Great advice for managing people and getting through tough times
Building a company inevitably leads to tight jams and tough times; there is no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations, for building a high-tech company, for leading a group of people out of trouble, or for motivating teams when your business has gone bad, according to Ben Horowitz in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. The book describes the author’s story and the lessons he learnt along the way as a tech entrepreneur, CEO and venture capitalist.
The author tells the tale of the heady days of Netscape, the easy money available for tech startups during the Internet boom of the late 1990s, then the horrors of trying to keep the Loudcloud business above water during the crash in the early 2000s before transforming it into Opsware and eventually selling the business for $1.6 billion.
The book contains many pieces of practical advice for dealing with tough situations such as laying employees off, firing an executive, and demoting a friend. Examples of wisdom include:
- Figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job… Innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage. Sometimes only the founder has the courage to ignore the data.
- In the technology game, if you survive long enough to see tomorrow, it may bring you the answer that seems so impossible today.
- A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news. A company that discusses its problems freely and openly can quickly solve them.
- Always hire for strength, rather than for lack of weaknesses. Hiring for lack of weaknesses means that you’ll optimise for pleasantness but will miss out on the strengths that you need.
- Political behaviour almost always starts, however unintentionally, with the CEO. The least political CEOs often accidentally encourage intense political behaviour, involving people advancing their careers or agendas by means other than merit or contribution.
- Perhaps the most important thing that I learned as an entrepreneur was to focus on what I needed to get right and stop worrying about all the things that I did wrong or might do wrong.
I found many useful ideas in this book, particularly relating to people management skills, that I have not found elsewhere, and I highly recommend it to anyone in a senior management position. Intending readers should be aware that the author makes liberal use of profanity.
Not many business books tell you what to do when your company is in dire trouble. This book has plenty of good advice about that, and plenty of great general advice about managing people.