Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in December 2023

Theme for December 2023 quotes for entrepreneurs is books and reading.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs Curated in December 2023

My theme for this month’s quotes for entrepreneurs is books and reading.

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“Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom. Reading–even browsing–an old book can yield sustenance denied by a database search.”
James Gleick in “The Information

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“There is an appropriate scale to every human activity and it is the scale of personal responsibility, which sets the limits of and is determined by knowledge.”
Timothy Wallis in Wendell Berry on Ignorance

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“Don’t ask customers what they want. Measure what they do.”
Ash Maurya (@ashmaurya)

I agree with Ash, it should be “Measure – Learn – Build.” Lean Startup has it backwards.

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“General Melchett: If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.”
Black Adder Goes Forth episode “Private Plane” (written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton)

There are some importance differences between persevering, tenacious, and stubborn. And of course willful stupid blindness is in another category entirely. Persevere but don’t be stubborn or blind about it. I blogged about this in 2008 in Be Careful How You Tell Yourself “The Story So Far”

“Stubbornness is the energy of fools.”
German Proverb

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“If the books which you read are your own, mark with a pen or pencil the most considerable things in them which you desire to remember. Then you may read that book the second time over with half the trouble, by your eye running over the paragraphs which your pencil has noted.

It is but a very weak objection against this practice to say, I shall spoil my book; for I persuade myself that you did not buy it as a bookseller, to sell again for gain, but as a scholar, to improve your mind by it; and if the mind be improved, your advantage is abundant, through your book yields less money to your executors.”

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) in “Logic on the Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry after Truth (1724)”

h/t WIST (Dave Hill); I do this. I will take notes of the pages with key excerpts and mark them in a front page or back page of the book. If I am more diligent I will use a piece of paper folded as a bookmark when I plan to blog about the book.

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“The danger of inadequate information is so great that the challenge of noise and misinformation has usually been accepted to obtain raw data. There is a survival aspect to freedom of speech that brought it into existence, and people would rather hear and make up their minds about something than not hear at all. While filtering in uncensored
systems still exists (there may be a lot of it) its position in the message flow shifts to an a posteriori by the users themselves, rather than a priori by the provider.”
Richard Fernandez “A Society Convinced it needs Seeing Eye Dogs


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Image credit  Management Speak 

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“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Haruki Murakami

Entrepreneurs need to cultivate contrarian insights that are accurate, they need to read widely to avoid getting trapped in the current consensus.

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“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”
Abraham Lincoln quoted in “Best Lincoln Stories Tersely” Told By J. E. Gallaher (1898) [Gutenberg]

A longer version of from a story “Lincoln’s Fairness in Debate:”

“[Lincoln] remarked how much he felt the need of reading and what a loss it was to a man not to have grown up among books.

“Men of force,” I answered, “can get on pretty well without books. They do their own thinking instead of adopting what other men think.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Lincoln, “but books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new, after all.”

Best Lincoln Stories Tersely” Told By J. E. Gallaher (1898) [Gutenberg]

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“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

I carry index cards (3×5 cards) to capture notes and ideas in the moment. I keep graph paper by my bedside as I often get ideas just as I am falling asleep or as I am waking up. Related quote:

Notecards and Pens
I don’t actually carry my portable computer everywhere, but I always carry my notecards and at least two pens. People laugh at me for looking like a geek with my notecards and pencils in my breast pocket—but I’ve noticed that nobody who’s laughed has ever written a book. My goal is never to be more than five seconds away from being able to capture a fine phrase or intelligent idea.
Gerald Weinberg in “Weinberg on Writing: the Fieldstone Method

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“I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”
Galadriel to Gimli in “Fellowship of the Ring” by JRR Tolkien

I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was 12 or 13 and missed much of the nuance. I have re-read a good chunk of “The Two Towers” and now marvel at Tolkien’s insights. This variation on “money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master” is well written “your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.” This is a good perspective for entrepreneurs and investors to cultivate: money is a tool, a means not an end.

Longer passage for context:

Yet surely, Gimli son of Glóin, you desire something that I could give? Name it, I bid you! You shall not be the only guest without a gift.’
‘There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,’ said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. ‘Nothing, unless it might be – unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.’
The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. ‘It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,’ she said; ‘yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous. And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak? But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?’
‘Treasure it, Lady,’ he answered, ‘in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.’
Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand. ‘These words shall go with the gift,’ she said. ‘I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.’
“Fellowship of the Ring” by JRR Tolkien

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“Amid the vast modern network of universities, corporate laboratories, and national science foundations has arisen an awareness that the best financed and best organized of research enterprises have not learned to engender, perhaps not even to recognize, world-tuning originality.”
James Gleick (1992). Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.

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“The process of innovation and progress is not just one of universe-denting advances and grand narratives. We valorize these stories, and they are important for understanding how our world changes. But it is also—and sometimes mainly—the processes of incremental change, recombining ideas, and tinkering that lead to innovative change. And essential within this is the role of individuals who can provide a kind of catalytic influence: people who can lower the activation energy of the adjacent possible.”

Samuel Arbesman in “The Subtle Magic of Catalyzing Change

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“We will build the country of other opportunities — the one where all are equal before the law and where all the rules are honest and transparent, the same for everyone. And for that, we need people in power who will serve the people. This is why I really do not want my pictures in your offices, for the President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Inaugural Address May-20-2019

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Articulate what you believe to be true as carefully as possible

How to tell if you are speaking authentically.

Listen to yourself talk, as if a stranger was talking. Try not to identify too much with what you are saying. Then, observe. See if what you are saying makes you feel stronger, physically, or weaker. If it makes you feel weaker, stop saying it. Try to reformulate your speech until you can feel the ground under your feet solidifying. Then practice only saying things that make you strong.

Stop trying to use your speech to get what you want. You don’t necessarily know what you want. Instead, try to articulate what you believe to be true as carefully as possible. Then, accept the outcome. Assume that your truth, as lived and spoken, will produce the best possible outcome.

It’s an act of faith. But so is every other way of being.
Jordan Peterson “Authentic Speech

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Strangers: Angels and Teachers in Disguise

Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.”

Sam Keen “Hymns to an unknown God: awakening the spirit in everyday life” (1995)

Successful entrepreneurs draw insights from prospects, partners, customers, and competitors. They listen to anyone who has an informed perspective on their product and business.

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“To be a man is to live with a resilient fear that your life simply does not matter. The respect that matters most to men is recognition that their presence and labor matter.”

Samuel James in “Let Me Live Again.

It’s a good essay on one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which I blogged about on Christmas Eve of 2015 in “No Man is a failure who as friends.”

Most bootstrappers I meet find their purpose in making a difference in their customers’ lives–and making a living. I think one of the most common fears is contained in the question: “Am I making a fool of myself? I believe this is a variation on what James is writing about: the desire for respect based on contribution and accomplishment.

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Where the whole man is involved, there is no work.
Work does not exist in a nonliterate world. The primitive hunter or fisherman did no work, any more than does the poet, painter, or thinker of today. Where the whole man is involved there is no work. Work begins with the division of labor and the specialization of functions and tasks in sedentary, agricultural communities. In the computer age we are once more totally involved in our roles. In the electric age the “job of work”‘ yields to dedication and commitment, as in the tribe.

Marshall McLuhan in “Understanding Media: The extensions of man” [PDF]

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Sweden’s constitution has a specific approach to crisis management. It enshrines three principles:

  • responsibility:  normal regional authorities retain their jurisdiction during a crisis,
  • similarity: business-as-usual is an explicit virtue and goal, so that policies during a crisis should be as similar to normal as possible,
  • proximity: the lowest devolved authority should retain responsibility unless that is absolutely impossible.

Freddie Sayers in Anders Tegnell’s Lessons For the Covid Inquiry

I think these are also good guidelines for navigating a crisis in a startup. They run counter to the common belief to “never let a crisis go to waste,” which leads many astray. The fundamental question is whether you are looking at a harbinger or an outlier. If it’s the former, your foresight will be rewarded by making changes early. But I think entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to apophenia or seeing patterns or connections that are noise or part of normal variation and not an emerging paradigm.

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“Uncertainty can bring both good and bad. Don’t just hedge for the bad.”
Sean McClure (@Sean_A_McClure)

Entrepreneurs look for lopsided bets or situations with lopsided outcomes, where there are risks but the upside is much larger than the downside. If you have unique  insight into how to minimize a set of losses then an ordinary situation can present a lopsided bet.

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“The hierarchy between journalist and reader is collapsing. Readers can publish their messages as easy as professional journalists. The difference is, that the job of citizen journalist is not work–it is participation. It is a membership of a tribe.”
Alex Kuskis in “Understanding Online Social Media – 50 years later” (2013)

The rise of tools for analysis, curation/remix, timelines, mapping have provided writers with more options and leveled the playing field even further between journalists and bloggers.

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He paused, and then said slowly in a deep voice: ‘This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it — but he must not get it.”

Frodo sat silent and motionless. Fear seemed to stretch out a vast hand, like a dark cloud rising in the East and looming wouto’ ensulf him: “This ring!’ he»stammered. ‘How, how on earth did it come to me?’

“Ah!,” said Gandalf. “That is a very long story.” […]

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.

J. R. R. Tolkien in “The Fellowship of the Ring” [book]

I would also apply “I wish it need not have happened in my time” to 2022–but not 2023. I worry that somewhere in 2024 to 2026 we face a larger set of challenges and an inflection point in our zeitgeist. This was George Friedman’s thesis in “The Storm Before the Calm” and it seem more likely to me now than when I first read it in November 2022.

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“There are only two people who can tell you the truth about yourself–an enemy who has lost his temper and a friend who loves you dearly.”

Mastermind – who sees your blind spot first? Who will spot the gaps in your strategy for 2024 first: competitors or trusted peers and advisors?

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“Have we not all, amid life’s petty strife,
Some pure ideal of a noble life
That once seemed possible? Did we not hear
The flutter of its wings, and feel it near,
And just within our reach? It was. And yet
We lost it in this daily jar and fret,
And now live idle in a vague regret.
But still our place is kept , and it will wait,
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late:
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
Adelaide Anne Procter in “A Legend of Provence

Garson O’Toole (@QuoteResearch) traces these to two lines in “A Legend of Provence” (bolding added) as the likely source for  “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” A phrase commonly attributed to George Eliot, it has never been found in any of her published works. I posted this on Dec-30, the penultimate date of 2023 with the idea that even if I cannot make some things happen this year there is still time in 2024.

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“Instead of New Year’s resolutions, let’s have some New Year’s realizations. Because nothing you attempt to change is going to stick if you remain stuck in your same old bullshit.”
Kyle Creek (@sgrstk)

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“Progress comes from the intelligent use of experience.”
Elbert Hubbard

True for an individual, team, firm, and society.

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“The Christmas season is a sort of measuring stick. What is good in bourgeois civilization is concentrated in this season of beauty and merriment. Against this bar all creeds, all claimed paths to excellence, all cults of eudaimonia, may be measured. Against this bar most are found wanting.”

Tanner Greer in “Christmas Day as Judgement Day

A thought-provoking perspective on Christmas Day–the Christmas season really–as it has evolved over the last two hundred years.

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“Nothing is so under-appreciated as the collateral good done by simple people seeking their own honest ends.”
Robert Brault

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Think of 10X growth as a series of three consecutive doublings.
Ash Maurya (@ashmaurya)

I think this is a useful framing because it’s much easier to plan and understand the implications of a doubling than a ten-fold increase in scale. You can plan on moving a constraint by a factor of ten, but it’s hard to see the system implications for what challenges emerge.

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I am staying up for the New Year, not so much to see the old one out as to discourage 2022 from making a U-turn and returning with a second cornucopia of insanity. It’s possible Father Time used 2022 for practice and we will long for the end of 2024 more fervently than 2023.

My hope is that 2024 will be marked improvement over 2022 and 2023, but as @AscendantPower advised on Dec-27-2023:

  1. Pray for the most desirable.
  2. Plan for the most probable.
  3. Prepare for the most painful.

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