Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This is a pretty popular book amongst tech CEOs, and based on my conversations with ‘not that’ person, the book seems to be flying under the radar. It shouldn’t. It’s relevant across all verticals despite its briefer history of time approach through the last 20 years of technology.

**History buffs will like the story-telling, and 20-30 somethings will learn a lot about the olden days of the Internet.

Simply put – this book is a no-brainer (actually takes a fair amount of brains to read and ponder) and a must read for all aspiring CEOs, wannabe CEOs, executives (present or future), and anyone who wants to know how their boss thinks and/or should be thinking.

This pretty much sums up anyone with any kind of ambition to lead people…thus, I could have just said that.

As the title suggests, this is not a ‘rah rah’ 10 steps to building a ‘unicorn company’ (a billion dollar company) type of book…it’s actually antithetical to that. As the quote below suggests, this is the book to equip leaders for when the stuff hits the fan. As you and I both know, stuff hits the fan far more often than we would like to admit with our business model, staff, our market, the product…the list could go on.

“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”  Ben Horowitz

This book is not hard to read in the sense of being slow, boring or using abstract concepts. It’s hard in the sense that it will hit you between the eyes, possibly causing you to lose hope while simultaneously finding it, and create a few freak out moments and possibly make you cry.

Ben’s style is bloggy, direct, coffeeshop convo-esque and drops rap lyrics at each chapter’s outset, clearly confusing the stereotypical 50+ white male CEO…but he makes it work and still makes it appeal to that audience.

It’s a top 5 for me. Buy it here on Amazon.

A few bullet points that do not do this book justice:

  • If you want an easy-going professional career, avoid being a CEO like the plague
  • Discusses ‘The Struggle’ – the process every entrepreneur goes through and some advice on how not to punk out and quit…and identifies who does quit and who stays the course
  • Great practical stuff is covered like: firing an executive, demoting a close friend, handling promotions, when to/when not to hire ‘been there done that’/old people
  • ‘Success’ doesn’t equal a big exit or overflowing with cash – it equals building a good place to work
  • The difference between a Peacetime CEO and a Wartime CEO and how very few people can be both
    • Steve Jobs (Apple) was a wartime CEO, not Peacetime CEO
    • Eric Schmidt (Google) is a peacetime CEO, not a wartime CEO
  • Learning to be a good CEO takes years, identifying a CEO priori experience is hard…but sometimes a board/management should take a shot based on the person vs. their resume
  • Creating management debt, i.e. laying off people in a matter that robs them of their dignity, will create a debt that you can never repay for the staff who stay…and other examples that create that debt
  • There are no rules


Nerves & Business: Embracing Nervousness Daily

I had a communications professor in college who discussed embracing nerves as a central aspect to every speech/presentation you give. She framed up the conversation by saying butterflies are good so long as they fly in formation. I haven’t forgotten this, as nerves play an interesting role in my life and every time I give a speech/presentation or make a pitch.

I have seen nerves get the best of me (where I totally flop) as well as give me the fuel to give an impassioned presentation around seemingly mundane topics. Either way, I have come to love the role nerves play in my daily life.

How does nervousness intersect your daily life? Do you still get nervous? Do you enjoy it? Hate it?

Some brief thoughts around nerves, business, and their role:

  • Nervousness is good
  • If I don’t have nerves around something it is an indictment against my attitude in the matter.
  • The people that say they don’t get nervous before a speech/event/sales presentation/etc are either:
    • Lying
    • Or, they don’t care about their audience/others. Care, in this case meaning do they understand the weight of ideas? Are they understanding that they are stewarding other’s time? 
  • Do you get nervous when you meet people of rank?
    • If so, does that mean you value them more than other people? Not ideal.
    • If not, does that mean you are self-righteous and don’t view them as important? Not ideal.
    • What’s the balance here? 
  • When I look at others as being no greater & no less than myself is when I am at my best for their sake and mine.
  • Are your nerves based on peoples perception of you? If so, this is likely the paralyzing kind of nerves because it’s completely out of your control. 
  • If your nerves are based on the being the absolute best steward of the moment at hand then this is likely the kind of nerves that will enhance your performance and experience of the event

1 Reason You Suck at Your Job

Are you scared of losing your job? If so, you are going to suck at it.

Fear, while an important motivator in life, is a paralyzing factor when it comes to your daily work life (and other aspects, just talking work right now).

Fear is an unpleasant emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing. -wiki

Do you say statements such as “If I lose my job I don’t know what I would do”?
If so, you are backwards with your current mindset on what actually creates value for both yourself and your employer. In essence you have broken down your work to be:

work = Maslow’s 2nd Level 

If/when operating at the 2nd level you will be both myopic and miserable because you will not be able to see beyond yourself. Sure you may have a mortgage, spouse, etc to account for…however this only enhances your fear.  Fear will never produce a good work in you nor by you, rather only a selfish survival.

When you are selfish you are – > Unaware of others needs = Unable to proactively think on behalf of employer/customer/other = No Value

Sure you may keep your job because you are so skilled at survival you keep it….but you will still suck at it, and it sucks to suck.

Choosing Not to be Lame

Everyday I feel that I wake up ‘lame’ rather than vibrant, engaged, and ready. That just me?

Thus, each day I must wake up twice. Once from my sleep and again from my lame stupor. The earlier the 2nd awakening happens the better it is for me and all those who I come into contact with. If I am honest, somedays I don’t even wake up from my 2nd sleep. I carry my ‘lame’ self around fooling many of those around me. I cheat them when this happens.

I know I am being lame when:

  • I am being an asshole – I am consumed with self
  • Unable to think quickly – I am not engaged
  • Uninterested in all things – I am not seeing the bigger picture

To wake up I attempt to practice the following disciplines/activities:

  • Meet with someone first thing – Immediately I need to engage with someone in the real world, rather than crawl into my office/cube stuck with my own thoughts
  • Go for a run or hit the gym – Exerting effort and struggling helps me break the spell
  • Read and write – Helps me process and ask bigger life questions

This was on my mind today because I woke up lame. I didn’t really wake up until later in the day. I hate being lame. Hate it! I must choose the above disciplines/practices daily in order not to be lame daily.

Newsjacking Tragedies: Is it ethical?

Painting by Justin Lovato, Infinite Bewilderment
Painting by Justin Lovato, Infinite Bewilderment

First, what is newsjacking*?
It is a practice whereby a company, organization, or individual uses a trending media topic or news story to bring attention to one’s own interests that lie outside the value of the story itself.

For example:  A specific hurricane is about to hit, I write (use media) about the current hurricanes potential to do damage and push how my storm shutters will prevent $X damage to your property.

The above is a very straight forward example of newsjacking with a physical product and is typical of business’s marketing schema. Where it gets much more interesting, and where I believe ethical questions abound, is when your product is the media itself. IE’s product to it’s customers (advertisers) is media that promises to attract eyeballs. CNN’s job, in a very basic sense, is to get an individual’s attention (on a mass scale) that drive subsequent behaviors leading ultimately to a purchase of their customers’ (advertisers) products. The viewers are merely an audience by which all their revenue is driven.

Audience attention (a factor of time and quantity) is what media outlets crave and clamor for. Unfortunately, on many levels, people yearn to hear stories of failure and tragedy. Thus one could say the media outlets value is a derivative of failure and tragedy. This is where the ethics behind the creation,curation, and consumption of news come into question.

I believe the topic at hand to be both paramount and complex. I only claim ignorance and bewilderment on the matter and am seeking to come to terms with it as a consumer (and sometimes a creator/curator) of media.  I will be bringing my learnings, leanings, and conversation into the public sphere using the media tools available to me.

In the coming weeks and months I plan to work through the following subjects:

  • Why people yearn to hear stories of failure and tragedy
  • How to ethically to consume the ‘news’
  • How to resolve the ethical dilema of creating profit from tragedies

*Newsjacking is not new, but rather a new term given to what the ‘news business’ has always done. It is ‘new’ for other companies (non media centered ones) to be getting in on the mix given the media tools now available to them.

Are you h(app)y?

We are a people addicted to the ‘new and nuanced’. This is not necessarily a negative assertion of who we have become because it’s who we have always been. Our wonder and amazement for such things is wired in. Whether staring at the latest gadget or gazing at the Swiss Alps, all of it brings intrigue.

With the rate today’s technology is cranking out the latest ‘new and nuanced’, you have to wonder if the intensity is too much for us to handle. Never before have we been inundated with so many intriguing things. Technology, by its very nature, is always changing, and when paired with the natural state of humans, can be very dangerous to our personal welfare. Is technology fostering a shallow sense of happiness for those who wield its power to meet their need for the ‘new and nuanced’? I believe it is.

Modern technology and our humanness is a perfect recipe for producing shallow individuals who lack deep-seeded knowledge about anything or anyone due to a burgeoning impulse to discover the next thing. While discovery is good, so is the need to explore that discovery further. You might say that the deep-seeded enjoyment of something can only be had after exploring it, sitting in it, resting in it, struggling in/through it. However, in today’s world, rather than patiently pursing such ends, we move on to the new. Our wonder has a shelf life comparable to the average YouTube clip.

So, what to do?

Here are a few tips just in time for the holiday season- one of the times we get most inundated with the ‘new and nuanced’:

  • Understand what technology is and does to you individually at a fundamental level. While technology is a great tool and makes for some great gifts, it can also be a weapon (in more ways than one). Don’t let it rob you of deep-seeded knowledge and enjoyment of life.
  • Even in the midst of the holiday craze, take time to sit and think about what you are learning, what you want to dive deep into, and how to go about doing that. The beginning of a new year is a great time for setting new goals and forming new habits!
  • Explore your discoveries! Let yourself sit, rest, and struggle and resist the urge to move onto something new right away. Enjoy where you are right now.
  • If you have a hard time thinking about such things,turn off your technology for a few days (not hours), pick up the paper and pen (older technology) and go to town. It’ll be well worth your time!

The Popular Version of Marriage

Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate “relationship” involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now take the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the “married” couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.

-Wendell Berry, from “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine”


on Running Hills

Hills are speed work in disguise -Quote from Born to Run

I have always dreaded the up-hills until I read this quote. This doesn’t mean I go gleefully into each hill along my run but it does mean I weather them with a new perspective.

I have never wanted to be a better hill runner. I HAVE wanted to get faster. Hills are now a welcome part of my run.

So this analogy spills over into all of life &  I don’t need to apply it for you.