Inspirational quotes that unfortunately aren’t

Ever come across an inspirational quote by someone famous that crisply captures and conveys an important insight? Only to have the inspiration morph into irritation when you discover they never actually said it?

In 30+ years working with senior executives building innovative agile organisations, I’ve been inspired and irritated by a number of inspirational quotes that unfortunately aren’t.

Here are four of my ‘favourite’ famous non-quotes:


The significant problems we face will not be solved at the same level of thinking that created them


Attributed to Albert Einstein

Why I like it as an inspirational quote: Most organisations fail to become innovative and agile because key influencers (the people who affect everyone and everything else) are trapped in old perspectives. Innovative agile organisation are built on the innovative mindsets that people cultivate when they recognise, accept and operate from the awareness that all any of us ever has is a partial, biased and one-sided ‘2D’ perspective on the bigger picture ‘3D’ reality. In other words, none of us is as smart as all of us – and building innovative agile organisations involves cultivating thinking at a different level than created current organisational reality.1


“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”.

Attributed to The Talmud

Why I like it as an inspirational quote: The veterinarian sees the pig as a patient. The farmer sees the same pig as money. The butcher sees the same pig as meat. The more ingrained the awareness of ‘being’ a vet, ‘being’ a farmer, or ‘being’ a butcher, the greater the conviction that ‘seeing’ the patient, ‘seeing’ the money, or ‘seeing’ the meat is ‘seeing the reality’. In organisations, ‘Seeing-Being Traps’ such as ‘I’m the decision maker’, ‘I’m the expert’, ‘I’m the resource controller’ etc. are a huge and often seemingly intractable barrier to innovation and agility.2

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”.

Attributed to M.K. ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi

Why I like it as an inspirational quote: Key influencers may genuinely want their organisations to be innovative and agile. They may even genuinely recognise that this involves the systemic, organisation-wide adoption of the innovative ‘2D3D’ mindsets described above. But it won’t actually happen in practice if they don’t adopt and operate from this mindset themselves and thereby influence others by their example. (The ‘be the change’ quote was, however, from a Gandhi – Arun Gandhi, M.K.’s grandson, summarising his famous grandfather’s life).3

“New ideas go through three phases. First, they’re ridiculed. Second, they’re violently opposed. Third, they’re accepted as self-evident”.

Attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer

Why I like it as an inspirational quote: Anyone who’s successfully guided a truly radical innovation through the minefields, man traps and bogs of an established organisation will have direct personal experience of these three phases – with people telling them: “That’s crazy”; then “Over my dead body” and finally “I thought of it first”.

In a similar spirit, there’s this genuine quote from the founding father of quantum theory:

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die – and a new generation grows up that is already familiar with it”.

Max Planck

Why I like it as an inspirational quote: It may not sound very ‘scientific’, but it’s what happens when authority figures get caught in the Seeing-Being Trap of ‘I am the expert.’ It even happened to Einstein himself. 4

Footnotes:

  1. Find out more about my 2D3D Thinking Tool (featured in the Financial Times in 1998) in this short video
  2. Find out more about Seeing-Being Traps in this short video
  3. Find out more about shifting Key Influencer Mindsets in this short video
  4. Find out more about how Einstein was able to see things that others caught in Authority Traps couldn’t – but then went on to get trapped himself here.
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