Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in March 2022, theme this month is cultivating creativity and inventiveness.
Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in March 2022
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 cultivating creativity and inventiveness.
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“Living my best life. I love technology and apply an interdisciplinary approach to building things. My career is more like a playground than a ladder.”
I liked the exuberance of this statement from her LinkedIn profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/xianke/
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“My life today is wonderful. I believe that I am needed. I think that’s the most important sense of life, that you are needed, that you are not just an emptiness that breathes and walks and eats something.”
Volodymyr Zelensky in an interview Mar-3-2022 in the midst of a Russian invasion of Ukraine
This reminds me of a quote I used to open 2009; I included a thoughtful exchange with Brad Pierce about the limits of vision.
“I’m not afraid…I was born to do this.”
Joan of Arc
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“Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.”
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“The inevitable shallowness that goes with people who have learned everything by experience.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up” (1945) Edmund Wilson (ed.) Chapter ‘Note-Books E: Epigrams, Wisecracks, Jokes.”
I think you have to be wiling to be take direction, to stand on the shoulders of giants, to question tradition but appreciate the wisdom and value in the vast bulk of it, to to use your creativity to go beyond.
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“Practical sciences proceed by building up; theoretical sciences by resolving into components.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas in “Sententia libri Ethicorum” (Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics) 
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“Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. Then, what deafness may we not all possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?”
Frank Herbert in “Dune“
This reminds of an old riddle: what does “body language” mean to a blind man. It’s hard to avoid the illusion “what we can perceive is all that there is.” Here is an excerpt from a short essay by David Eagleman written to answer Edge’s 2011 question: “What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?”
In 1909, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll introduced the concept of the umwelt. He wanted a word to express a simple (but often overlooked) observation: different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves. The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt. The bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the umgebung.
The interesting part is that each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entire objective reality “out there.” Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense? […] We accept our umwelt and stop there.
Our unawareness of the limits of our umwelt can be seen with color blind people: until they learn that others can see hues they cannot, the thought of extra colors does not hit their radar screen. And the same goes for the congenitally blind: being sightless is not like experiencing “blackness” or “a dark hole” where vision should be. A blind person does not miss vision; they do not conceive of it. Electromagnetic radiation is simply not part of their umwelt.”
I think there is another level to this model: the distinction between detecting an event or situation and understanding it’s significance. It’s your ability to map what you perceive onto a useful mental model. It’s the difference between watching a magic trick and understanding how it’s done.
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“In lockdown, severe strains of Covid were favored by selection. Test positive but feel fine you stay at home. If badly sick, you went to hospital, where you gave your illness to others. Natural evolution of Covid into another mild cold was possibly delayed by at least a year.”
That was my one tweet summary of an excellent article by Matt Ridley. Here is an extended excerpt the the summarized material in the last paragraph
“Mostly due to the work of Professor Paul Ewald, the dominant belief in evolutionary theory about disease virulence is that it depends on the mode of transmission. Though sometimes lethal at first, respiratory diseases do evolve to become milder, while sexually transmitted, waterborne or insect-borne diseases don’t. And ‘evolve’ is the right word, not ‘mutate’. For example, I took a train this week, putting me at risk of catching Covid from a fellow passenger. But if two other people had been planning to travel on the same train, one with mild omicron and the other with severe delta, the latter would have been more likely to change their mind and stay home because of feeling unwell. That’s selection. […]
An anomaly is the 1918 flu, which was mild until August 1918, then turned nasty. Professor Ewald thinks this exception proves the rule. In the peculiar conditions of the trenches, severe cases spread faster than mild ones because they were evacuated to field hospitals and home, infecting others along the way, while mild cases stayed put. […]
Yet here surely there is a worrying lesson about the past two years. In the weird world of lockdown, severe strains of Covid were favoured by selection. If you tested positive but felt fine you were told to stay at home. If you fell badly sick you went to hospital, where you gave your illness to healthcare workers and other patients. So mutants that were more infectious, such as alpha and delta, paid no penalty for being just as virulent, maybe more so. The natural evolution of Covid into just another mild cold was therefore possibly delayed by at least a year. ”
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“Nothing important comes with instructions.”
Any real opportunity for a bootstrapper will find you over your head: learning and adapting on the fly.
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“Man is not as good as a black box for certain specific things; however, he is more flexible and reliable. He is easily maintained and can be manufactured by relatively unskilled labour.”
Wing Commander H. P. Ruffell Smith, RAF (1949)
h/t Aviation Quotes — Pilots; His obituary observed, “few aircraft flying today do not carry some evidence of his research into instrument presentation or cockpit layout” This reminds me of a quote attributed to Werner von Braun. I suspect there is a common source and it’s more likely to be Smith since he is less famous.
“A human being is the best computer available to place in a spacecraft. It is also the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.”
Werner von Braun
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“I’m in the US for the first time in 2 1/2 years, and talking face to face with people is immensely more productive than talking over Zoom. If Zoom were the default and someone just invented face to face, it would seem like an amazing step forward. One way to figure out where we’ll reach equilibrium is to imagine if face to face were in fact a new invention. How would early adopters take advantage of this amazing new technology?”
Paul Graham (@paulg) Feb 17, 2022
I used this on a slide for Startups: What’s Hot, What’s Not Feb-22-2022 to characterize 2022 as a period of return after the withdrawal of 2020-21. We have started doing face to face Bootstrapper Breakfasts again. It’s been interesting to see how much impact getting the full attention of a small group of peers has on an entrepreneur. I’ve noticed in face to face breakfasts that people pay attention much more and the interaction is crisper because it’s easier to read body language to negotiate who speaks next
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“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
To explore you must leave the familiar, the convenient, and the known. Andre Gide put it much more eloquently almost 100 years ago:
“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”
Andre Gide in “The Counterfeiters” (1925)
This quote is sometimes incorrectly attributed to Christopher Columbus
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
I originally curated this in my April 2017 quotes for entrepreneurs roundup, observing that Chesterton would find most startups to be a massive adventure.
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“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
Howard Dernehl suggested this as the closing quote for “Listen to the Quiet Ones.”
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“A simple and quick way to assess cognitive load is to ask the team, in a non-judgmental way: “Do you feel like you’re effective and able to respond in a timely fashion to the work you are asked to do?”
Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais in “Team Topologies“
How do you ask this in a “non-judgemental” way? It’s a yes / no question with three parts: effective, timely, asked to do. I am not sure how you could distinguish between poorly specified requests, under-resourced teams, and a dozen other challenges that lead to “no.” Be leery “quick simple tests” to measure team-level performance of knowledge work, much less diagnose challenges. You have a multitude of complications starting with the Hawthorne effect, Goodhart’s law, and the “squeaky wheel” effect–which has both false positive (someone crying for help who does not need it) and false negative (someone who is silent who should be asking for help).
I found the book fundamentally unsettling in it’s desire to restrict communication to formally defined communication paths and to limit the amount of communication allowed. It struck me as a reductionist view of engineers as software modules who benefit from information hiding and layers of abstraction. A lot of work takes place in the “white space” of an organization that the authors seemed oblivious to or wanted to actively suppress. It’s possible I have completely misunderstood the brilliance of their approach but it seemed to me to be “neat, plausible, and wrong.”
“Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong. ”
H. L. Mencken “The Divine Afflatus” [collected in “Prejudices”]
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“Negative responses are more interesting than positive responses because they indicate that learning could be about to take place. The Negative Responder is usually experiencing Cognitive Dissonance and deserves our sympathetic understanding.
Just before a dolphin actually understands the point of a new routine, it gets more and more irritable, swims in circles and finally loses its temper, leaps out of the water and sends a giant splash over the trainer. Psychologists call it Cognitive Dissonance—that irritating feeling that something just doesn’t fit. Karen Pryor, the Dolphin Lady, whose animal-training methods are used world-wide, calls it the Learning Tantrum.
Down through history, the Learning Tantrum recurs at moments of crisis. When Darwin proposed his new theory, the Establishment had a collective fit. Sigmund Freud had to set up his own press in order to get published. And the new breed of scientists around Einstein recognized sadly that new theories in physics only prevail as the previous generation of physicists die off.”
You can get a “feeling of warmth” as you get close to a solution (not true for creative insight that is often “out of the blue.”) Increasing frustration may be part of mental reorganization necessary for crafting a solution. Surprise can indicate you are about to learn something. For teams the “storming phase” of “Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing” may be the equivalent of a group-level learning tantrum. See also “If you knew how hard a startup would be” and “Innovation needs starvation of resources, time pressure, and a new perspective.”
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“Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition.”
Reminds me of this observation by Arthur Koestler:
“the perceiving of a situation or idea, L, in two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference: L is not merely linked to one associative context, but bisociated with two.”
Arthur Koestler “Act of Creation“
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“The discoveries of yesterday are the truisms of tomorrow, because we can add to our knowledge but cannot subtract from it. When two frames of reference have both become integrated into one it becomes difficult to imagine that previously they existed separately. The synthesis looks deceptively self-evident, and does not betray the imaginative effort needed to put its component parts together.”
Arthur Koestler “Act of Creation“
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“An expert is person who has failed a lot, succeeded a little and is aware of the limits of their cognition.”
Brian Norgard (@BrianNorgard)
This is a very well thought out definition.
- Failed a lot – aware of and can spot many failure modes.
- Succeeded a little – has mapped some paths to success.
- Aware of limits – understands that some successes and some failures were luck and not skill.
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“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity”
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Rules to Work By: Guiding principles for products and teams
- Move intentionally and fix things. If how quickly you ship is your metric, you’re going to move like a bull in a china shop.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Comfort means never being challenged, which means you’re not growing.
- Mistakes are necessary for growth. Learn how to make them gracefully. Spend less energy trying to avoid mistakes. Spend more energy responding to the impact – reflecting, learning, apologizing, and planning for next time.
- There is no best, worst, safe, secure – only better, worse, safer, and more secure. Removing superlatives allows us to see concepts more as a continuous spectrum. This let’s us push for things to be better, safer, and more secure.
Collected in Josh Silverman’s “Getting it Right” (Jul-18-2019); I like her “move intentionally and fix things” as an antidote to “move fast and break things.” For more on the value of “first, do no harm” and “leave things better than you found them” see “Austin Kleon’s ‘Keep Going’ Offers Practical Advice on Perseverance.” Here is a related quote on the risks of celebrating vandalism as a corporate value that I collected in July 2017. It’s proven prescient:
“This year especially there’s an uncomfortable feeling in the tech industry that we did something wrong, that in following our credo of “move fast and break things”, some of what we knocked down were the load-bearing walls of our democracy.”
Maciej Cegowski in “Build a Better Monster: Morality, Machine Learning, and Mass Surveillance” (April 2017)
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“In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.”
Napoleon ‘Observations sur les affaires d’Espagne, Saint-Cloud, 21 août 1808’
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“If we define futurism as exploration beyond accepted limits, then the nature of limiting systems becomes our first object of exploration. That nature lies within ourselves. Some who say they are talking about “a future” are only talking about their own limits. The dominant pattern in current planning betrays a system of thinking that does not want to abandon old assumptions and that keeps seeking a surprise-free future. But if we lock down the future in the present, we deny that such a future has become the present– and the present has always been inadequate for the future. […]
A futurist concerned with our survival and our utopian dream needs to listen, to observe, and to develop expertise that fits the problems as they occur. But that is not the pattern that dominates human behavior today. Instead, we shape our interpretations of our problems to fit existing expertise. This existing expertise defends its local reality on the basis of past successes, not on the demands of our most recent observations.”
Frank Herbert in “Listening to the Left Hand” (Harper’s 1973)
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“It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.”
Alfred North Whitehead in “Science and the Modern World” [page 185] (1925)
More context (original quote in bold):
Modern science has imposed on humanity the necessity for wandering. Its progressive thought and its progressive technology make the transition through time, from generation to generation, a true migration into uncharted seas of adventure. The very benefit of wandering is that it is dangerous and needs skill to avert evils. We must expect, therefore, that the future will disclose dangers. It is the business of the future to be dangerous, and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties. The prosperous middle classes, who ruled the nineteenth century, placed an excessive value upon placidity of existence. They refused to face the necessities for social reform imposed by the new industrial system, and they are now refusing to face the necessities tor intellectual reform imposed by the new knowledge. The middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security. In the immediate future there will be less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilization. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages.
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“Spontaneity takes a few rehearsals.”
James Richardson in “by the Numbers”
This led to the following exchange
- Rob Fitzpatrick (@robfitz): “I really like the quotes you share (very often things I haven’t seen before), and they always make me wonder what they mean to you. Quote + personal commentary is a nice format for thinking out loud, I think. (And the quotes alone are also nice, of course.)”
- Sean Murphy (@skmurphy) I thought this captured the difficulty of effective facilitation. You have to react in real time to questions and comments when you can help move the conversation along, elicit insights from attendees based on prior comments, and see that everyone involved gets value.
- Rob Fitzpatrick (@robfitz): “Interesting! Made me think of the process of growing up, and the slowly growing safety-net of knowing that you’ve got the skills to handle the unexpected stuff that you’ll get thrown into along the way. Like yeah, I can roll with it now, because I’ve messed it up before.”
- Sean Murphy (@skmurphy) Here’s another one for you that I curated in September 2017. (h/t William Denton who lists the original Greek and nine translations).
“The art of true living in this world is more like a wrestler’s, than a dancer’s practice. For in this they both agree, to teach a man whatsoever falls upon him, that he may be ready for it, and that nothing may cast him down.”
Marcus Aurelius in Meditations 7:61 translated by Meric Casaubon, 1634
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“The limbic instinct for vengeance is incredibly strong, which is why turn the other cheek is such a powerful idea: it ends the cycle of retribution.
Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
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“Curiosity, it appears to me, is the great preservative and the supreme emollient. Enthusiasm. Zest. That’s what makes old age a delight. One has seen so much, and one is eager to see more. One has reached a few conclusions.
When we have lost our curiosity about our world we have lost much, though not all.
We have lost all when we cease to be curious about ourselves, for that means that we have indeed abandoned hope. When we succumb to the bodily and mental habits of those who have given up all hope of change or improvement, we have lifted the latch of the tomb.”