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The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers Hardcover – March 4, 2014
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*Starred Review* It’s fairly evident that this is a collection of blogs, loosely strung together, united in their varied perspectives on start-ups, CEO-dom, and business in general. Though Horowitz is a cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and his credentials reside mainly in Silicon Valley, he’s imparted some valuable insight on hard lessons learned that apply to any manager, whether in the executive suite or not. As with most experiential books, it is all about him—but it’s written in such an engaging and universally acceptable manner that no one could object. Leave aside his background, for the moment. Who would realize, for instance, that executives worry about things like initiating layoffs, hiring the right people, training, and minimizing politics, among others? It’s a refreshingly honest take, and his colorful (and, yes, profanity-laced) language breaks down any other misperceptions about the role and the person. Plus, his imagination is compelling, such as the comparisons between peacetime and wartime CEOs: Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six. After all, the success equation is easy: the hard thing is getting it done. --Barbara Jacobs
“More than any other business book released this year, “Hard Things” gives an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to lead and scale a startup.” (--Business Insider's Best Business Books of 2014)
“This is easily one of the essential books every business leader should read if they’re looking for proven and honest management advice.” (--Entrepreneur's 25 Amazing Business Books from 2014)
“The most valuable book on startup management hands down” (PandoDaily)
“There is more than enough substance in Mr. Horowitz’s impressive tome to turn it into a leadership classic.” (The Economist)
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Top Customer Reviews
“Almost all management books focus on how to do things correctly, so you don’t screw up, these lessons provide insight into what you must do after you have screwed up.”
If you’re planning to start a company, whether it’s a high-tech company or the kinds of companies that I started and ran, read this book. If you’re going to be someone in charge of anything in any kind of a company, read this book.
If all you want are the big ideas, or Horowitz’ philosophy, you can get them from his blog and articles. You don’t need to buy this book. But if you want a handy advisor for that 3 AM moment when you’re thinking about firing someone you like, buy the book. Keep it handy. I’ve had those moments and I wish I’d had it.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things has a whole lot of information packed inside it. You can read it from cover to cover and get a lot of value. Or, you can think of it as a series of conversations with bosses and mentors. Horowitz had a lot of those. And his mentors included people like Andy Grove and Jim Barksdale.
The wisdom that he shares and credits to them, reminds me of the wisdom that I received from bosses and mentors and which I later shared with protégés. It’s real, it’s practical, and it will help. I think that the discussion of things like firing and laying people off are more than worth the price of the book by themselves. And they’re only a small part of what’s in The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
Here are a few quotes from the book to give you an idea of what you’re in for. You don’t have to be a CEO to use what’s here, even though Horowitz aims the book at CEOs. Substitute “leader” for “CEO” in most quotes and use the wisdom.
Quotes from The Hard Thing About Hard Things
“That’s the hard thing about hard things— there is no formula for dealing with them.”
“People always ask me, ‘What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?’ Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO.”
“Don’t take it personally. The predicament that you are in is probably all your fault. You hired the people. You made the decisions. But you knew the job was dangerous when you took it. Everybody makes mistakes. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes. Evaluating yourself and giving yourself an F doesn’t help.”
“One of the most important management lessons for a founder/ CEO is totally unintuitive. My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive.”
“Management purely by numbers is sort of like painting by numbers— it’s strictly for amateurs.”
“The first rule of organizational design is that all organizational designs are bad.”
“Embrace the struggle.”
There are plenty more in The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers.
This book is like countless "how to be a leader" books on the market, and says a lot of the same things. Only this time you get it from the perspective of a guy flailing to build a silicon valley startup to a point where he can unload it on some unsuspecting buyer and walk away with enough money to retire at 35, on the backs of the poor schlubs who wrote the code that got him there in the faint hope they'd get rich too. That's an interesting perspective, and one that says a lot about silicon valley, the venture capital culture, and the business world in general.
The problems with this book are many, however. First, most of the advice is retread, stuff you can find in a lot of other books on leadership. More importantly, however is the seemingly random organization. It doesn't adhere to a chronological flow, or a logical structured flow -- either would have been a fine choice. It seems to be mostly stream-of-consciousness -- like someone just transcribed their notes from their beside table notepad. It never seems to go from point A to point B. And it rehashes the same stories over and over. I get it, you managed to dump part of your losing business on EDS, a miracle coup, and then build up what was left into something you managed to stick HP with. It's hard to decide which is more painful, the repeating of these stories time and again, or the smug attitude about how he miraculously sold these major corporations a bill of goods for millions.
But even that aside, there are two affectations in this book that make it a painful read. Each chapter/section begins with some random quote from a rap/hip-hop music lyric. Most of those have literally nothing to do with the following material and feel just painfully tone deaf. It's only compounded by the fact that it's a british white guy quoting Kanye West .. ?? And the constant referral to the CEO as a "she" is just painful. It's so blatant, I found I spent most of the book wondering whether it was all "he" to begin with and the editor just did a "search and replace" or if the author was trying to be so PC that he strained to make every example a "she". Either way, it's just painful -- almost like he's talking down to potential women CEOs, and it eventually becomes insulting.
Finally, there's the title, which simply has nothing to do with the contents of the book. Yes, there's lots of good and valuable advice about being a leader and a CEO. But the presentation is so flawed as to make it not worth the effort. My advice to readers is to search out any number of other books on leadership and leave this one to fester on the shelves.
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