The Hard Thing About Hard Things Review
This is my review of The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Like with Accelerate or No Rules Rules I was not expecting much coming in, but was blown away by the book. There’s a lot of wisdom in here for sure.
The book deals with management in broad lines, with a focus on being the CEO or an executive at a startup. It doesn’t have anything in terms of overarching frameworks or big theories. Rather it’s a large number of “small lessons” the author’s learned the hard way by running their startup and being a VC. The lessons are mostly taught by way of war stories from Netscape, Opsware and then other a16z companies. So in that sense the book felt rather like prose with bits and pieces of advice sprinkled, and not a didactic text. This meant the book was easy to read, and I got through it less than a week, with all sorts of other chores and travelling intermixed. That said, the lessons are hard to learn. And in a sense you can at most be informed about them. But mastering the skills requires practice. Which means being in a startup CEO position, or at least someone with significant influence over an organisation to cause some damage.
There’s a wealth of good material and I can’t do it justice in a review. I’ll highlight just some parts that stood out. But it’s by no means exhaustive.
The whole of the chapter called “When Things Fall Apart”. This one dealt with doing the difficult things of letting people go, executing layoffs, demoting friends, firing execs, etc. This is half theory, and half story. And the stories are (now) quite entertaining, but I imagine gut-wrenching as they were happening. The theory is all about being honest, focused, and keeping an eye on the big picture of making the company succeed.
I also really enjoyed the section on “Ones And Twos”. The author has observed folks in exec positions tend to be either fast moving decision makers who dream the big strategies. Or optimizers who make sure the whole thing actually works. CEOs should be the former, but other folks the latter. Which leads to loads of issues at succession time.
There is also the classic “Peacetime CEO / Wartime CEO” piece. Which splits company “situations” into peacetime (owning the majority of a large market), and wartime (anything). These require different leadership skills, and are mostly exclusive.
Anyway, this was my bit. Go read the book. It’s well worth it.