Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in April 2022, theme is embracing the Stockdale Paradox, overcoming fear, responding when reality gets a vote and real life intrudes.
Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in April 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 embracing the Stockdale Paradox, overcoming fear, and responding when reality gets a vote and real life intrudes.
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“Stockdale Paradox: you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Jim Collins in “The Stockdale Paradox“
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“Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time.”
Then they find out what they are made of. For entrepreneurs real life is the test.
“No one has given this guy a real fight,” he said. “I’m going to be moving, but I’m also going to be throwing a lot of punches.”
Tyson, 21, scoffed at Biggs’ fight plan. “Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time,” he said.
Rick Warner in “Tall man Tyrell Biggs thinks his height will add new dimension to Oct 16 fight”
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One way you can encourage yourself to be heroic is to follow Tim O’Reilly’s advice to “Work on Stuff that Matters” (2009)
- Work on something that matters to you more than money.
- Whatever you do, think about what you really value.
- One test of a bubble is how many entrepreneurs are focused on their upcoming payday rather than on the big things they hope to accomplish.
- If you’re thinking more about the competition than you are about customers and the value you’re going to create for them, you’re on the wrong path.
- Create more value than you capture.
- How many people do you employ in fulfilling jobs?
- How many customers use your products to make their own living?
- Take the long view
- It’s hard to see beyond the “small here” and the “short now.” Practice.
- A time like this  when the bubble is bursting, is a great time to see how important it is to think about the big picture, and what matters not just to us, but to building a sustainable economy in a sustainable world.
Tim O’Reilly in “Work on Stuff that Matters” (2009)
I blogged about “Entrepreneurial Motivation” in January of 2009, highlighting O’Reilly’s thought provoking “Work on Stuff that Matters” from earlier that month. A dozen years later I still find his points very valuable. I want to work on things that will make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. And like Randall Munroe, “I never trust anyone who’s more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.”
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“The best defense is to spot trouble early when several options exist to deal with it. Cultivate your ability to decide quickly on a valid plan and put it into action. Don’t stand there unprepared in disbelief.”
A one tweet summary of:
“The greatest defensive skill is awareness; the ability to spot trouble early enough that several options exist for dealing with it. The second greatest defensive skill is the ability to quickly decide on a valid plan for dealing with that trouble and putting that plan into action.
What we should avoid at all costs is just standing there with our mouth open – “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe this is happening! Now what do I do?”
The first step, of course, is to have a plan; actually, several plans from which we choose the plan most appropriate to the specific situation.”
Jim Wilson “Making Quick Decisions“
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“Most people aren’t appreciated enough, and the bravest things we do in our lives are usually known only to ourselves. No one throws ticker tape on the man who chose to be faithful to his wife, on the lawyer who didn’t take the drug money, on the daughter who held her tongue again and again. All this anonymous heroism.”
Peggy Noonan in “What I Saw At The Revolution” (Chapter 13 “Challenger”)
h/t Sunbeams Issue 349; here is a longer excerpt from the beginning of the Challenger chapter.
“I love eulogies. They are the most moving kind of speech because they attempt to pluck meaning from the fog, and on short order, when the emotions are still ragged and raw and susceptible to leaps. It is a challenge to look at a life and organize our thoughts about it and try to explain to ourselves what it meant, and the most moving part is the element of implicit celebration. Most people aren’t appreciated enough, and the bravest things we do in our lives are usually known only to ourselves. No one throws ticker tape on the man who chose to be faithful to his wife, on the lawyer who didn’t take the drug money, or the daughter who held her tongue again and again. All this anonymous heroism. A eulogy gives us a chance to celebrate it.”
Don’t wait for the eulogy to thank someone for the first time for their contribution. Also, as I advised in “Uncle’s Day,” don’t wait to reconnect with folks who have made a difference in your life.
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“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
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“We are all part of interlocking partially overlapping groups, networks and communities. We can really only prosper if other folks in our group, network, or community also prosper. Not that there isn’t competition, and fierce competition in a downturn, but few other firms are your direct competitor, and many can be partners of varying levels of engagement.”
A flashback from Nov-18-2008: the concluding paragraph to my blog post “Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation Worth Revisiting.” Still true and more relevant given the current economic outlook. I originally curated this in Quotes For Entrepreneurs–February 2013 which tells me I was pessimistic about the near term then as well.
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“I think it’s insane to quit your job and start as a soloist on Monday morning. It’s economically unfeasible and too high risk. What you ought to do is become a soloist at 8:00 on Thursday night. Or 7:00 on Saturday morning.”
Seth Godin in Solo Project Episode 8: Seth Godin
You can expose yourself to the realities of entrepreneurship–or freelancing for that matter–in small doses. Start in the shallow end of the pool where it’s safe to fail but you can make mistakes that you learn from.
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“Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.”
Shanghai Covid drone script month of April 2022
If you saw this in a science fiction movie you would find it unbelievable.” William Gibson advised, “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” How do we take this as a useful warning and act to prevent it?
“The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.”
Or at least to limit the diffusion of this particularly innovative milestone in man’s inhumanity to man.
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“We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story.”
Mary McCarthy in “Characters in Fiction” Partisan Review, March/April 1961
This reminds me of a quotes by Joe Rogan and Mignon McLaughlin
If your life was a movie and it started now.
Forget about whatever financial disasters you’ve had, personal failures, relationship failures.
What would the hero of your life’s movie do right now?
Do those things.
Joe Rogan “Be the Hero of Your Own Movie“
I like this carpe diem (“seize the day”) mindset, one I see successful bootstrappers develop.
“Even cowards can endure hardship, only the brave can endure suspense.”
I really like this quote, I have used four times:
- Success for a Bootstrapper
- Quotes For Entrepreneurs–June 2011
- Living in Anticipation With Schrodinger’s Leads
- Quotes For Entrepreneurs–April 2015
“Try as we will, we cannot honestly recall our youth, for we have lost its main ingredient: suspense.
I used this in “Picked Up And Moved Heavy Objects Without Getting Hurt”
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There are huge skill differences between
- Understanding customer pain. [Easiest of 3]
- Deciding if your product should even solve that pain. [Should Often Be No]
- If Yes, how to solve it in a way that creates differentiation. [Where fortunes are made]
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“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.”
Robert Henri in “The Art Spirit“
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“The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by it’s nature wants to fly, and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly.
A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other, and if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance the helicopter stops flying; immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.
This is why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot, and why in general, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts and helicopter pilots are brooding introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if something bad has not happened it is about to.”
Harry Reasoner, ABC TV Evening News, 16 February 1971.
h/t Great Aviation Quotes–Pilots; I think bootstrapping a startup is closer to flying a helicopter, taking venture capital is signing up for a rocket ride. Only about 10% reach orbit.
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This is the wisdom of the Rumpelstiltskin story. The young woman marries a king who locks her in a cell until she is able to spin flax into gold. She despairs at the impossible task, until an elf shows up and says he’ll show her how. He does so. She asks how she can thank him, and he says all he wants is her firstborn child. And she must give him her child until, or unless, she figures out his name. She is terrified and clueless, but she knows she must try. Eventually, after committing to the task, she guesses his name. What prompted her, frightened though she was, to break the sick cycle? She would not visit her plight upon her child.
“Over the last two years in America, I’ve witnessed our own forces of evil with incredulity, despair, and rage. It is time for us all to overcome the occupation by standing up to those tyrannies under which we are not prepared to live.”
David Mamet in “American Occupation“
In good times and bad, I ask myself, am I leaving a better world for my children. It helps me focus on becoming a better father, grandfather, and steward in the communities I am a member of.
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I have a design tool I call “Don’t Solve the Hard Problem” that consists of three steps
- Identify: What is the expensive, difficult aspect of delivering on a highly desired user promise?
- Clarify: What is the actual root of the promise?
- Cheat: What is the the cheapest way possible to actually deliver on the root promise?
I’m constantly cheering on folks who ARE trying to solve the hard problems. It is the foundational work that moves the horizon of cheap solutions forward.
As a final note, when identifying hard problem, look for the bodies. Is there a history of smart people spending money and blood in this area with poor results? Is there a slightly different problem to solve? One delivers what folks need, not what you’ve been told they want?
I like his “look for the bodies.” In fact I would “picnic in the graveyard” and study prior attempts that failed. As Frank H. Westheimer observed, “A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library.” I explored the value of research in “The Phoenix Checklist for Framing a Problem and Its Solution.” Daniel Cook has a great blog, start at https://lostgarden.home.blog/worth-reading/
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“energy is contagious
laughter is infectious
hope is epidemic
dreams are sometimes catching
respond, vibrate, feed back, resonate”
Good news, hope, and optimism are also viral. I think you have to embrace the “The Stockdale Paradox.”
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“It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand. It stops us from taking anything for granted. It has also taught me a lot about living in the immediate moment. I am somehow managing to live one day, one hour at a time. I have to.”
Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) in “The Summer of the Great Grandmother.“
L’Engle is watching her mother succumb to dementia waiting to hear from her husband who has scheduled a visit to a neurologist because of persistent numbness in his feet. The news is good, he has diabetes–which can be controlled–and not a brain tumor. I think “what is rock under our feet and what is sand” is an allusion to Matthew 7:24-27
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
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“Empathy is not absolution. You can internalize the ideas of others and still vehemently disagree. Learning that not everyone thinks alike is one of life’s most valuable lessons. To build something that lasts, it’s much better if people do things for their own reasons, even if those reasons are different than yours. To achieve that, you have to understand their motivations.”
Greg Satell in “Four Myths that are Killing Business Today“
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“Product-Market fit is a measure of the relative fitness of a product solving a problem for a particular customer set at a point in time.”
Sean Murphy in “Product-Market Fit is a Fraction Not a Bit“
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“Has anyone coined a term for the general pattern here? The thing where you have an argument that will never be fully resolved, where the same pieces of evidence are rehashed forever, emotions run hot, and everyone just agrees to be dumb as a rock in public to make it stop?”
Mason Hartman (@webdevMason)
- Agree to disagree
- Reasonable people may differ on this
- There are arguments on both sides
- It depends
- There are trade-offs both ways
At Cisco, this was a “how long is a piece of string?” question. The answer: it depends. (I was surprised to see this phrase dates from the 1880’s).
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“We act sometimes like eight years old playing soccer.
Here is the ball, we are all at the ball. And we don’t cover the rest of the field.”
Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of International Monetary Fund quoted in “Maybe we printed too much money without thinking of the unintended consequences“
This reminds me of this quote I used in “Nuts, Bolts and Jolts by Richard Moran”
“Easy projects, easy sales, or hot new business opportunities are like children’s soccer; everyone clusters around the ball.”
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“No one ever understood disaster until it came.”
Josephine Herbst in “Nothing Is Sacred” (1928)
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“History is lived forward but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never recapture what it was to know the beginning only.”
C. V. Wedgewood in “William the Silent: William of Nassau, Prince of Orange 1533-1584” [Archive]
A somewhat similar insight to Soren Kierkegaard’s lament that, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Wedgewood’s observation offers some useful guidance for learning for history: don’t work backward from what we know the result to be but comprehend the range of possibilities that were present.
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“We judge mental habits by whether the opinions they lead to are for the most part true, or are more often true than those which alternative habits would lead to.”
Frank P. Ramsey in “Truth and Probability” (1926) [PDF]
I like this utilitarian approach to evaluating mental models and reasoning methods. It reminds me of
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
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“If you can keep your head when all about are losing theirs, it’s just possible that you haven’t grasped the situation.”
Jean Kerr in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”
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“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.”
Michel de Montaigne
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“My preparation had made me fearless, and I had no expectations. There’s nothing like preparation to make you fearless.”
“Preparation is the sign of your intention. You can allow your preparedness to speak for you in rooms you care about.”
Preparation is another way to manage your fears and prepare for potential problems. See “Leslie Odom, Jr. on Failing Up” for more.
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“I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting sick of their own bullshit.”
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“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot. And, alas, a temptation to pronounce it, similar to an acute itching, becomes an obsession which doesn’t allow one to think of anything else.”
Czeslaw Milosz in his 1980 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
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“Pay attention, here’s the thick of the plot.”
Jeffrey Townes, Peter Brian Harris, Will Smith “Parents Don’t Just Understand”
If only important events gave you a heads-up. While some do, many don’t.
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“Sometimes snakes can’t slough. They can’t burst their old skin. Then they go sick and die inside the old skin, and nobody ever sees the new pattern. It needs a real desperate recklessness to burst your old skin at last. You simply don’t care what happens to you, if you rip yourself in two, so long as you do get out.”
D. H. Lawrence in “Studies in Classic American Literature” Chapter 5: Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels
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“If things are acting very strangely, consider that you may be in a feedback situation.”
John Gall Systemantics: The Systems Bible
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