Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This is a great cut-the-crap book about management and building a company. It’s most relevant to the the tech world, but there are plenty of gems here that are relevant to anyone – he’s especially good on shaping your culture (hint: yoga at work is not your organisational culture).

Here’s the introduction:

Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.”

The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal.

The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things.

The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed.

The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in he middle of the night in a cold sweat when your dream turns into a nightmare.

The problem with these books is that they attempt to provide a recipe for challenges that have no recipes. There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations. There’s no recipe for building a high-tech company; there’s no recipe for leading a group of people out of trouble; there’s no recipe for making hit songs; there’s no recipe for running for president … and there’s no recipe for motivating people when your business has turned to crap.

That’s the hard thing about hard things: there is no formula for dealing with them.

Nonetheless, there are many bits of advice and experience that can help with the hard things.

I do not attempt to present a formula in this book. Instead, I present my story and the difficulties that I have faced.

I share my experiences in the hope of providing clues and inspiration for others who find themselves in the struggle to build something out of nothing.

Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Highly recommend.

Marc Andreesen on ideas vs execution

… there was a great Dilbert strip where the pony-haired boss says, “You know, I have a great idea for a startup. All I need is for, you know, somebody to actually, like, write the code and do all the work.” And Dilbert says, “The technical term for what you have is, ‘nothing’” … right? Right? [see it here]

… in my world, you actually see this a lot. You’ll see people say, like, “I have an idea, but it’s such a good idea, I can’t tell anybody about it, because they’ll steal my idea”. And at least in our world, like, literally it is, therefore, what you now have is nothing… There’s another great — I forget who said it, there’s another great line somebody said that — “If you have a really, really great idea, like, you can shout it to the rafters and like, still nobody’s gonna take it seriously.”

Like, the world is filled with ideas. Like, there is actually no idea shortage. And in fact, by the way, many people actually have the same ideas. And by the way, many of the ideas are actually reasonably obvious. Like, you know, the iPhone. We’re all carrying around these… Like, what a genius idea was the iPhone. Well, hey, how about a computer you can hold in your hand. Like, how about a computer that you don’t have to carry in a briefcase, you can hold in your hand. …“Star Trek,” freakin “Star Trek”! They had them on “Star Trek” in 1966. Like, yeah, I want a computer I can hold in my hand. Like, the idea alone didn’t get Steve Jobs anywhere. It was everything else that he did to make the idea a reality — and actually get it into people’s hands — that mattered.

Marc Andreessen on The Moment with Brian Koppelman

Vision. Positioning. Execution. (4)

Execution

Being able to execute means being able to get the right things done at the right times. Good execution is a combination of:

  • Knowledge – do you know what to do and how to do it? This is a type of vision, but I include here for completeness.
  • Skill – are you able to do it? Skills need to be learned and practiced, and intuition improves with experience.
  • Will – are you committed? Do you make things happen and get stuff done? Skill doesn’t matter if you don’t take action.
  • Performance – how well do you do your part? Do you make the most of what you’ve got?
  • Bringing people with you – who else is involved? Are they ready?
  • Luck – do things go your way?

The Key

Having a strong will – strong enough that you consistently act on it – is the most important of these. Unless you’re committed and determined and actually show up, make things happen and get stuff done – nothing else matters.

Vision. Positioning. Execution. (3)

Positioning

Being ready in the right place at the right time makes everything easier.

Sometimes you need to position yourself for a better view – to improve your vision – before you can position yourself to do. If you can’t see properly, you can’t decide.

Once you’ve got a decent view you can move to position yourself with respect to whatever’s coming, gathering the resources that you need and giving yourself enough time and space to use them.

Good positioning – creating time and space and being prepared – ends up looking like skill in execution, and it sort of is. It’s a skill of its own – the skill of making the most of what you’ve got.

The more I practice, the luckier I get

You can never see enough, never have all the information to be perfectly prepared – you do what you can with what you have. But the better your vision and positioning is, the better you’ll be able to respond to opportunities that come your way by pure, dumb luck.

Running to stay still

Once you’re in position, you might have to work hard just to stay there. Sometimes this is necessary – and keeping moving is almost always better than staying still – but if you find yourself having to run constantly just to keep up you might be playing the wrong game or need to think again about where the best positions are.

Some questions about positioning:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I need to be, by when?
  • How do I get there?
  • What’s my next step, and the one after that – and what will make it easier for me to take them?
  • What types of relationships do I need, and with who?
  • What skills and attributes will I need once I’m in position, and how will I develop them?
  • What resources?
  • What else do I need to know?
  • Who is in position already that I can learn from – or need to be cautious of?

(These are all questions about vision, too.)

Vision. Positioning. Execution. (1)

You see the traffic, approach the road, pause at the kerb, lean forward just as someone passes to get some forward motion, then step into the space between cars.
Or you press the button and wait for the light.

You see a public holiday on the calendar, decide that you want to go away, decide where and who with, then you book, pack, and go.

You see a teammate with the ball and an opposing player moving to tackle. You move into position for a pass – changing course slightly once the ball is in the air – catch it, and run into space.

You see your child growing up and glimpse what they need now and will need in future. You make changes to free up time. You learn new things to share with them. You spend the time, play, talk, teach, give them things they need.

You see a need for a product or service, know that you can make it, start working, gathering resources, building relationships with suppliers and buyers, making it, sharing it with the people it’s for.

You see a glass on the edge of a table and someone gesturing enthusiastically. You move the glass, continue the conversation.

You see someone in need, move closer to find out what’s going on, do what you can to help.

Vision. Positioning. Execution.

Getting things done

Thought for the day:

There will always be more good ideas than capacity to execute.

Chris McChesney, Sean Covey & Jim HulingThe 4 Disciplines of Execution (amazon)

Conclusion: focus on one or two wildly important goals at a time, and get them done.

This is a lesson that I learn, apply, forget and re-learn in different areas of my life. It works.