Book Report: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.” – Ben Horowitz

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

This was another book that I did not know much about going into it.  While I am not a CEO, I sit close enough to that seat, that I got a lot out of this book.  I have spent a good portion of my career in early and growth stage companies and could appreciate a lot of the author’s experiences as well.  The book also gave me some perspective to look back at the CEOs that I have worked closely with and evaluate why some of their behaviors and styles worked and why others fell short.

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

  1. Reward Employees for Identifying Problems 

“The resulting action item for CEOs: Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.”

This one kind of flew in the face of a common maxim – “don’t bring up problems without solutions.”  The point being that in many cases the employee identifying the problem may not be in a position to provide a solution.  Or maybe finding a solution is going to take a broader effort or a larger organizational decision.  It makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of a start-up or growth stage business, to reward employees for raising issues.  There are going to be lots of challenges and problems.  Get them on the table so the organization can solve them.

  1. Hire for Strengths

“Hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.”

“You hired for lack of weakness rather than for strengths. This is especially common when you run a consensus-based hiring process.”

I am really not a big fan of consensus driven hiring processes.  For most hires, I think the hiring manager should have a lot of latitude in picking the person she feels best fits her team.  This is also where having an HR team in place that understands the team culture and the role can make a lot of difference.

For executive hires, I agree here as well.  I think the executive team or portions of the executive team should be consulted, but more on a confirmatory basis.  However, this is really the CEO’s job to build the team.  It’s ultimately her decision, and her decision alone.  

  1. Build A Good Company 

“If you do nothing else, be like Bill and build a good company.”

Sometimes I can get a little tone deaf on some of the softer organizational things.  This was a good reminder that building a good place to work should be a top priority.  This is not to say that I think for one minute that gift cards, swag, snacks, and other “perks” will make a company a good place to work.

At the end of the day, what else are you going to have, if you haven’t built a good company?  In my opinion, this is hiring the right kind of people, providing challenging work, rewarding the right kinds of behaviors, minimizing politics and bureaucracy, and having fun.