Author Archives: randy

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

Hard Thing about Hard ThingsThere’s no recipe for motivating teams when your business has turned to crap. That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things

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It is a hard time for us all.  And there are some especially hard things to deal with, some difficult decisions to make, during this hard time.

At the June First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz.  This is the second book I have presented by Mr. Horowitz, though this one is the first book he wrote. In Dec., 2019, I presented his later book, What you Do is Who You Are.

These are both very good books.Ben-Horowitz-w-cover

Ben Horowitz is one half of the Andreessen Horowitz Venture Capital Fund.  He worked in the early days of Netscape with Marc Andreessen, built and developed the first actual Cloud Company – and, in selling it, became a billionaire —  and is now an author, and a venture capital fund leader.

In my synopses, I always ask What is the point?  Here is my answer for this book:  Being a leader, at the executive level, or at the top CEO level, is demanding, but “easy,” when things are going very well.  But leadership during difficult times is indeed much more difficult.  The hard thing about the hard things is that there are no easy answers.

And I ask, why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This book is a short history of some key elements of the birth, and rise, and fall, of parts of Silicon Valley.  It is interesting history.
#2 – This book is a great tutorial on how to take a company from brand new, to large, to sold.
#3 — Most of all, this book is a book to help you understand that there is in fact a big difference between the hard things in business and the easy things in business.

I always include key excerpts from the book;  the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages.  Here are just a few of the ones I included in my synopsis handout – ok, more than the usual number that I include in these blog posts.  There were so, so many good highlighted passages:

• The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.  
• With Marc and me, even after eighteen years, he upsets me almost every day by finding something wrong in my thinking, and I do the same for him. It works. 
• No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends.   
• Michael Ovitz. Michael was on Loudcloud’s board, but more important, he had formerly been known by many observers as the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.” 
• An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.  
• 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. 
• Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through the Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. 
• As a corollary, beware of management maxims that stop information from flowing freely in your company. …For example, consider the old management standard: “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.” What if the employee cannot solve an important problem?   
• At this level, almost every company screens for the proper skill set, motivation, and track record. Yes, the reason that you have to fire your head of marketing is not because he sucks; it’s because you suck. 
• If you don’t have world-class strengths where you need them, you won’t be a world-class company. 
• When a company multiplies in size, the management jobs become brand-new jobs. As a result, everybody needs to requalify for the new job. 
• When things go wrong in your company, nobody cares. The media don’t care, your investors don’t care, your board doesn’t care, your employees don’t care, and even your mama doesn’t care. Nobody cares.  …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.
• My old boss Jim Barksdale was fond of saying, “We take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order.” “Taking care of the people” is the most difficult of the three by far.
• Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one. 
• Nothing makes things clear like a few choice curse words. “That is not the priority” is radically weaker than “That is not the fucking priority.” …We certainly could not tolerate profanity used to intimidate or sexually harass employees, so I needed to make the distinction clear. …As I see it, we have two choices: (a) we can ban profanity or (b) we can accept profanity. Anything in between is very unlikely to work. … However, this does not mean that you can use profanity to intimidate, sexually harass people, or do other bad things.
• Hire people with the right kind of ambition. …The surest way to turn your company into the political equivalent of the U.S. Senate is to hire people with the wrong kind of ambition.
• While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization and then regain it.
• The Law of Crappy People: For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title. …The rationale behind the law is that the other employees in the company with lower titles will naturally benchmark themselves against the crappiest person at the next level.
• In top dojos, in order to achieve the next level (for example, being promoted from a brown belt to a black belt), you must defeat an opponent in combat at that level.
• Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company.
• The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least ten times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing.
• Great CEOs face the pain.
• Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.
• More senior executives will recognize the shit sandwich immediately and it will have an instant negative effect. To become elite at giving feedback, you must elevate yourself beyond a basic technique like the shit sandwich. 
• I like to ask this question: “How easy is it for any given individual contributor to get her job done?”
• Of course, even with all the advice and hindsight in the world, hard things will continue to be hard things.

Here are a few of the points I included in my synopsis handout, from the book:

Here are a few of the points I included in my synopsis handout, from the book:

  • Let’s start here:
  • it is the hard things that will get you. The easy things are…easy.The hard things are…truly difficult. – So, how do you prepare to handle the hard things?  Maybe you don’t; other than to acknowledge the difficulty, and give it your all.
  • Somehow, the top leaders have to see the future. No…they have to see the future to create; they create that future that they see.
  • The CEO – is the only one who can see all the pieces. The only one!
  • Maybe the biggest insight in the book: Peacetime CEOs vs. Wartime CEOs (Horowitz: By my calculation, I was a peacetime CEO for three days and wartime CEO for eight years).:
  • This was wartime. The company would live or die by the quality of my decisions, and there was no way to hedge or soften the responsibility. The only choices were survival or total destruction. 
  • There are lots of good peacetime CEOs and lots of good wartime CEOs, but almost no CEOs that can function in both peacetime and in wartime. You’re a peacetime/wartime CEO.”
  • Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.
  • Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy, audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.
  • The world looks one way in peacetime but very different when you must fight for your life every day. In times of peace, one has time to care about things like appropriateness, long-term cultural consequences, and people’s feelings. In times of war, killing the enemy and getting the troops safely home is all that counts. I was at war and I needed a wartime general. I needed Mark Cranney. 
  • There are no silver bullets – you have to use the lead bullets – 
  • you have to do the hard work of becoming good enough to be better than the competition — We had to build a better product. There was no other way out. 
  • Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our Web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that.”
  • Train your people!
  • People at McDonald’s get trained for their positions, but people with far more complicated jobs don’t. It makes no sense. …A lot of companies think their employees are so smart that they require no training. That’s silly.
  • The manager should do the training…
  • When you fired the person, how did you know with certainty that the employee both understood the expectations of the job and was still missing them? The best answer is that the manager clearly set expectations when she trained the employee for the job.

And here are my six lessons and takeaways;
#1 – Get very good at identifying the specifics of your challenge:  what are you trying to build/provide; who is your competition; can you be better than your competition?
#2 – Are you ahead of the pack?  Are you staying ahead of the pack?
#3 – Have you found good advisors, who will speak the truth to you?  Do you have the humility to listen to them; and the courage to reject their counsel If you know you are right and they are wrong?
#4 – Can you identify the genuinely hard things about your job?
#5 – Can you be honest, and human, at the same time?
#6 – Do you read books written by people that have wisdom worth learning and emulating?

Who should read this book?  Obviously, any leader facing hard and difficult circumstances.  And, maybe the rest of us, leader or not, to help us understand both hard times and hard decisions, and the struggles that our leaders go through during such hard times.

This is quite a good book!

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My synopses are available for purchase on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, and the audio recording of my presentation. The synopses delivered in June will be available soon. Click here for our newest additions.

Here is the video of the June First Friday Book Synopsis – The Hard Thing about Hard Things and Think Like a Rocket Scientist

We have the June First Friday Book Synopsis on YouTube

Did you miss the June 5 First Friday Book Synopsis on Zoom?
We have the video available on YouTube.
Both synopses available: The Hard Thing about Hard Things and Think Like a Rocket Scientist

I (Randy Mayeux) presented both synopses.  People print the handouts, and follow along.  You can download the two synopsis handouts by clicking here.

Here is the video, from YouTube, from the Zoom presentation:

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And, if you missed the May session, click here:
Here is the video of the May First Friday Book Synopsis – The Innovation Stack and The Catalyst.

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Coming on July 3, on Zoom, two more good books. Find the Zoom details here.

For July 3, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

 

 

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – Coming for the July 3 First Friday Book Synopsis (on Zoom)

First Friday Book Synopsis, July 3, 2020, on Zoom
Time:  7:30 am
Two Books:
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
Link to join meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82787828459

Please invite one and all to participate in this session. 

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For July 3, 2020 First Friday Book SynopsisI am breaking precedent for the July 3, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis.  This is a time that calls for the breaking of precedent.

For 22+ years, we have focused almost exclusively on books that deal with business issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  Oh, there have been a few wanderings here and there, usually dealing with leadership in sports, or politics, and a few other books that might have seemed a little far afield.  But I have always kept the overall subject of business improvement and excellence and success in mind.

But, this is a moment that beckons us to pay special attention to a national problem and challenge. And, it certainly has implications for every business in America.

So, for July and August, and possibly for September and October, maybe even longer, I have chosen to tackle the issues dealing with race in America through my book selections.

If you were to ask me what is the most important book to read, I would pause, and ask you to reconsider your question.  This is an issue that requires more than any one book. You simply will not learn enough to tell you what you need to know with any one book.

Last week, I wrote a blog post about the current best sellers (read that post here).  Of the top 15 books on Amazon’s overall list of best–selling books Friday (they update this list hourly), twelve of the fifteen dealt with issues of race.

I am not “new” to this; I have some long-term interest in this subject.  I have presented books on racism, social justice, and poverty, each month for over 15 years at the Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas, sponsored by CitySquare. And, in addition to the academic work I did on civil rights rhetoric in my graduate student days at the University of Southern California, my wife and I have taken our vacation trips in recent years to the civil rights cities of Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, LIttle Rock, and Memphis.  In other words, I have paid attention to this issue for…decades.

For July, I have selected Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi.  It won the National Book Award the year it was published, 2016.

Though I was tempted to begin with his latest book, How to Be An Antiracist, I felt like this book provided needed history and context. So, I will present my synopsis of his newer book in August.

I am leaning toward following up with White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, maybe in September.  And. among other books I am considering for this “series” are:  Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and possibly The Making of a Racist by Charles Dew.

And, there are so many others to read, to learn from, to ponder…

As for the business book that I have selected for July 3, I will present my synopsis of The Ride of a Lifetime by Roberg Iger, the man behind the last few years of Disney’s success. Bill Gates calls this one of the most important business books he has read in quite some time.  It is a book worth reading!

Our July 3 meeting will be on Zoom again; 7:30 am.  Please mark you calendar now.  (Meeting info is below). Come join us!

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This meeting will be available to all for free.  If you care to participate financially, you might send $12.00 to the First Friday Book Synopsis thorough Pay Pal.  (Click here for a direct link to send money).
(Note: if you are a non-PayPal person, you can send money through Zelle by using my e-mail address, ).

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Here is the information for the Zoom meeting.  Please save it to your calendar.

Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: July 3, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis
Time: Jul 3, 2020 07:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82787828459

Meeting ID: 827 8782 8459
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Meeting ID: 827 8782 8459

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kbACZGOWfK

 

Best Sellers among all books, with books on race topping the list – and, Here is the New York Times list of best selling business books for June, 2020; Atomic Habits still at #1

The New York Times has just published its June, 2020 list of best-selling business books.  It is a good list, that I will share below.

But, first, a few words about another best-sellers list.

StampedBeginningAmazon updates its list of best sellers every hour.  And, right now FrIday, June 5, around 10:30 am Central time, the best-sellers list has gone through quite a transformation.  Books on racism and racial issues, have risen to the top of their list.  Note:  this is not a “category” list.  This is best sellers among ALL books.  As of this hour, out of the top 15 books, notice these:

#1 – White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo
#2 – So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
#3 – How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
#4 – We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates
#5 – Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
#7 – The Color of Law:  A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
#8 – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
#10 – The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#11 – Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (And Other Conversations about Race) by Beverly Angela Tatum
#12 – Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
#13 – Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
(#15 – Becoming by Michelle Obama)

 

(I include the Michelle Obama book because it is the memoir of a black woman in America).

This is nothing short of remarkable.  You may have seen the story of the American Airlines CEO Doug Parker reading the book White Fragility while on a Southwest Airlines flight, and how that sparked quite a poignant conversation with an African American flight attendant.  (Click here to read that story).

White FragilityI have made the decision to present Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi at the next First Friday Book Synopsis (July 3), probably following up with other books dealing with racism in the months to follow.

In other words, this moment calls for serious study and reflection.  This Amazon best sellers list signals hope that people are actually studying and reflecting in a way that might be helpful.

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Now, for my usual monthly “best-sellers blog post.” The New York Times has published its monthly list of best-selling business books.

this is the book that we started with in 2019

this is the book that we started with in 2019

Of these ten books, after our July First Friday Book Synopsis, we will have presented seven of the ten at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis gatherings.  I have presented synopses of Atomic Habits, Dare to Lead, Outliers, and Extreme Ownership.  And, in July, I will present The Ride of a Lifetime.  And my former colleague, Karl Krayer, presented his synopses of Grit, and Thinking, Fast and Slow.

These presentations are given each first Friday of the month in Dallas.  We are in our 23rd year of monthly gatherings, with two book synopses presented at each gathering.

(We have always met at the Park City Club, with their great breakfast and beautiful surroundings.  But, for now, we are meeting on Zoom).

Here are the ten books on this month’s list of best-selling business books.  Click over to the New York Times site for links to reviews of some of these books.

#1 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
#2 – Hustle harder, Hustle Smarter by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
#3 – The Ride of a LIfetime by Robert Iger
#4 – Grit by Angela Duckworth
#5 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#6 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
#7 — Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
#8 — Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
#9 – This is Not a Fashion Story by Danielle Bernstein with Emily Siegel
#10 – The Price of Peace by Zachary D. Carter

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Note:  our monthly Zoom meetings are available on YouTube; posted soon after the live event.  Watch this blog for those links each month.   — And, our synopses are available to purchase.  Each synopsis comes with the pdf of the comprehensive, multi-page handout, along with the audio recording of my presentation.  Click on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  And, click here for our newest additions.

 

Download the Synopses Handouts for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis – June 5, 2020

Over 150 people joined in on our May First Friday Book Synopsis gathering on Zoom. We had participants from all over the country. Please share this word far and wide — all are welcome!

Click on image to download synopsis handouts

Click on image to download synopsis handouts

June 5, 2020 – Zoom

Two Book Synopses: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol.
Where: on ZOOM
When: This Friday, June 5, 7:30 am
The presentation will conclude by 8:30 am
Speaker: Randy Mayeux

Click here to join in on Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86728145569

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We are all set for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis.

#1 — Download, and print both synopses handouts by clicking here.

If you have ever attended our event, you know that I am handout intensive. You really will be able to follow along better with physical copies of the handouts in front of you. So, if you have a printer, please print the handouts.

#2 — Come on in for conversation whenever you can. I am still new to this whole Zoom practice, but I have enabled the “enable join before host” button. So, you can come in, and talk to folks. I will plan to join the meeting around 7:00, but will keep myself pretty much muted until I begin the program at 7:30. And, I will not “end the meeting” for a while after, if you want to continue conversations with others after we officially conclude.

#3 — Here is the info, with the link to join the gathering:

Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: June, 2020, First Friday Book Synopsis
Time: Jun 5, 2020 07:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86728145569

Meeting ID: 867 2814 5569

One tap mobile

+13462487799,,86728145569# US (Houston)

+16699006833,,86728145569# US (San Jose)

Dial by your location

+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)

+1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)

+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)

+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)

+1 301 715 8592 US (Germantown)

+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)

Meeting ID: 867 2814 5569

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kdvaZXkNEw

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Reminder: The cost of this remote meeting is “free.”
But, if you would like to contribute to participate, Randy would welcome you to send $12.00 directly to him through PayPalClick here for a direct link to “donate” thorugh PayPal.

(Note:  you can also send money through Zelle, at Randy’s e-mail address).
(Randy’s e-mail address for PayPal , and Zelle, is ).

Please help spread the word far and wide; help make this a success.

You might want to read this post. It has a printable one-sheet reminder on how to make the most of your remote learning experience.
Remote Learning 101 – Read this before attending your learning session.

Do you have a strategy to close your most important gap – and then your other gaps?

Closing the Gap“It’s important that we have a strategy to close the gap.”
Jason Marshall, Cisco Systems – Area Manager, Global Enterprise South

(I recently presented my synopsis of Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin to the team Jason leads. This is a statement he made, in reflection after the book synopsis).

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What’s your strategy to close the gap?

There is a gap, you know.

You have a gap.

There are so many gaps.

There is a gap between what you have learned, and what you want to learn.
There is a gap between what you do know, and what you should know.
There is a gap between how well your team works together, and how well you want your team to work together.
There is a gap between how well you communicate with your clients, your customers, and your prospective clients and customers, and how well you want to communicate with them.

There may be a gap between sales and marketing.
There may be a gap between strategy and execution.
There may be a gap between engineering and customer service.

There is a gap between what you have accomplished, and what you want to accomplish.

What other gaps do you face?

The gap will not close by itself.
The gaps will not close by themselves.

The gap will never close without working on closing the gap.

The gap will likely not close without learning some new things – about communication, and execution, and…

So it is important to identify the gap. And the gaps – to clearly identify every one of them.

And it is important  to develop a strategy to close each gap.

And then…

It’s important that we actually close the most important gap that we face right now.

And then, after we close that gap, we then tackle the next gap.  And the next.

So, how are you doing?  Have you closed any gaps lately?  Have you identified the next gap you need to close?

Good luck closing that next gap.