Update: check out the interview Ben Horowitz gave to the Techcrunch, talking about the main concepts he introduced in the book:

Ben Horowitz on shocking rules and dramatic object lessons

How does someone connect Haitian slave rebels, American prison gang boss, Genghis Khan and McDonald’s CEO into one book? Is it possible to combine hip hop lyrics with serious discussion about how to build the company culture? And in the end, how do you combine the stories that are centuries apart (real and in “Silicon Valley years”), keep your main point consistent, but still give the reader a feeling that story is slowly developing while she is reading?

What you do is who you are, new book from Ben Horowitz

Throughout his 2nd book, Ben Horowitz shows it is possible. Main topic of the book is how to build company culture, written partially as a handbook for CEOs and partially as a personal reflection on the journey from being a Silicon Valley CEO to running one of the most influential venture capital companies in the world.

Wrapping around the story of culture, Horowitz introduces the topics of leadership, candor in communication, integrity, adaptability, inclusion and trust. Overall, his perspective is very similar to the basics of Conscious leadership, introduced in the book 15 commitments of conscious leadership, and content wise enriched with a layer of real life examples. Trend emerges in the books covering Silicon Valley heroes (eg. Eric Schmidt) where they are not described through “know-it-all” narrative, but with a focus on their doubts and insecurity when making the decisions (one more good example of the shift is Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell)

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What are the most interesting quotes from the book?

What is culture?

Foundation of all the discussions in the book is – culture of the company is defined by Virtues (doing) and not by Values (thinking), same meaning as in the book title:

“Culture is weird like that. Because it’s a consequence of actions rather than beliefs, it almost never ends up exactly as you intend it. This is why it’s not a “set it and forget it” endeavor. You must constantly examine and reshape your culture or it won’t be your culture at all. “

“Because your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there.

Comment on survivorship bias in the literature covering Silicon Valley (or any other) success stories

“the logical error of concentrating on companies that succeeded and falsely concluding that it was their culture that made them great”

On Trust:

“This dynamic becomes problematic in an army, because trust is fundamental to running any large organization. Without trust, communication breaks. Here’s why: In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust.

If I trust you completely, then I require no explanation or communication of your actions at all, because I know that whatever you are doing is in my best interests. On the other hand, if I don’t trust you in the slightest, then no amount of talking, explaining, or reasoning will have any effect on me, because I will never believe you are telling me the truth and acting in my best interests.”

On Candor:

We tell the truth even if it hurts. When talking to an entrepreneur, an LP [limited partner], a partner, or each other, we strive to tell the truth. We are open and honest. We do not withhold material information or tell half truths. Even if the truth will be difficult to hear or to say, we err on the side of truth in the face of difficult consequences.”

Final comment

Written with great story telling skills, book has great structure intertwining interesting case studies with personal reflections. Easily readable, it will pull you in and hold you to the very end. Even though examples covered are interesting and well chosen, impression is that reader could handle few more information that would give depth to the story.

Clear example for is the story about the rise of McDonalds first black CEO, Don Thompson. Horowitz offers only few details about his career progression from an engineer to the CEO position, which fit to the chapter topic (inclusion), but doesn’t cover company performance or offers deeper insights about his roles on the way to the top position.

In the end – strong recommendation to read the book, great insights and a great read!

Costanza Dev