Ray Bradbury? Franco Mancassola? Kurt Vonnegut? Annie Dillard? Anonymous? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The influential publisher Tim O’Reilly recently tweeted a great quotation about entrepreneurship that was used in a commencement address given by DJ Patil, a Data Scientist at a venture capital company. Here is an excerpt from the speech given at the University of Maryland: 1 2
As my good friend Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn, says: Entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.
Some of the Twitter responses pointed to a saying from the science fiction master Ray Bradbury about building wings after jumping off a cliff. Could you determine what Bradbury actually said?
Quote Investigator: Bradbury used this vivid metaphor to illustrate boldness and audacity several times. In November 1979 he reviewed a book about the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and he gave very high praise to the book and the museum: 3
It looks like a dream book. Then you suddenly remember it’s all real. Then the long march from the rim of the cave to the edge of the cliff where we flung ourselves off and built our wings on the way down quickens to focus. It’s all here, in a building, in a book.
In October 1986 Bradbury spoke at a one-day symposium on ‘Future Style’ held on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, and his words were reported in the Los Angeles Times: 4
In his keynote address, author Ray Bradbury declared that if enough people followed their hearts, they could realize their optimistic vision of humanity’s future. Bradbury exhorted his enthusiastic listeners to “jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.”
Ascriptions to other authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Annie Dillard only appeared years later and were not well substantiated. Indeed, Dillard contacted QI directly to state that she never wrote the quotation, and she never spoke it. Details are given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2012 June 13, Greylock Partners website, Failure is our ONLY option, [Commencement Speech for the class 2012 in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, at the University of Maryland], Speech by DJ Patil: Data Scientist at Greylock Partners, Speech date: May 20, 2012. (Accessed at greylockvc.com on June 17, 2012) link ↩
- 2012 June 6, Wired UK website, Ideas Bank: Failure is our only option, Guest Author: DJ Patil, [Excerpts from Commencement Speech for the class 2012 in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, at the University of Maryland], Speech by DJ Patil: Data Scientist at Greylock Partners, Speech date: May 20, 2012. (Accessed at wired.co.uk on June 17, 2012) link ↩
- 1979 November 18, Los Angeles Times, Section: The Book Review, Hymn to humanity from the cathedral of high technology by Ray Bradbury, (Review of “National Air and Space Museum”, text by C.D.B. Bryan), Page K1, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1986 October 21, Los Angeles Times, ‘Future Style’ Slickly Peers Wrong Way by Charles Solomon, Page OC_E2, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest) ↩