Book: What you do is who you are

I have heard about What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz for some time, but hadn’t had time to read it until this week. Here are my thoughts on the book after finishing it.

Ben laid out a few key points in building a culture and supported those points with several major historical examples including Genghis Khan, and with his own personal experience in a long illustrious career. Overall, the main thesis of the book is that to be a leader and build a culture, one must walk the talk and follow words with concrete actions, even though sometimes the choices are hard to make. Personally, there are several following minor points that I really like

The Japanese culture of craftsmanship and attention to detail begins with death.

If you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time – so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employers and your parents

Shocking rules help drive folks to become more disciplined.

One of the examples used in the book is about Coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants from 2004 to 2015. He set the rule that said, “If you are on time, you are late”.

Culture and strategy do not compete

I have heard numerous times in business schools and the press that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I actually never thought so. Both are important and influential to a company’s existence. They don’t compete with each other. I am glad to read that Ben agreed and articulated the point really well with examples.

Issues with the “don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” mentality

We all have heard it before. One or more managers that we worked with instructed us to be proactive and solution-oriented by telling us to accompany a problem with a suggestion. There is a sound rationale behind that mentality. It forces the carrier of bad news to think of solutions and be engaged in finding a solution, instead of being a whiner or complainer. On the other side, there are problems in an organization that barely show up on the leadership’s radar and that are too complicated for one low-level staff to design a solution. The mentality in question implicitly and unexpectedly discourages folks from even discussing complicated issues since they are not confident in their solutions or they don’t have any.

Overall, the book provides great points in building culture, accompanied by examples from history, recent businesses and Ben’s own career. The core principles discussed in the book are nothing new, but the examples and the subtle minor points can be very interesting.

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