Posts for Quote Category

Success = luck + how you deal with it

Quote - Joe Campbell - November 20, 2017

Kevin Systrom, one of the co-founders of Instagram, ended his NPR “How I Built This” with an interesting theory about life and success:

I have this thesis that the world runs on luck. The question is what you do with it.

Everyone gets lucky for some amount in their life. And the question is, are you alert enough to know you’re being lucky or you’re becoming lucky?

Are you talented enough to take that advantage and run with it? And do you have enough grit, enough resilience, to stay with it when it gets hard?

Because everyone gets lucky in minimal ways every week. You find a dollar on the ground, you get a break at work to work on a cool project, or you meet someone really interesting. The difference between people who succeed in the long-run and people who don’t is that optimism that you got lucky and now it’s yours to make awesome.

Kenny Rogers had a similar insight on a different level of success:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

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The best ROI

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 23, 2017

Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last writes:

Marine leaders are expected to eat last because the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.

Leaders don’t cut the line waiting for the elevator. They don’t threaten their employees. They don’t claim all credit, as if they made themselves successful with hard work.

Leaders don’t get to be leaders because they’re bossy. They realize that leadership, like success, is a privilege, which comes with responsibilities.

But, a shrewd leader realizes:

The point is, invest in your team. They will provide you with better ROI than any other investment. And without them, there is no company.

Jinny Oh, founder of Wander. Read her whole post.

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Crazy enough to think you will succeed…

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 20, 2017

As someone launching a new venture (or reinventing an established one), you are signing up for long days, sleepless nights, and maybe some missed birthday parties. You will hire people who need to believe in you and your idea enough to be willing to make the same sacrifices. To do all this, you have to be crazy enough to think you will succeed, but sane enough to make it happen. This requires commitment, tenacity, and most of all, single-mindedness. When Israeli tank commanders head into combat, they don’t yell “Charge!” Rather, they rally their troops by shouting “Ah’cha’rye,” which translates from Hebrew as “Follow me.” Anyone

Eric Schmidt and Rosenberg, Jonathan in How Google Works (Kindle Locations 837-842). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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To be more human…

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 19, 2017

My favorite slide from my GlobalLink NEXT presentation:

Technology and machines need to enable humans to be more human

It has also now sparked a serious consideration for a career change. I want to be a cyborg anthropologist!

But really…from Amber Case’s TED talk, which is from 2010, but more prescient today than it seemed then:

[The planet Earth] has its own external prosthetic devices, and these devices are helping us all to communicate and interact with each other. But when you actually visualize it, all the connections that we’re doing right now — [the main image on this post is] the mapping of the Internet — it doesn’t look technological. It actually looks very organic. This is the first time in the entire history of humanity that we’ve connected in this way. And it’s not that machines are taking over.It’s that they’re helping us to be more human, helping us to connect with each other.

The most successful technology gets out of the way and helps us live our lives. And really, it ends up being more human than technology, because we’re co-creating each other all the time. And so this is the important point that I like to study: that things are beautiful, that it’s still a human connection — it’s just done in a different way. We’re just increasing our humanness and our ability to connect with each other, regardless of geography. So that’s why I study cyborg anthropology.

To me, this is exactly what I aspire to – to work with a team of dedicated folks to make something that helps customers accomplish something more easily and efficiently, and that in the end, allows them to be more human. Something that helps them cull the data they have into the data they need. Something that gives them the freedom to exercise their own human judgment.

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Data: the new industrial revolution

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 18, 2017

But data isn’t enough.

At the Tableau Conference in Las Vegas last week, Steven Levitt shared an insight especially directed to the crowd of 15,000 business analysts and data junkies at the conference:

You need to ask the right question. Bumbling around in data doesn’t lead to answers. You need insight.

I wrote it down – because it called to mind something that had just struck me in a podcast:

In mathematics, someone instinctively believes something, and then they set about to prove it or disprove it. But the mathematics they use to prove the theorem – that isn’t the mental process they use to generate the theorem in the first place.

This causes people to think there might be a process for doing this stuff, that if followed, must work every time.

The thesis in both cases is that data is essential – but it’s not enough. It’s not what leads to insight and innovation. In each case, what leads us there is human imagination and judgment. This is a timely message as more and more of our largest companies focus on machine learning and data harvesting, and as the consequences of that begin to come home. Cathy O’Neil wrote about the dangers of  big data and algorithms last year:

The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Kindle Locations 95-99). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

The conclusion is inescapable. Data isn’t enough. Just like machine learning isn’t enough. And technology isn’t enough. All of these things are tools. We can become Luddites, trying to ignore the data economy around us, unable to figure out how to use Apple ear pods, or…we can use our uniquely human moral imagination, quoting Cathy O’Neil again:

Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that’s something only humans can provide. We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating Big Data models that follow our ethical lead. Sometimes that will mean putting fairness ahead of profit.

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Are human beings redundant?

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 16, 2017

Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group, interviewed on the Knowledge Project podcast, gave a great example of the what gets lost in automation, talking about the difference between an automated door and a doorman, pointing out that while an automated door offers the main benefit, it misses the ancillary benefits of a doorman from security to status to accepting deliveries:

This is a criticism that I have for Silicon Valley, that what they often do is they take something that a human does, they define it’s role very, very narrowly, devise an algorithm or technology which replaces that very narrow role and then assumes that the human being has become redundant…

You realize that what Silicon Valley is doing is sometimes they take the simplest and most salient part of someone’s job, replacing that, and then leaving the rest of the functions to go hang…

Quite a lot of these [jobs] have evolved to have multiple purposes of which one may be the most obvious; but that doesn’t mean if you replace the one with a technological solution, that all three somehow become miraculously technologized…

I’ve been to 3 conferences in the past 3 weeks: GlobalLink NEXT (for clients of’s translation and localization technologies); Tableau 2017 (for analysts and business intelligence experts); and SlatorCon New York (focusing on language services). Each of them has focused a lot on two concepts:

  • The growing importance of machine learning to businesses; and
  • How this machine learning still points to the paramount importance of people to an organization.

I’ll be writing about these concepts more in the coming weeks – as I think navigating between these two concepts will be the key for any organization in the coming decade.

A special thanks to Shane Madden of TransPerfect for pointing me to this podcast. As he said… It was brilliant.


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Water seeks its own level

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 9, 2017

As my father used to say:  Water seeks its own level.  I never knew what that meant as kid, but what I’ve learned as an adult is that it means if you do the right thing, over a long period, build love and trust with enough people and help make them successful, then you’ll be OK…maybe even better than OK.

Phil Shawe on ethics and karma.

Especially in an age with politics and current events as dark as ours has gotten, as corruption is rewarded and an obstinate refusal to negotiate results in windfall power, it’s important to realize that what you do matters over a long enough time horizon. To act honorably, and to realize that in the end, to quote clergyman Theodore Parker:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice…

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The largest group of people you can convince to build a different future

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 5, 2017

New technology tends to come from new ventures — startups. From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild Semiconductor’s “traitorous eight” in business, small groups of people bound together by some sense of mission have changed the world for the better. The easiest explanation for this is negative: it’s hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it’s even harder to do it by yourself. Bureaucratic hierarchies move slowly, and entrenched interests shy away from risk. In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (if this describes your company, you should quit now). At the other extreme, a lone genius might create a classic work of art or literature, but he could never create an entire industry. Startups work on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can.

Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future. A new company’s most important strength is new thinking: even more important than nimbleness, small size affords space to think…[T]hat is what a startup has to do: question received ideas and rethink business from scratch.

Peter Thiel in the introduction to Zero to One.

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Building systems beyond our ability to intellectually manage

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 4, 2017

One of the smartest articles on software development and what it means that I’ve read:

Software is different. Just by editing the text in a file somewhere, the same hunk of silicon can become an autopilot or an inventory-control system. This flexibility is software’s miracle, and its curse. Because it can be changed cheaply, software is constantly changed; and because it’s unmoored from anything physical—a program that is a thousand times more complex than another takes up the same actual space—it tends to grow without bound. “The problem,” Leveson wrote in a book, “is that we are attempting to build systems that are beyond our ability to intellectually manage.”

Our standard framework for thinking about engineering failures—reflected, for instance, in regulations for medical devices—was developed shortly after World War II, before the advent of software, for electromechanical systems. The idea was that you make something reliable by making its parts reliable (say, you build your engine to withstand 40,000 takeoff-and-landing cycles) and by planning for the breakdown of those parts (you have two engines). But software doesn’t break…[In the case of major failures such as with Intrado:] The software did exactly what it was told to do. In fact it did it perfectly. The reason it failed is that it was told to do the wrong thing. Software failures are failures of understanding, and of imagination…

This is the trouble with making things out of code, as opposed to something physical. “The complexity,” as Leveson puts it, “is invisible to the eye.”

James Somers on The Coming Software Apocalypse in the Atlantic.

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Done is better than perfect

Quote - Joe Campbell - October 2, 2017

Another one of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters, “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst. I agree completely with the advice offered by Nora Ephron in her Wellesley commencement speech when she addressed the issue of women having both a career and family. Ephron insisted, “It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.

Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In on page 125.

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