What You Do Is Who You Are | Ben Horowitz

Summary of: What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture
By: Ben Horowitz


In ‘What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture,’ author Ben Horowitz breaks down the concept of culture and its implications for businesses. He discusses how it varies greatly among companies, highlighting the differences between Apple and Amazon, as well as providing historical examples of leaders who embodied exemplary cultures. The book summary explores inspiring stories from Toussaint Louverture, the samurai, Shaka Senghor, and Genghis Khan. As you read on, you will gain valuable insights into developing, maintaining, and adapting company culture in alignment with your own personality, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as clear actionable steps to help you achieve the desired culture for your business.

The Importance of Company Culture

Many leaders acknowledge the role of company culture in success, yet few can define it. Culture goes beyond company values and CEO personality, as it should express the nature of the business itself. Bob Noyce, co-founder of Intel, created a radical business culture that allowed ideas to flourish and influenced Silicon Valley. A great workplace culture may not guarantee success, but it can help maximize a company’s potential. Using examples from business and history, this book emphasizes the uniqueness of each company’s culture and offers advice on defining it. Remember, culture can’t be generalized; it has to be your own.

Lessons from Toussaint Louverture

How the lessons from the leader who abolished slavery in Haiti can help contemporary businesses

Toussaint Louverture’s life story may not seem relevant to modern businesses, but his leadership methods have valuable lessons to offer. Born into slavery in Haiti, he became a leader when an insurrection emerged in 1791. Louverture was able to hold off attacks from the Spanish and British armies, and in 1801, he declared himself the governor of Haiti and abolished slavery.

One of Louverture’s key leadership qualities was his ability to make significant decisions that communicated the values and culture he aimed to instill in his army. He did so by creating rules that made his soldiers think about the values inherent in their actions. For instance, he banned married officers from having concubines, which pushed the cultural virtue of trust to the forefront of his soldiers’ minds.

Louverture also understood that his decisions had to conspicuously demonstrate his cultural priorities. Instead of seeking revenge on former plantation owners, he let them keep running the plantations and harnessing their expertise, focusing on economic survival.

Louverture’s shocking rules create an environment where people are forced to think, and this approach is still valuable to modern organizations. For example, Amazon’s “Accomplish more with less” encapsulates the company’s frugality culture. They even used this rule to provide employees with office desks made out of a cheap door with legs nailed onto it, emphasizing frugality every time they sat down.

Similarly, Reed Hastings of Netflix made a Louverture-esque decision in 2010 when he stopped inviting DVD executives to meetings, demonstrating the company’s shifting priorities towards streaming services.

In conclusion, even though contemporary businesses face unique challenges, Louverture’s leadership style is exemplary. The culture he aimed to instill was imprinted in everything he did, as he communicated his values and priorities through his decisions. These lessons offer valuable insights for today’s business leaders striving to create a culture aligned with their values and goals.

Bushido for Business

The samurai’s cultural virtues known as bushido still resonate today and can be applied to the modern business world. It’s all about actions, virtues, and doing what is right. The most crucial lessons business can learn from bushido are to focus on death constantly, accept the worst possible outcome, and prioritize virtues like honor, politeness, and sincerity. Andreessen Horowitz recognized the importance of respecting the entrepreneur and holding them accountable with samurai-style politeness. Above all, it’s our actions that define us, regardless of our motivations.

Shaping Culture: Business Lessons from a Former Inmate

Shaka Senghor, a best-selling author and former inmate with a second-degree murder conviction, transformed a gang’s culture in prison through constant engagement and ethical leadership. He challenged the Melanics’ leaders over their treatment of a member, highlighting the importance of following their own moral code. Senghor also reshaped the gang’s cultural code by making members eat, work out, and study together, moving away from violence and towards a more ethical approach to life. One essential lesson from Senghor’s experience is the importance of first impressions in shaping a group’s culture, which business leaders should be open to changing. Senghor’s story reminds us that to lead effectively, we must walk the talk and exemplify trustworthiness.

Inclusion and Leadership Lessons from Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan understood that a sense of inclusion is vital for any successful culture. He accomplished his mission of uniting Mongol tribes by banning inherited titles, promoting loyalty, and encouraging intermarriage to integrate cultures. Frontier Communications’ CEO Maggie Wilderotter also emphasized inclusivity by eliminating class-based systems, raising salaries for all, and defending underdogs in disputes. In addition, the author applied a more inclusive approach to hiring, resulting in a diverse staff that contributes unique experiences and strengths. Modern companies can learn from Genghis Khan’s leadership and inclusivity principles in building an effective and cohesive culture.

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