Maand: juli 2016

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – A no BS startup management guide

Probably best book for founders from practical perspective: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Read next to Zero To One from Peter Thiel.51zuuyaopil-_sx329_bo1204203200_

Not one of the simple concept blabla management books, but very practical and illustrative on many aspect of being the leader in a growing startup.

About the CEO as decision making machine, making decisions with little information. Against odds and diverse interests.

About hiring the right team.

Breathes humility. No blasé BS.

Horowitz was the CEO of Netscape, the company that ws one of the first to free us from Microsoft’s hold on the computing industry.

Someone writing new functionality for computers no longer wrote for Microsoft’s proprietary platform. Instead, they wrote to the Internet and World Wide Web’s standard interfaces. Once Microsoft lost its grip on developers, it became only a matter of time before it lost its monopoly on operating systems. Along the way, Netscape invented many of the foundational technologies of the modern Internet, including JavaScript, SSL, and cookies.

Horowitz disagrees with the thinking that companies should ask customers what they want. Like Steve Jobs he disagrees, and is convinced companies themselves are zero-to-oneresponsible. This contrasts strongly with current views in larger companies that define the customer’s input as the most valuable for the determination of the way forward with products.
But as Steve jobs said

people don’t know what they want until you show it to them, Horowitz holds a similar opinion.”


“It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job.

“The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage.

Horowitz provides very practical advise, hates badly run organisations and has clear views on how to improve.

In good organizations, people can focus on their work and have confidence that if they get their work done, good things will happen for both the company and them personally. It is a true pleasure to work in an organization such as this….
In a poor organization, on the other hand, people spend much of their time fighting organizational boundaries, infighting, and broken processes. They are not even clear on what their jobs are, so there is no way to know if they are getting the job done or not.

He goes into very practical matter like how to hire execs and other staff. How to manage the sales process. How to execute performance evaluations.

Often companies defer putting performance management and compensation processes in place. This doesn’t mean that they don’t evaluate employees or give pay raises; it just means they do so in an ad hoc manner that’s highly vulnerable to political machinations.

Therefore, you must have a formal, visible, defensible promotion process that governs every employee promotion.

Promoting people above there competency is not only a danger to watch out for – the famous Peter principle.

But also if f you unjustly promote someone to a title that is crappy person he will become the reference – the Law of Crappy People.

The Peter Principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent.

The Law of Crappy People states: For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title.

He quotes Zuckerberg who wants engineers at same level as non-technical staff.

Next, he finds that business people often carry inflated titles versus their engineering counterparts. While he recognizes that big titles help them out externally with getting meetings, he still wants to have an organization where the product people and engineers form the cultural core, so he strives to keep this in check as well.

He warns for short the term thinking that may lead management in making business decisions too much.

“While it may work to have individual employees who optimize for their own careers, counting on senior managers to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons is a dangerous idea.

“technical debt” is now a well-understood concept. While you may be able to borrow time by writing quick and dirty code, you will eventually have to pay it back—with interest. Often this trade-off makes sense, but you will run into serious trouble if you fail to keep the trade-off in the front of your mind. There also exists a less understood parallel concept, which I will call management debt. Like technical debt, management debt is incurred when you make an expedient, short-term management decision with an expensive, long-term consequence. Like technical debt, the trade-off sometimes makes sense, but often does not. More important, if you incur the management debt without accounting for it, then you will eventually go management bankrupt.

What to read next:
Peter Thiel – Zero To One.

What to listen to.
a16z podcast.

Go Set A Watchman: dark and cynical on the still continuing difference between the North and the South of the United States

Go Set A Watchman is as the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. But it is darker 51cc2jfysbl-_sx323_bo1204203200_the The Mockingbird.

Atticus, the moral hero in the Mockingbird, falls of his pedestal in the Watchman. Especially in the eyes of his admiring daughter, Scout.

There is no more hope for Atticus, who fights against injustice in the Mockingbird. The coloured people have gotten their own lawyers and are no longer dependent on the few whites defending them. This development however has not led to more unity. It has increased more separation. It has raised suspicion between black and white. It has shattered the balance in the village.

Scout struggles with this character of the South.

Dr Finch, Atticus brother explains to her the history of the war of the south. It is a battle for keeping their identity.

“Now then, Scout,” said her uncle, “Now, at this very minute, a political philosophy foreign to it is being pressed on the South, and the South’s not ready for it – we’re finding ourselves in the same deep waters. As sure as the time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons.”

The Watchman describes that sharp difference between republicans and democrats in the United States, which we can still find today. That same identity battle. The war between North and South is still ongoing. Nowhere is the battle between left and right so fundamental and also obstructive as here in the US. I was stunned to read that so little has changed.

More shocking I found the character development of Scout. The Mockingbird and The Catcher in The Rye were these fantastic novels in which the juvenile protagonists stand by their naive but authentic self, do not give in no matter how bad it ends. But in The Watchman, the idealistic, radical character of Scout is crushed and she finally seems to submit to indolence, she finds her home and inner stability after a big fallout with Atticus.

What a darkness: equality fails, ideology fails, cynicism and indolence prevails.

The Mockingbird, a moral story

I got the Mockingbird for my birthday. Along with Gto_kill_a_mockingbirdo Set A Watchman. I had not read it before and thought it was time now to catch up.

There seems to have been quite a debate about Go Set A Watchman, the Mockingbird sequel. Originally the early version of the Mockingbird, it was published only in 2015, about 55 years after the Mockingbird. According to some the publication was against the will of Harper Lee herself.  According to other sources, Lee was not mentally capable anymore that late stage of her life to put off the publication.

Harper Lee recently passed away, in February this year.

I only knew her name as the writer of the classic Mockingbird. She grew up in the south of the US, and some of the stories in the book 51cc2jfysbl-_sx323_bo1204203200_let’s say show parallels to biographical facts in het life. After writing the Mockingbird, she slowly disappeared from public life. Her biography is shockingly uninteresting.

The book breaths the southern small town, countryside feeling, I associate with William Faulker books like As I Lay Dying.

And Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw The Angel. Rotten characters, Euchrid Eucrow like. A lazy mood caused by early day booze.

The introduction is the second best book introduction.

“Please spare Mockingbird an introduction”

(The best is the Salmon of Doubt introduction by Terry dying63Jones).

And I found a place where J.K. Rowling may have gotten her idea for Dementors in the Harry Potter series from: Hot Steams.

‘A Hot Steam’s somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too, an’ you’ll go around at night suckin’ people’s breath -‘

Hot Steam is a southern US superstition.

Boo Radley, a dark small town legend, a potential Euchrid Eucrow, prefers to live indoors. Because he wants to. Because he hates the small town outside. But unlike Euchrid Eucrow, Boo remains on the light side and becomes a hero, saving the kids Jem and Scout from the real dark Euchrid Eucrow character of the story, Bob Ewell.9780241966570_andtheasssawtheangel_cov1-768x1178

The hero of the story is Atticus Finch, the father of Jem and Scout, . The story is told through Scout, who observes the small town manners, flaws, prejudices, discriminations. Atticus Finch is the moral champion. Against the will of the white people in the village, he defends the black Tom Robinson who is accused of raping a white girl, even though Atticus knows the case can not be won and the jury has already convicted the black man.

Further reading.

Harper Lee – Go Set A Watchman

Nick Cave – And The Ass Saw The Angel

William Faulkner – As I Lay Dying