The Hard Things About Hard Things

book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things
author: Ben Horowitz

general overview

Ben Horowitz is a fantastically successful technology entrepreneur, venture capital investor, and Silicon Valley business leader. his book starts with a unique premise for management literature. it isn’t about how to do things correctly – there are tons of books about that – it’s about what to do after you make huge mistakes.

“the hard thing about hard things,” Horowitz writes, is that “there is no formula for dealing with them.”

the book’s focus is pretty narrow. it deals with the kinds of problems that chief executives of venture-backed tech companies in the Silicon Valley are likely to face. much of the wisdom it contains is valuable outside of this context, but not without some degree of extra interpretation on the reader’s part.

since the book itself is so specific, i would recommend reading it alongside Horowitz’ more general blog posts and podcast interviews. this will give you the background context that best informs what the book really wants you to know.

what this book isn’t

if you want to find out how Ben Horowitz rose to Silicon Valley stardom, you will be disappointed. The Hard Thing About Hard Things offers practical advice for people who are already making tough leadership decisions. 

summary notes

perhaps the most valuable advice that Ben Horowitz offers in the Hard Thing About Hard Things concerns its discussion of laying off employees, firing executives, and demoting longtime friends. he doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that making these decisions is difficult, and that no book can really tell you the right way to do it.

instead, he offers the perspective of an experienced leader who has gone through these situations, made mistakes, and learned from them. some highlights include:

  • Horowitz distinguishes between regular employees, “special” employees like high-level executives, people who are too smart for their own good, and senior employees.
  • one of the hardest things Horowitz says chief executives have to do is to manage their own psychology. he offers practical, do-this-right-now advice for processing the inevitable feelings of blame and self-doubt that accompany tough decisions in the leadership world.
  • the psychological element is what distinguishes The Hard Thing About Hard Things from many other management advice books. without this part, the book wouldn’t offer much that, for example, Andy Grove’s books haven’t already said.
  • the book’s tight, no-nonsense voice and quick pacing makes it a useful reference book for readers in leadership positions. this is a book you will want to annotate, highlight, and keep on your desk at all times.
  • although the book’s advice is firmly directed towards management and executive leaders, it can make a useful read for employees who wish to understand their managers better.
  • the book offers excellent advice on minimizing office politics, like improving one-on-ones, making promotional paths clear to everyone, and capitalizing on feedback (both positive and negative).
  • another Horowitz secret: with ultra-important customer accounts, he recommends having an employee gather intelligence on the customer’s organization to identify hidden value opportunities – things your company can upsell to them.