has simply swept away the legitimacy of this model. The storm of information has reduced the institutions to theatrical stages, and the political class is utterly demoralized as the public, in their hundreds of millions, not only talks but screams back its opposition on every question. The public’s disenchantment with the institutions may be compared to modern science’s disenchantment of the world of fairies and goblins. The collapse in trust, at the deepest level, is the falling away of an old faith.”
Martin Gurri  (@mgurri) in “Our Pathological Politics and the Search for a Cure

There are implications for entrepreneurs forming new firms, they can be guided by the rules of thumb for communication and governance from the twentieth century but will need to update their design for current enabling technologies and what other new competitors will do to take advantage of them. See “Shape of Firms to Come” for more speculation on the future of work.

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The Japanese consider the ability to withhold judgement until others have spoken a hallmark of good leadership. An effective leader knows how to remain silent while drawing out the views of subordinates.
M.Y.Yoshino and Thomas B Lifson in “The Invisible Link: Japan’s Shogo Sosha and the Organization of Trade

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“As a general rule, it is more important to try something new, and work on the problems as they arise, than to figure out a way to do something new without having any problems.”
Clay Shirky in “The Cognitive Surplus

Multiple small–more easily measurable and modifiable–experiments in parallel  work much better in this regard than a few large or a single major experiment.

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“We don’t learn by common sense, but by catastrophe.”
Sir Henry Tizard

h/t Barry Popik “We haven’t any money, we’ve got to think” Adelbert Groebbens (@agroebbe) asked “and sometimes not even by that?” I think it because some people, individually and in groups, have very very high pain thresholds. Also and all too often they confuse “good intentions” with “well thought out approaches” and continue to double down on “good intentions” despite catastrophic outcomes.  We also don’t recognize when we were lucky vs. smart and hatch a catastrophe that makes us realize our earlier stupidity saved by luck. “Where did we get lucky” is a good question to add to an after action review to forestall education by catastrophe.

The most common retrospective practice revolves around some variation of these three questions:

  1. “What went well?”
  2. “What could have gone better?”
  3. “What we should we differently next time?”

I want to suggest adding a fourth question: “Where did we get lucky? What could/should have failed, but didn’t?”

Sometimes, we do stupid things or take needless risks, but it turns out fine. This can be super-dangerous: we run the risk of learning the wrong lesson — that the mistake or risk was acceptable. We decide it’s OK repeat the dangerous practice because, hey, it worked out last time!

Jacob Kaplan-Moss in “where did we get lucky?”

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“The smallest viable audience isn’t a compromise, it’s a path forward. Find the folks who are enrolled and open and eager. Serve them instead.”
Seth Godin in “You’re Not That Good”

Another way of framing “start in a niche” and “how to pick your niche.”

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“Kaplan’s Law of the Instrument: Give a boy a hammer and everything he meets has to be pounded. It comes as no particular surprise to discover that a scientist formulates problems in a way which requires for their solution just those techniques in which he himself is especially skilled. ”
Abraham Kaplan

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“What makes you do the bits of work that are neither fun nor strictly necessary to get paid is that other people need it done, and you don’t want to fail them.”
Yossi Kreinin (@YossiKreinin) in “Love Thy Coworker; Thy Work, Not Necessarily

Running your startup with a real attitude of “we’re all in this together” inspires not just teamwork but faster learning, both a key elements of competitive advantage.  I blogged about this in “Startups Where ‘We Are All In This Together’ Learn Faster” which closes with the following quote:

“The best learning takes place in teams that accept that the whole is larger than the sum of the parts, that there is a good that transcends the individual.”
Arie P. de Geus in “Planning as Learning

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“I think the fundamentals of almost any subject, the simplest part, the core, can be taught to youngsters who are just beginning to learn and can be taught to them easily. If this is done, the student who really has an interest will carry through to quite an extraordinary extent on his own. I do not think it is worthwhile in trying to do this to take the matter into subtleties which will not really come into the youngster’s experience for many years. For a principle once learned is soon forgotten unless it gets exercise.”
Vannevar Bush in “Pieces of the Action” [Internet Archive]

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“Grow slowly. Fast growth is very inefficient since you will then have a lot of people on board that have not figured out their job.”
Steve DiBartolomeo in “Founder Story: Steve DiBartolomeo of Artwork Conversion Software

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“Your periodic reminder that the whole point of ‘trial by jury’ was to get away from ‘trial by mob’, ‘trial by media’, and ‘trial by tyrant’.”
Geoffrey Miller (@primalpoly)

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“Risk is what’s left when you think you’ve thought of everything. Our assumptions about the future are almost always wrong. We can never think of everything—but we can take sensible steps to protect ourselves from life’s inevitable surprises.”
Carl Richards in “The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money

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“Q: Where do you start?
Sean Murphy: Look for places where your know-how and your existing business relationships provide you with a significant competitive advantage. You’ve got to bring more than energy and enthusiasm. You need distinctive competence–the ability to deliver results–and knowledge of and affinity for the customers you plan to to serve. 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 be time efficient).”

From “Sean Murphy interview for LeanB2B Podcast

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“Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.”
J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Two Towers

Gandalf to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in Fangorn Forest after his recovery from his temporarily fatal encounter with the Balrog.

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Q: How do you keep teams small enough to move fast but coordinate the variety of skills and expertise needed from many disciplines?

Sean Murphy: All teams–even executive team–are incomplete; your process must involve appropriate experts as needed. Retrospectives can help to codify common cross-functional blind spots. Team members can have adequate skill in multiple domains.

From a recent office hours session.

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“Great chess players are like two people in one — the person playing and the person analyzing the person playing. They develop the discipline of asking themselves a series of questions not just after every game but after every move.”
Bruce Grierson in “The Best Habit of All: Self-Correction

This is also a useful method for improving your negotiation skills, interviewing skills, and ability to collaborate effectively . Because it’s very hard to be both “in the moment” thinking hard and observing yourself a “workout buddy” or partner can observe aspects of a situation that you may overlook. I blogged about the value of reflection in

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Early on, a mentor shared two lessons I carry with me:

  • Have a bias for action
  • Have a bias for learning

These help me push past inertia, look for opportunities, and make space for questions and reflection.”
Gabby Cazeau (@gabbycazeau)

I like the idea of biasing yourself toward action and learning, I am curious how you translate that into habits, practices, and decision making processes.

A bias for action might translate into Bob Bemer’s Do Something Small But Useful Now ?
How do you translate a bias for action into your habits, processes, and decision making?

A bias for learning might decompose into

  • careful observation – take notes / keep a log
  • reflect on experience and notes
  • tinker / adjust / small variations to test hypotheses

What else do you to do ensure you have a bias for learning?

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“The biggest mistake is to think you can’t make one.
Learn from your mistakes, especially not to repeat them.”
Bruce Pandolfini

The first is hard but can be addressed by cultivated an appropriate level of humility and in spite of a string of successes. But learning from mistakes is very hard hard because it requires not only habits (recognizing mistakes, recording them, etc.) but a system ( curating into a checklist you consult).

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“The greatest rewards come from working on something that nobody has a name for. If you possibly can, work where there are no words for what you do.”
Kevin Kelly in “99 Bits of Additional Unsolicited Advice

Marker for working off the map in terra incognita–also when there are many different names but no coherent model.
I think there is a caveat: you have to have at least a start on a coherent paradigm or model, you have to see connections between disparate events or phenomena. Your insights have to enable useful predictions, interventions, or effective action that is otherwise lacking.

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“The Programmers’ Credo: we do these things not because they are easy, but because we thought they were going to be easy.”

h/t Maciej Ceglowski (@Pinboard)

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An obvious point that took me way too long to appreciate: in software engineering, you should probably optimize for speed of execution even when you don’t have to, because it’s one of the easiest/best ways to prioritize subtraction and parsimony in the solution space.
Patrick Collison (@patrickc)

When building, optimize for speed of execution over pretty much everything else.
Auren Hoffman (@auren)

Assuming no errors and adequate capacity. An inaccurate answer rapidly delivered or incorrect results achieved quickly are of very little value. Before speed/performance you need

  1. Functionality: correct results (minimize errors).
  2. Capacity: solve larger problems (up to upper bound of customer need).

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“The knack of our species lies in our capacity to transmit our accumulated knowledge down the generations. The slowest among us can, in a few hours, pick up ideas that it took a few rare geniuses a lifetime to acquire.

Yet what is distinctive is just how selective we are about the topics we deem it possible to educate ourselves in. Our energies are overwhelmingly directed toward material, scientific, and technical subjects and away from psychological and emotional ones. Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness. We devote inordinate hours to learning about tectonic plates and cloud formations, and relatively few fathoming shame and rage.

The assumption is that emotional insight might be either unnecessary or in essence unteachable, lying beyond reason or method, an unreproducible phenomenon best abandoned to individual instinct and intuition. We are left to find our own path around our unfeasibly complicated minds — a move as striking (and as wise) as suggesting that each generation should rediscover the laws of physics by themselves.

Alain de Botton in “The School of Life: An Emotional Education

h/t Brain Pickings: “The School of Life Book

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“Every interaction with every person, including (and especially) yourself, is an opportunity for grace, reverence. you can conduct yourself with decency & kindness and other good people will be drawn to you. you can introduce them to each other and create a nourishing environment.”
Visakan Veerasamy (@visakanv)


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“Every time I see the startup boot camp slide that says “We Now Know How to Build Startups”, it pisses me off.  This is
a) false,
b) provably false,
c) if true should be supported by the copious amount of evidence you would have collected if you cared about truth.

Saying ‘we now know how to build startups’ implies that more startups using that method would be successful. Thousands of companies have been through one of these boot camps. Are significantly more of them successful than the ones that have not? Are they even keeping track?”

Jerry Neumann (@ganeumann)

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John Cutler (@johncutlefish): “When your team’s decisions drift, when you find yourself going back to the drawing board again and again, what is the main culprit?”

Ian Harvey (@ianharveyOT): An absence of strategy would be my first guess. Certainly an absence of a well articulated and understood strategy.

Jill Levenson (@jill5455): “Late discovery”