Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in May 2022

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in May 2022, theme is genius.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in May 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 genius.

Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.


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“We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.”
Stephen Vincent Benet in “A Litany for Dictatorships” (1935)

This is a repeat, I used it in “Quotes For Entrepreneurs – November 2008.”  I suggested that it was good advice for first time managers and CEO’s. I included a long excerpt from Benet’s “By The Waters of Babylon”  in “Kenopsia: Bare Ruined Choirs Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.”

“He was sitting in his chair, by the window, in a room I had not entered before and, for the first moment, I thought that he was alive. Then I saw the skin on the back of his hand–it was like dry leather. The room was shut, hot and dry–no doubt that had kept him as he was. At first I was afraid to approach him–then the fear left me. He was sitting looking out over the city–he was dressed in the clothes of the gods. His age was neither young nor old–I could not tell his age. But there was wisdom in his face and great sadness. You could see that he would have not run away. He had sat at his window, watching his city die–then he himself had died. But it is better to lose one’s life than one’s spirit–and you could see from the face that his spirit had not been lost. I knew, that, if I touched him, he would fall into dust–and yet, there was something unconquered in the face.”
By The Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benet

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“The idea behind our Java strategy was that the smartest people in the world don’t all work for us. Most of them work for someone else. The trick is to make it worthwhile for the great people outside your company to support your technology. Innovation moves faster when the people elsewhere are working on the problem with you.”
Bill Joy quoted in “Whose Internet is it Anyway” by Brent Schlender in Fortune Dec-11-1995

h/t Quote Investigator Smartest People Work Elsewhere”

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“What you do on your bad days matters more than what you do on your good days.”

A great way to understand yourself is to seriously reflect on everything you find irritating in others.

Two good pieces of  advice from Kevin Kelly in “103 bits of advice I wish I had known

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One of the less obvious reasons I’ve learned to not burn cash too quickly is that it can take longer than you think to arrive at important insights. Time has a way of offering you more odds of getting lucky & giving you room to make trajectory changing discoveries.

It’s very hard to parallelize learning deeply. I think you have to tinker, give yourself a little room to fail and flail about, and explore. Maybe stumble upon something accidentally. So if you go out and hire 18 people to deliver on a hypothesis too soon, you disadvantage yourself.

Time also has a way to solve your problems unexpectedly. Time has fixed my unit economics. Time has helped me make a critical hire to solve a hard problem. Time has helped me come up with better product ideas when I had few great ones.
Suhail Doshi (@Suhail)

This is a great insight. Successful bootstrappers value learning and are helpful and trustworthy so they can barter for insights and assistance. Cash is handy for many things, but wealthy startups can be tempted to throw money at a problem better managed by developing expertise. Related blog posts

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“Genius is not a possession of the limited few, but exists in some degree in everyone. Where there is natural growth, a full and free play of faculties, genius will manifest itself. The disposition to preconceive one’s degree of genius, or the quality of it, is a mistake, for this preconception is a limitation
Robert Henri in “The Art Spirit

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“Genius is really only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it—so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved success. As the tide goes clear out, so it comes clear in. In business, sometimes prospects may seem darkest when really they are on the turn. A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success. There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.”
from “Keeping Everlastingly At It Brings Success” 1895 June 1, Mining and Scientific Press, Volume 70, Number 22, Page 344, Column 3, San Francisco, California.

h/t Quote Investigator.

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“A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.”
Carlo M. Cipolla in “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

So an intelligent person finds a win-win, they look for situations where they can help others realize a gain, and realize a gain while doing so.

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“The main reason why people are so bad in predicting the future is that they underestimate how different the present is from the (recent) past. And that lack of historical thinking leads to underestimating how different the things will be in the (near) future. That’s why people presumptuously rule out possibility of sudden and abrupt changes.

As a general rule we underestimate how dynamic this world is. We also tend to forget that major Metamorphoses, though happening over the years, reveal themselves suddenly and abruptly. That’s why we are so shocked after every such revelation. And again. And again. And again.

My theory for the main reason why we are so bad in predictions is that we seek psychological comfort more than intellectual integrity. We are so attached to the delusions of “consistency” and “immutability” that it destroys our ability to make accurate prognoses in a dynamic world.

Kamil Galeev (@kamilkazani) in Tweet Mon-May-9-2022

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“A word to the wise is unnecessary”
Kin Hubbard in “Abe Martin’s Almanack” (1908)

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“Knowledge cannot be changed, but the use to which it may be put can very easily be changed.”
Phyllis Bottome in “The Mortal Storm” (1937)

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“The line which genius dashes off at one stroke, talent may, in lucky hours, construct by minute dots.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

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“An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.”
Edward De Bono

This echoes a quote by Shunryu Suzuki in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” I collected in November 2016

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
Shunryu Suzuki in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I also referenced the Suzuki quote in “Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a Writer:’ 6 Tips for Entrepreneurs” to point out that it has another, less appreciated meaning: a beginner, or someone who can recapture the wonder of a child, can once more see many possibilities.

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“But it’s much more than fighting for their very survival. They have done it very, very impressively. The entire nation has been galvanized by a leader who has been positively Churchillian. There are four tasks of strategic leadership, and President Zelensky has performed each of these brilliantly. First, he has got the overarching big ideas right. Second, he has communicated the big ideas effectively throughout Ukraine and around the world. Third, he has overseen the implementation of the big ideas relentlessly. And, fourth, he has determined how he needs to refine the big ideas again and again.”

David Petraeus in “Putin Still Has a Lot Left to Lose”

I like his four tasks of strategic leadership:

  1. Get the overarching big ideas right.
  2. Communicate them effectively.
  3. Oversee their implementation relentlessly.
  4. Determine how they need to be refined again and again.

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“The government were in their sixth year of trying to cut crime by reducing the number of active police officers.”
Ben Aaronovitch in “Amongst our Weapons

“Amongst Our Weapons” is the ninth book in Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” series that cleverly mixes urban fantasy with police procedural. I have profiled five books in the series:

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“Genius points the way; talent pursues it.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Reminds me of a quote I curated in July 2014 and referenced in “The Phoenix Checklist for Framing a Problem and Its Solution

“I make all my decisions on intuition. I throw a spear into the darkness. That is intuition.
Then I must send an army into the darkness to find the spear. That is intellect.”
Ingmar Bergman from “Ingmar Bergman Confides in Students” New York Times, May 7, 1981

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“The correct image of the improvement process a stairway, not a ramp.
The treads represent running a stable process for a number of iterations.
The risers represent improving the process.”
L. David Marquet (@LDavidMarquet)

Marquet is the author of “Turn the Ship Around!” a fantastic book on managing highly skilled and expert teams. Another model is a “salmon ladder” where each effort to improve involves a small setback to reflect the cost of experimentation and transition before settling into a higher performance level. See “Chalk Talk on Technology Adoption.”

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“It’s wonderful what we can do if we’re always doing.”
George Washington

One path to “always doing” is to make plans with branches and sequels. Branches are the next best thing to try when the first thing does not work–and the third best thing to try when the first two don’t work. Sequels are what you will do to exploit your success if and when the first step works, and a plan for exploiting that step if and when it works. Of course, it’s always a good idea to pause and reflect, but it’s as valuable to prepare branches and sequels when you do.

Another way to “always be doing” is to have a plan for making use of the small blocks of time that inevitably crop up in your schedule. For example, bring a book and arrive early. Take ten minutes for a short walk to recharge after a long block of work. Send a short thank you email–or better, a handwritten note.

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“It is not the sound of the ax that cuts the tree.”
William Stafford in “Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems by William Stafford

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CLIV: “Descartes, as we have seen, illustrates what he means by an innate idea, by the analogy of hereditary diseases or hereditary mental peculiarities, such as generosity. On the other hand, hereditary mental tendencies may justly be termed instincts; and still more appropriately might those special proclivities, which constitute what we call genius, come into the same category.”
Thomas Huxley in Aphorisms and Reflections

followed by

CLV:  The child who is impelled to draw as soon as it can hold a pencil; the Mozart who breaks out into music as early; the boy Bidder who worked out the most complicated sums without learning arithmetic; the boy Pascal who evolved Euclid out of his own consciousness: all these may be said to have been impelled by instinct, as much as are the beaver and the bee. And the man of genius is distinct in kind from the man of cleverness, by reason of the working within him of strong innate tendencies–which cultivation may improve, but which it can no more create than horticulture can make thistles bear figs. The analogy between a musical instrument and the mind holds good here also. Art and industry may get much music, of a sort, out of a penny whistle; but, when all is done, it has no chance against an organ. The innate musical potentialities of the two are infinitely different.

Thomas Huxley in Aphorisms and Reflections

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“One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity.”
Edward De Bono

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“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings”
Okakura Kakuzo in “The Book of Tea” [Gutenberg]

More context (bolding added)

“But the chief contribution of Taoism to Asiatic life has been in the realm of aesthetics. Chinese historians have always spoken of Taoism as the “art of being in the world,” for it deals with the present—ourselves. It is in us that God meets with Nature, and yesterday parts from to-morrow. The Present is the moving Infinity, the legitimate sphere of the Relative. Relativity seeks Adjustment; Adjustment is Art. The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. Taoism accepts the mundane as it is and, unlike the Confucians or the Buddhists, tries to find beauty in our world of woe and worry.”

Okakura Kakuzo in “The Book of Tea” [Gutenberg]

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“If a man has greatness in him, it comes to light not in one flamboyant hour but in the ledger of his daily work.”
Beryl Markham

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“The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not a man of honor.”
George Bernard Shaw in “The Doctor’s Dilemma” [Gutenberg]

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“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Two Towers

I used this excerpt from a speech by Faramir in Memorial Day 2022: Revisiting the Long Telegram. Here is a longer excerpt for more context:

“‘For myself,’ said Faramir, ‘I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.”

J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Two Towers

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There are two kinds of geniuses.  Let me elaborate a little. In science, as well as in other fields of human endeavor, there are two kinds of geniuses: the “ordinary” and the “magicians.’’

An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what he has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it.

It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician’s mind works.

Mark Kac in his autobiography “Enigmas of Chance


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