This book is a series of lessons in how to make it through “the struggle” of running a business without quitting. “The struggle” is the time when you business or entrepreneurial endeavours are going very, very badly. They are the times when someone asks you why you don’t quit, and you just can’t give them answer. But the ability to swim through, to spot the next step, while immersed in “the struggle” is the separation between winners and losers. Author Ben Horowitz believes there is always a way. As Ben said in an interview with Inc. “A lot of being a successful CEO is not quitting. It sounds almost corny. Winners never quit and quitters never win. But there’s something deeper. When you’re in it, you are building a tremendous amount of knowledge about the company, about the market, about the customer, and about the product. The longer you have to apply that, the better your chances are. If you can somehow stay in the box, then, amazingly, you might find yourself in a good position.”
From chapters on when it’s okay to poach an employee from a friend’s company to how to fire people, this book covers plenty of practical, relevant business advice. But where it really shines is the in the advice to CEOs and entrepreneurs on controlling and mediating the tougher psychological aspects of running a business and the inner-demons that can derail a business.
In his words: ”By far the most difficult skill I learned as a CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared with keeping my mind in check. I thought I was tough going into it, but I wasn’t tough. I was soft. Over the years I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs, all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: the first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown. At risk of violating the sacred rule, I will attempt to describe the condition and prescribe some techniques that helped me. In the end, this is the most personal and important battle that any CEO will face.”
These are only a small sampling of key takeaways from the book:
Make the best move when there are no good moves.
Of all of the skills that a CEO needs to have in order to succeed, the one that separates wheat from chaff is the ability to narrow down and focus in order to see the best move you can make when there are no good moves. All businesses hit a point of crisis where no move seems to be a good move, but a move has to be made nonetheless.
Don’t let it all sit on your own shoulders.
You won’t be able to shoulder every burden in the company without going crazy, but you should share every burden you can.
Take care of the people, the products, and the profits – in that order.
People are your greatest asset, but also the most difficult asset to manage. They are difficult, but if you don’t take care of them, the other two won’t matter. Taking care of the people means that your company is a good place to work. If your company is a good place to work, you may live long enough to take care of the other assets!
Peacetime CEO vs. Wartime CEO
A Peacetime CEO knows that structure and proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to do what it takes to win. There are many, many examples of being a Peacetime CEO and a Wartime CEO in this book.
For more from the author on this topic, I recommend you watch this video, a conversation with Ben Horowitz and Ruth Messinger during his visit to Columbia University to debut this book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.