The Hard Thing about Hard Things

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

THTHT is a coin flip sequence and also a book that many claim to be the best business book out there. Either my Twitter is an a16z echo chamber, or I’m not in “business” enough to understand, or this is not the best business book out there, or the best business book out there is not great. Most likely, I’m not the target audience. I don’t need to know how to fire execs. That said, it was fun to think about all his advice in the context of Lyft.

1) Netscape developed Javascript and SSL.

I remember using Netscape when I first learned how to use computers. Seems like people don’t give it enough credit. Yahoo too.

2) Resetting guidance destroys credibility with investors.

I’ve never understood why companies give really high guidance. Does it all come down to finding the right balance between “high growth” and risk of missing target? It seems like the dominant strategy is to set low expectations, but I can see how consistently beating estimates is not a good look either. The only conclusion: market is irrational.

3) Ask “What Are We Not Doing?”

There’s already so much to do that there is no time to think about what we’re not doing. It’s even more difficult in a data-driven culture where everything has to be prioritized based on evidence.

4) Calculus is determinate. Statistics is indeterminate.

If we had to choose one as the foundational way of thinking, which one makes more sense? I’d argue that probability and statistics are heavily under-indexed in our education system.

5) Amount of communication is inversely proportional to amount of trust.

Establishing trust is very important because it makes all future communication easier.

6) For execs, hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.

MAX(MAX) not MAX(MIN). Also maybe partly why some execs appear to be very incompetent. They may be excellent at the thing they need to be excellent at but terrible otherwise.

7) In good organizations, people believe that good work will lead to good outcomes for the company and for themselves.

This is a good one-line summary of what a good company means. Everything else is secondary.

8) Training is very high leverage.

Suppose a training can lead to a 1% improvement in performance, an investment by a manager of 10 reports leads to 200 hours of work over the next year. Most training feels very useless, but when you put it this way, it’s hard to argue against.

9) Big company execs are typically interrupt-driven, and startup execs need to be more proactive.

In a startup, if you don’t make it happen, it won’t happen.

10) The Peter Principle states that people get promoted until they reach a level when they become incompetent.

Seems odd at first, but it totally makes sense.

While I didn’t really like this book (more like a series of long-form articles), I absolutely agree with the premise, or what I think is the premise. Things are hard, and there’s no right answer. I very much believe that anything worth doing is hard, and if I find something to be easy, I’m probably doing it wrong. High quality work is hard. The important thing is to care and to put in the work.

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