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10 Brilliant Business Lessons From Ben Horowitz

Nassim Taleb says that with some books you should read the text and skip the footnotes. Others, read the footnotes and skip the text. With business books, "skip both the text and the footnotes."

Ben Horowitz's new book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, is not one of those books.

Yes, it's a business book. But Horowitz isn't an academic or a journalist. He's an entrepreneur, former CEO and successful venture capitalist. And he's not offering fluffy encouragement. He's written a book of war stories about what it's like to fail, lay off staff, watch your stock lose almost all its value, lose sleep, cry, and throw up over the stress of running a start-up. "While most management books focus on how to do things correctly, so you don't screw up," Horowitz writes, "these lessons provide insight into what you must do after you have screwed up."

Everyone interested in business should read this book. Here are 10 things Horowitz wrote that caught my attention. 

"There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all."

"In my experience as CEO, I found that the most important decisions tested my courage far more than my intelligence."


"All the mental energy you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one seemingly impossible way out of your current mess. Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do. Because in the end, nobody cares; just run your company."

"People won't remember every day they worked for your company, but they will surely remember the day you laid them off. They will remember every last detail about that day and the details will matter greatly. The reputations of your company and your managers depend on you standing tall, facing the employees who trusted you and worked hard for you. If you hired me and I busted my ass working for you, I expect you to have the courage to lay me off yourself."

  • "Being a good company doesn't matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.
  • Things always go wrong.
  • Being a good company is an end in itself."

"Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same."

"No, markets weren't 'efficient' at finding the truth; they were just very efficient at converging on a conclusion— often the wrong conclusion."

"Looking at the world through different prisms helped me separate facts from perception. This ability would serve me incredibly well later when I became an entrepreneur and CEO. In particularly dire circumstances when the 'facts' seemed to dictate a certain outcome, I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook." 

"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."

Check it out here

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (49)

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  • Report this Comment On May 07, 2014, at 1:00 PM, knighttof3 wrote:

    Ben forgot the most important pearl of wisdom:

    "Don't trust a guy who wears sunglasses on a string."

  • Report this Comment On May 13, 2014, at 8:23 AM, katyfcolorado wrote:

    Thanks Morgan! Reminds me of Rudyard Kipling's poem "If".... I carry that poem around in my wallet, and pull it out and read it all the time.

  • Report this Comment On June 02, 2014, at 4:24 PM, Invbkng wrote:


    "Never eat at a place called Mom's, and never play poker with a man called Doc."

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Morgan Housel

Economics and finance columnist for Analyst, Motley Fool One.
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