Hard thing about Hard things

I recently read this book by Ben Horowitz. It’s focused on advice for entrepreneurs, but most of it is applicable to management in general. It’s not the typical management book as it does not provide silver bullets, rather shares nuggets of wisdom learned over the years in the grind and nitty gritty of running a company during the dot com crash. Here are a few relevant themes that stood out.

  • Tell it like it is — we all have a “positivity delusion”, a tendency to bear it all and not “burden the folks”. Why is it important to be transparent?
  • builds trust — telling things as they are is crucial to building trust.
  • the more the number of people working on the problem, the better it is
  • Training/onboarding people — All the investments in recruiting, hiring would go to waste if you don’t train them effectively. Enforcing functional and management training are equally important. He quotes directly from Andy Grove’s High Performance management book”. Training is one of the highest leverage activities.. If your training efforts result in even 1% improvement, your company will gain the equivalent of 200 hours of work on 10 students(assuming 2000 hours per student per year) as a result of your expending 12 hours”. There is a direct correlation between training and retention. Two primary reasons why people quit. #1, they hated their managers, appalled by lack of guidance, career development and feedback they were receiving. #2, not enough new learning.
  • Good vs bad Product Manager — Good PMs take written positions on important issues. Bad PMs, voice their opinion verbally. Don’t focus just on metrics, supplement a great product vision with metrics.
  • Taking the mystery out of scaling — Things are much simpler when the group is small, easy to communicate, share common knowledge and fast decision making. As the group/company scales, it requires specialization, organizational structure and process, all of which complicate things and will feel like we are taking away from common knowledge and communication. The key is to use the football analogy to grow but degrade as slowly as possible. Covers basic steps on org design, how no org design is perfect (this is so true based on my own experiences over the years). It will bias communication in one area at the cost of others, but be conscious about the tradeoffs. Managing at scale is a learned skill rather than a natural ability
  • Giving feedback — be authentic, be direct but not mean, be high frequency, i.e have an opinion on everything
  • Accountability vs Creativity paradox — Always taking a hard stand on accountability can lead to a place where people won’t tackle hard problems as they will be far too fearful of being held accountable for results. Accountability for effort is a prerequisite. Accountability for results should depend upon seniority of employee, degree of difficulty and amount of stupid risk. In tech, the difference between mediocre and magical is often the difference between letting people take creative risk and holding them too tightly accountable. Accountability is important but not the only thing,