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What You Do Is Who You Are | Ben Horowitz

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updated 28 Jun 2023

Ben Horowitz's book "What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture." Published in 2019, it explores the significance of organizational culture and its impact on the success and identity of a company. Here's an overview of the book:

In "What You Do Is Who You Are," Ben Horowitz focuses on the critical role of company culture in shaping the behaviors, values, and norms within an organization. He delves into the idea that culture is not just about what a company says it believes, but rather how it acts and behaves.

The book draws insights from historical examples and various industries to demonstrate how leaders can intentionally shape and transform culture to align with their desired values and objectives. Horowitz emphasizes that culture is not just about creating a happy or comfortable work environment but also about instilling discipline, resilience, and accountability.

One of the central themes of the book is the concept of creating a strong culture even in challenging or controversial circumstances. Horowitz explores how leaders can navigate difficult situations, make tough decisions, and establish a culture that reflects their desired principles.

He shares stories of historical figures and companies that have successfully shaped their culture, such as Genghis Khan, the Maroons, and even the prison system of Haiti. Through these examples, Horowitz highlights the importance of leadership, communication, and consistency in defining and maintaining culture.

"What You Do Is Who You Are" also addresses the issue of cultural transformation, emphasizing that it requires deliberate efforts and persistence. Horowitz provides practical advice and strategies for leaders to assess, evolve, and align their company culture with their long-term vision.

Overall, the book offers a thought-provoking exploration of culture and its impact on organizational success. It provides valuable insights, historical context, and actionable guidance for leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to establish and cultivate a strong, purpose-driven culture within their companies.

Ben Horowitz — What You Do Is Who You Are | The Tim Ferriss Show

see: Tim Ferris

Key Points

  1. Culture is actions, not just words: Horowitz emphasizes that culture is not solely defined by what a company claims to value or believe, but by the actions and behaviors exhibited by its leaders and employees. It's about how people actually behave within the organization.

  2. Culture requires conscious effort: The book stresses that building a strong culture requires intentional and deliberate effort from leaders. It cannot be left to chance or mere slogans. Leaders must actively shape and reinforce the desired culture through their own behaviors and decision-making.

  3. Cultural transformation is possible: Horowitz highlights that even in challenging circumstances, cultural transformation is possible. He provides examples of historical figures and organizations that successfully changed their culture, illustrating the importance of leadership and consistent communication in driving cultural shifts.

  4. Tough decisions and trade-offs: The book explores the notion that establishing a strong culture often involves making difficult decisions and trade-offs. Leaders must be willing to make and enforce tough choices that align with the desired culture, even if they are unpopular or uncomfortable in the short term.

  5. Learning from unconventional sources: Horowitz draws insights from unexpected sources, such as historical figures like Genghis Khan or the prison system of Haiti, to illustrate how culture can be shaped. These examples challenge conventional thinking and provide unique perspectives on culture-building.

  6. Defining cultural values and principles: The book emphasizes the importance of clearly defining and communicating cultural values and principles. Horowitz encourages leaders to establish a set of core beliefs that align with their vision and use them as a compass to guide behavior and decision-making.

  7. Culture and accountability: Horowitz discusses the relationship between culture and accountability, highlighting that a strong culture promotes accountability at all levels of the organization. By defining and reinforcing expected behaviors, leaders can cultivate a culture that holds individuals accountable for their actions.

  8. Ongoing commitment: Cultivating and maintaining a strong culture requires ongoing commitment and attention from leaders. The book stresses that culture-building is a continuous process that should be prioritized and integrated into all aspects of the organization.

These key points offer a glimpse into the main ideas and themes discussed in "What You Do Is Who You Are." The book provides insights, examples, and actionable advice for leaders looking to create and sustain a purpose-driven and effective organizational culture.