Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in December 2021

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in December 2021, theme this month is going deep to find ground truth and a solid foundation to build on.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in December 2021

I curate 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 going deep to find ground truth and a solid foundation to build on.

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“It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.”
May Sarton

The end of the year encourages me to take a look back and a search for that bedrock of truth that can act as a foundation for next year. I originally used curated this quote in August 2018 but am using it again because it’s a crisp summary of my theme for this month.

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“If you aren’t writing anything down, or inputting into a digital device, it’s extremely difficult to stay focused on anything for more than a few minutes, especially if you’re by yourself. But when you utilize physical tools to keep your thinking anchored and saved, you can stay engaged constructively for hours. […] Give yourself a context for capturing thoughts, and thoughts will occur that you don’t yet know you have.”
David Allen in “Getting Things Done”

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“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”
Margaret Wheatley in “Turning to One Another”

This is from a poem in the “Turning to One Another” on pages 144-145 (layout preserved from first edition of the book).

   There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

   Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.

   Notice what you care about.
   Assume that many others share your dreams.

   Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
         Talk to people you know.
         Talk to people you don’t know.
         Talk to people you never talk to.

   Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
         Expect to be surprised.
         Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

   Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
         Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
         Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

   Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
   Real listening always brings people closer together.

   Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

   Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

Turning to One Another  by Margaret Wheatley

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“Writing a book is like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle, unendurably slow at first, almost self- propelled at the end. Actually, it’s more like doing a puzzle from a box in which several puzzles have been mixed. Starting out, you can’t tell whether a piece belongs to the puzzle at hand, or one you’ve already done, or will do in ten years, or will never do.”
James Richardson “On Writing: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays”

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“An effective mastermind group keeps you honest and accountable with yourself, offers different perspectives on a problem, reviews your assumptions, points out your blind spots, helps you refine your plans and presentations, and provides support when things look bad.”
Sean Murphy

These are the outcome I strive to deliver in facilitating our mastermind groups.

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“You can hope for lucky encounters only if you walk around a lot.”
A.J. Liebling

Becoming more active is an easy way to increase your luck. “Lucky encounters” enable networking, observing, and questioning, which are three of the five key skills described in Innovator’s DNA. Here are some other good blog posts on luck–a topic I will be returning to in the new few months–are:

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“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all.”
Tim Ferris

I think contentment and excitement are distinct forms of happiness. I believe that both promote health and that the well-adjusted person cycles between them. You have to “stop and smell the roses” from time to time, appreciate beauty and give thanks to those who have helped you. Of course that’s’ not the whole story you also need discontent and perseverance.

“Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”
Thomas A. Edison

See also “Restlessness and Discontent, Gumption and Sisu.

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“Galileo didn’t get thrown in prison for being wrong.”
Erika Hall in “Secret Cost of Research” (2015)

Hall offers an outstanding perspective on the value of research in this short essay from 2015:

  • Research is simply asking questions about how the world works. And asking questions about how the world works threatens established authority.
  • Galileo didn’t get thrown in prison for being wrong.
  • Allowing a designer to do research means opening assumptions up to scrutiny. It means admitting you don’t have all the answers. To someone in charge, the true cost of research is the risk of losing control.
  • The reason design projects that neglect research fail isn’t because of a lack of knowledge. It’s because of a lack of shared knowledge. Creating something of any complexity generally requires several different people with different backgrounds and different priorities to collaborate on a goal. If you don’t go through an initial research process with your team, if you just get down to designing without examining your assumptions, you may think your individual views line up much more than they do. Poorly distributed knowledge is barely more useful than no knowledge at all.
  • Research is necessary for a successful design project because it gives you a shared basis for decision-making, grounded in evidence rather than in sheer authority or tenacity. And this saves time and money.
  • “Research actually saves time and money by allowing us to collaborate effectively, and make decisions much more quickly. By working together to validate the key assumptions, we will increase the chances of overall success.”

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“Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.”
Joseph Joubert

This reminds me of Peter Drucker’s  observation that “Plans are just good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

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“Peace demands solutions, but we never reach living solutions; we only work toward them. A fixed solution is, by definition, a dead solution. The trouble with peace is that it tends to punish mistakes instead of rewarding brilliance.”

Frank Herbert in “Children of Dune

I think this is because peace–or dominant market share–quickly encourages bureaucracy, and bureaucracy is about avoiding mistakes not creating new value. It’s antimatter for an entrepreneurial approach to life. Herbert makes this same point in “Heretics of Dune”

“Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?”
Frank Herbert in “Heretics of Dune

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He paused to examine the contents of his tobacco pouch and make a mental calculation. At two pipefuls a day, he could stretch it to next quota day.
“You’ll be the operative in charge, Lije.
“I don’t rate it Commissioner. I’m a C-5, that’s all.”
“You want a C-6 rating, don’t you?”
Did he? Bailey knew the privileges a C-6 rating carried. A seat on the expressway i the rush hour, not just from ten to four. Higher up on the list-of-choices at the Section kitchens. Maybe even a chance at a better apartment and a quota ticket to the Solarium levels for Jessie.
Isaac Asimov in “The Caves of Steel” (1954) [Archive.org]

It’s odd that Asimov anticipates world population growing to 8 billion and cities becoming vast underground metropolises, but the economy is no longer capitalist or market-centric and everyone exists in a web or ranks and quotas. When I first read this 50 years ago I took it at face value and did not pause to consider the implications. Without market-based price mechanisms allocating efforts meaningful innovation would cease to impact everyday lives, we would look like the Romans, who were fantastic engineers but directed their efforts to please the patricians.  The “Dark Ages” dramatically improved the lot of the average person. For more on this see Donald Cardwell‘s “Turning Points in Western Technology: A Study of Technology, Science, and History” I blogged about one of Cardwell’s key insights in “Creative Forces and Cardwell’s Law.”

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“‘Daddy, I want to color!’ These are the first words out of my daughter’s mouth every day when she dashes in our front door after kindergarten. I can tell she has something in her mind that needs to get on paper. She doesn’t have time to take off her jacket or sit down, or even go to the bathroom.

Watching my daughter, I have come to believe that my college psychology teacher was wrong. The fundamental human drive—what it is that we most want to do and need to do—is not to have sex, nor to have power. It is to create. That’s what ‘soul’ is. That’s what makes us human.

To create is to be happy. The only unhappy ones among us are those who lost their crayons somewhere along the way.”

Tim Keiderling

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“When I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it.”
Abigail Shrier “What I Told the Students at Princeton

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“Visualization can surprise you, but it doesn’t scale well.
Modeling scales well, but it can’t surprise you.”
Hadley Wickham quoted in “Visualization, Modeling, and Surprises”

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“When civilization became a matter of standing in lines, the British had kept queue, and so had replaced the survival of the fittest with the survival of the fair-minded.”
Ursula K. Le Guin in ‘‘Nine Lives’’ (1969) [Online at Baen]

More context:

“The United Kingdom had come through the Great Famines well, losing less than half its population: a record achieved by rigorous food control. Black marketeers and hoarders had been executed. Crumbs had been shared. Where in richer lands most had died and a few had thrived, in Britain fewer died and none thrived. They all got lean. Their sons were lean, their grandsons lean, small, brittle-boned, easily infected. When civilization became a matter of standing in lines, the British had kept queue, and so had replaced the survival of the fittest with the survival of the fair-minded. Owen Pugh was a scrawny little man. All the same, he was there.”
Ursula K. Le Guin in ‘‘Nine Lives’’ (1969) [Online at Baen]

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“It is notorious that illusions are shattered by conflict with reality, so no real happiness, no real wit, no real profundity are tolerated where the illusion prevails.”
Virginia Woolf

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Boiling a Watched Pot

Consider the boiling of water. That’s straightforward, water boils at 100 °C, right?

Go to your stove, put some water in a pot, start heating some water, and pay attention as it heats.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is a lot of small bubbles gathering on the surface of the pot. Is that boiling? The water’s not that hot yet; you can still even stick your finger in. Then the bubbles will appear faster and start rising, but they somehow seem ‘unboiling’. Then you’ll start to see little bubble storms in patches, and you start to hear a hissing noise. Is that Boiling? Sort of? It doesn’t really look like boiling. The bubble storms grow larger and start releasing bigger bubbles. Eventually the bubbles get big and the surface of the water grows turbulent as the bubbles begin to make it to the surface. Finally we seem to have reached real boiling. I guess this is the boiling point? That seems kind of weird, what were the things that happened earlier if not boiling.

To make matters worse, if you’d used a glass pot instead of a metal one, the water would boil at a higher temperature. If you cleaned the glass vessel with sulfuric acid, to remove any residue, you’d find that you can heat water substantially more before it boils and when it does boil it boils in little explosions of boiling and the temperature fluctuates unstably.

It turns out that ‘boiling’ is a lot more complicated than you thought.

This surprising amount of detail is is not limited to “human” or “complicated” domains, it is a near universal property of everything from space travel to sewing, to your internal experience of your own mind.

John Salvatier in “Reality has a surprising amount of detail

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“It takes a pretty smart feller to admit he doesn’t know.”
Kin Hubbard in “Short Furrows

Admitting he did not know is probably the way he got smart.

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Rule 4: Notice that Opportunity Lurks Where Responsibility Has Been Abdicated

“If you want to become invaluable in a workplace–in any community–just do the useful things no one else is doing. Arrive earlier and leave later than your compatriots (but do no deny yourself your life). Organize what you can see is dangerously disorganized. Work, when you are working, instead of looking like you are working. And finally, learn more about the business—or your competitors—than you already know.
Jordan Peterson in “Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life”

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“If you just rely on one model, you tend to amputate reality to make it fit your model.”
David Brooks

h/t John D. Cook “Amputating Reality

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There are four basic ways in which we learn to do our jobs:

  1. Experiences to which we are exposed
  2. Opportunities we have to practice
  3. Conversations with our colleagues and managers
  4. Reflection on what has worked and what would work better next time

Charles Jennings “The Power of Conversations”

h/t David Gurteen

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“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
James 5:16

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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 encounters Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas in Fangorn Forest for the first time after his fight with the Balrog.

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“With a sufficient number of users of an API, it does not matter what you promise in the contract: all observable behaviors of your system will be depended on by somebody.”

Hyrum’s Law

Coined by Hyrum Wright (@HyrumWright). Related XKCD image Workflow

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“I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking …I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

h/t O’Keeffe Museum “Abstract Nature”

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 “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
Albert Camus in “Return to Tipasa”

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“I generally respect the idea in Lean of reducing waste, but I’m also skeptical of people’s ability to see the functional role of all of the work that goes on. Is the work you’ve labeled waste *really* waste, or do you just not see the function that it plays?”
Lorin Hochstein (@norootcause)

Margin for error can look like waste to folks who have not experienced negative outcomes.

Another example: improvement efforts that don’t pan out but still refine your understanding of constraints and possibilities. Are they really waste?

I suspect the definition of “excess inventory” has changed in the last year in many industries. If you baseline on expectations of “no problems” or “normal variation” for the wrong value of “normal” a more conservative competitor may better meet your customer’s needs.

Image Credit: Nawras Skhmot for 8 Wastes of Lean (suggested by Tim Tischler (@timotheo)

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“Science attempts to find logic and simplicity in nature. Mathematics attempts to establish order and simplicity in human thought.”
Edward Teller, The Pursuit Of Simplicity [Also at Internet Archive]

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“Our findings were simply findings, not arguments, explanations, recommendations or statements of personal opinions. However, some apparently had trouble grasping this, referring to our findings as “claims,” as though this was a matter of questionable assertions, not of data. […]

At first, I was startled, but eventually I came to expect partisan attacks masquerading as scientific concerns. I had expected some modest interest in our findings, pursued through normal channels of scientific discussion. I had not expected an aggressive campaign that included insults, errors, misinformation, behind-the-scenes gossip and maneuvers,social media posts and even complaints to my employer-–many more instances than I have space to describe here. It seemed that some felt that our work should be judged not on its merits but rather on whether its findings supported the goals and objectives of the interlocutors. I saw first-hand the antagonism that can be provoked by inconvenient scientific findings.

Guidelines and recommendations should be based on objective and unbiased data. Development of public health policy and clinical recommendations is complex and needs to be evidence-based rather than belief-based. This can be challenging when a hot-button topic is involved. Scientific findings should be evaluated on their merits, not on the basis of whether they fit a desired narrative.”

Katherine Mayhew Flegal in “The obesity wars and the education of a researcher: A personal account” June 2021 Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases 67(10)

Scientists are people, the incompetence associated with COVID-19 is not a one-off for public health. I am not sure what the remedy is but a better system of checks and balances would be a start, one that supports a diversity of approaches when faced with novel pathogens.

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“I don’t care about the omicron case numbers. I care about the hospitalization and death numbers.”
Lorin Hochstein (@norootcause)

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“When a leader joins a company, they join with a large reservoir of trust based on navigating the hiring process.”
Will Larson (@lethain) in Inspection and the limits of trust.

This is a good article overall but I think this key premise is incorrect: leaders start out as unknown quantities despite the hiring process. Anyone who says “I am the new guy you should trust the process that hired me” without working hard to establish rapport and a reputation for empathy, insight, and effective action is probably doomed. Even if you have been hired in a turnaround situation–as I have on at least two occasions–you still have to get to know the team and relevant players in other departments so that you can have  the open communication needed for solid planning and mid-course adjustments to any plan of action.

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“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Clarence Oddbody to George Bailey
in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

It’s from the scene at Harry’s tombstone after George has been granted his wish to have never been born. I find this scene and the finale both very moving.

Clarence Oddbody: Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.
George Bailey: That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!
Clarence Oddbody: Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry. Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

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“Familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them.
It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.”
Alfred North Whitehead

I used this in “Entrepreneurs Need To See With Newcomer’s Eyes And Ask Stupid Questions.”

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“Before you’ve noticed important details they are, of course, basically invisible. It’s hard to put your attention on them because you don’t even know what you’re looking for. But after you see them they quickly become so integrated into your intuitive models of the world that they become essentially transparent.

This means it’s really easy to get stuck. Stuck in your current way of seeing and thinking about things. Frames are made out of the details that seem important to you. The important details you haven’t noticed are invisible to you, and the details you have noticed seem completely obvious and you see right through them. This all makes it difficult to imagine how you could be missing something important.”

John Salvatier in “Reality has a surprising amount of detail

Some suggestions for how to break out of paradigm, or at least test and perhaps extend the limits of your understanding. Consider adding a variable, taking a new factor into account, run experiments that include tinkering with a new element. Look for situations that contradict or violate your model.

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
Ayn Rand

Self-debugging is hard.

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“There’s only three things for sure
Taxes, death and trouble.”
Marvin Gaye “Trouble Man”

I used this in Eliza Calvert Hall: Piecing a Quilt is Like Living a Life

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“Some people seem to view companies like a game of SimCity, where if you want more money, you can turn a knob, increase taxes, and get more money, uniformly impacting the city. But companies are not a game of SimCity. If you want more attrition and turn a knob that cranks that up, you don’t get additional attrition that’s sampled uniformly at random. People, as a whole, cannot be treated as an abstraction where the actions company leadership takes impacts everyone in the same way. The people who are most effective will be disproportionately likely to leave if you turn a knob that leads to increased attrition.”
Dan Luu (@DanLuu) in “People Matter

It’s a fantastic essay well worth reading in its entirety. Here is his conclusion, edited for length and clarity.

When you have a system that is too complex for any decision maker to really understand, one way to reduce the perceived complexity is imagining that individuals are fungible. That produces relatively inefficient outcomes but it’s highly scalable. When returns are relatively evenly distributed, losing out on potential outlier returns in the name of legibility is a good trade-off. But when ROI is a heavy-tailed distribution, when the right person can make a outsize contribution, then severely tamping down on the right side of the curve to improve legibility is very costly and can cost you the majority of your potential returns.
Dan Luu (@DanLuu) in “People Matter” [edited for length and clarity]

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“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.”
Ken Venturi

A suggestion for your 2022 planning and goal setting efforts, inspired in part by Clarke’s Second Law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Mark MceEahern (@m5rk) asked: “Meaning reach for the impossible because you’re probably wrong about it being impossible?”

I read it as challenge yourself to go beyond what you believe are your limits, for personal improvement and testing your own capabilities. Remember Virgil’s “they can because they think they can.” if you think you can’t you may avoid attempting something that you can accomplish.

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