Thursday July 28, 2022

There are no shortcuts to knowledge, the bulk of knowledge is acquired through personal experience

There are no shortcuts to knowledge, the bulk of knowledge is acquired through personal experience

The cover of Ben Horowitz’s book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things."

Since early childhood, many of us have been cognitively schooled to perform things perfectly and instructed that errors and mistakes should not be tolerated as they indicate weakness. Nonetheless, following a brief stint in entrepreneurship and startups, my perspective on handling situations, particularly mistakes and failures, has evolved. Even though many people extol the virtues of entrepreneurship, very few individuals are candid about how tough it is to run a business. To maintain my optimistic attitude, I took on the task of reading the book that best suited my situation at that time. I chose Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Reading his book gave me a new perspective on how to look at things, as he deviates from the standard management books that focus on doing things correctly. Instead, he writes about what to do after you’ve made a mistake.

I realized that there are no shortcuts to knowledge, and the majority of knowledge is acquired through personal experience combined with the ability to “separate facts from perception.” As a result, it becomes critical to seek out counter-narratives and explanations from radically different perspectives. These diametrically opposed perspectives have the potential to revitalize you or your team.

Further, there are “two types of friends” that one seeks, one who you can call when something good happens, and they will rejoice with you. And one you can contact if something goes wrong. The key to retaining these friends is to treat them well and, even more importantly, treat them well after they leave. This is critical, or else those who remain will never trust you again.

Sometimes, the only way to survive is to go out and intentionally fall on your face. As Ben puts it, learn through failure so that you can learn quickly and understand what it takes to succeed. This could be expanded to a larger scale and implemented throughout your organization.

Separately, a CEO’s decision-making abilities can make or break a startup. Therefore, “CEOs should not play the odds.” Instead, when you establish a business, you must believe there is a solution.

Not only that, but Ben also notes that there are times when a leader must don a different hat in order to keep their organization afloat; thus, there is a Peacetime CEO and a Wartime CEO. During “peacetime,” a business can concentrate on expansion, giving it a significant advantage over the competition. But, on the other hand, in “wartime,” a business must ward off an imminent threat.

Moreover, “We take care of the people, products, and profits—in that order,” since taking care of people demonstrates that your business is a pleasant workplace. The logic is that if you invest significant time, energy, and money in developing the right people for your business and then treat them responsibly and respectfully, they are more likely to create great products that generate substantial profits.

Lastly, despite Ben’s advice on getting your head straight by focusing on the company’s future rather than its past and normalizing the fact that you will eventually have to lay people off, my opinion on this part diverged from his. I would have done it differently because it conveys a sense of disloyalty, especially given his emphasis in earlier chapters on trust, respect, and transparency. And I would supplement the layoffs by providing management with alternative solutions rather than simply imposing the golden rule, “Managers must lay off their own people.”

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