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What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,415 ratings  ·  160 reviews

Ben Horowitz, a leading venture capitalist, modern management expert, and New York Times bestselling author, combines lessons both from history and from modern organizational practice with practical and often surprising advice to help executives build cultures that can weather both good and bad times.

Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by

Kindle Edition, 248 pages
Published October 29th 2019 by Harper Business
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Frank Chen
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've worked in Ben Horowitz designed cultures for decades (Netscape, Loudcloud, Opsware, Andreessen Horowitz). So it was fun & fascinating to go behind-the-scenes to understand his detailed thinking behind some of the decisions he made. Like "Hard Things About Hard Things", this book is practical and philosophical at the same time.

Culture is hard to design, it takes constant work to design and reinforce, it's subtle, it needs to be refreshed constantly. It's also often overlooked as startup
Julia Gaffield
Nov 10, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Lessons in Leadership Conservatism

In What You Do Is Who You Are, venture-capitalist and NYT best-selling author, Ben Horowitz, turns to history to teach CEOs and business leaders how they can shape and change the cultures of their companies. His first of four models is Toussaint Louverture, a military and political leader in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804).

In the eighteenth century, sugar took over the economy of the western hemisphere and the heart of this exploitative system was France’s
Kair Käsper
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: starting-up
After The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, this book was a disappointment. Here’s a few reasons:

First - a large portion of this book could have been written by anyone. For reasons unclear, Horowitz brings examples mostly not from his own experience, but from history. Let’s remind ourselves that Horowitz is not a historian and it feels a lot like he has interpreted the stories, characters and their decisions to fit the points he’s trying to make.

Carl Rannaberg
It was not as good as a book as Hard Things About Hard Things. But it reminded about many principles of how to create a culture in an organization. For example, your culture is what you tolerate. When you tolerate repeated bad behavior then you can expect it happening more often and spread all over you organization.
Also, your culture is how your actions are interpreted, not what your intentions are. This makes a good point about thinking about how your actions are percieved and not what you are
Philip Joubert
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read dozens of management books and Ben Horowitz's latest book is unique among them. He writes in a real, no-bullshit way about the messy real-life situations that nobody else talks about. As an entrepreneur reading this book I felt both deeply understood by him and challenged in a profound way.

Ben leads with examples far removed from the tech world, using Toussaint L'Ouverture (Haitian Revolution), Genghis Khan, Shaka Senghor (prison gang leader) and the Sumurai. The decision to use those
Greg Bae
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, bae-ovation
In short summary: What you say means far less than what you do. Culture begins with deciding what you value most. Then you must help everyone in your organization to get there. Creating culture is being a leader.

Ben Horowitz writes in an interesting style that is engaging and broad in its examinations of various unexpected sources of culture cultures, like bushido samurai and Haitian slave rebellion. The Shaka Senghor chapter was so good, especially with the Audible narrator.

At times I forgot
Jacek Bartczak
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I don't how people behave in this company" - if you have ever said that it means that book is for you. I've never had a pleasure to meet such tangible content about the company's culture.

I guess there are CEOs / managers who won't like it - books included many suggestions about how a leader's actions and consequence determine how employees approach to the company look like.

"The hard thing..." was more spectacular, but that book is still a must-read for anyone who cares how his teammates behave
Sven Kirsimäe
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-device, at-audible
A must-read for anyone interested in how company or group cultures are created. Nice set of examples, easy read/listen.

Long story short: list of values or listing values does not create culture. What happens and what is done, especially when you're outside of the room, is the culture and that is mostly build based on "leading by example" not by the wishful thinking and promotion of "these are our values" lists.

For example, if we ask people to stay focused in the meetings and fail ourselves it
Sebastian Gebski
I respect BH as a very smart person with incredible experience. Even people who have so much to share don't have to be great in sharing - fortunately BH is. I don't like his interviews, I find some of his references (especially hip-hop song citations) annoying, but in the end - both his books ("The hard things ..." & "What you do ...") are absolutely stellar - I can only recommend them.

"What you do ..." is a book about culture. Defining it (up to the level it's possible ...), cultivating it,
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had a feeling that I would like the book and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the fact that it wasn’t just thoughts and experiences from the author but it was backed and illustrated with historical stories and facts about what culture is and how it impacts where the group with the culture gets to.

The book definitely made me think about our company’s values, what works, what doesn’t, why and how really good values look like.

One thing I hadn’t thought about before is the idea that company values
M. Nasiri
A journey through "culture", from ancient to modern.
فرهنگ سازمانی
Never underestimate the importance of a business’s culture. Examples past and present show that culture should be much more than just a list of values pinned to the wall: it should be a set of virtues that underpins everything your business does. That’s because it’s our actions – what we do, not what we say or feel – that define who we are.
Nov 24, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What a mess. What a waste of time. He berated Hillary Clinton for taking responsibility for things that weren’t enticing her control and lauds Mary Barra, who spent 38 years in multiple departments but had no idea people died for over ten years due to a Design defect, threw a few engineers under the bus and got millions, for her dress code. Praises managers who fire good workers for giving them good references. Genghis Khan?
This book is full of messed up ideas and it’s horrifying to know that
Maciek Wilczyński
This time, Ben Horowitz aimed to explain company culture. Again, his thoughts are crystal clear and profound as they're based on his experience, rather than scientific research. I buy it.
His book is written in a very specific, yet interesting format. There is a visible storytelling approach:
1) Do you know the story about "some known, yet not common knowledge historical fact"?
2) Here is what happened in this story!
3) There is more! We can learn something from it
4) Case study of XX/XXI century
Roger Grobler
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly practical

It is very hard to write about culture. There are many ways of achieving the same thing, and many very different cultures that will work, depending on the leader and the people inside the business. So to write about culture generally is very hard, but Ben brilliantly achieved this.

It is sometimes dangerous to retrospectively fit a story to the past to make it seem plausible. Narrative fallacy is the technical term for it. Ben does use stories to illustrates principles, and
Srirang Ranjalkar
What you do is who you are is a nice book about creating a winning culture. However, in chapters 4, 5 & 6 Ben focuses more on the lives of Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan than on the core subject - how to create your business culture. I picked up the book to read about how cultures of different companies evolved and what decisions helped them build that culture, not to know about the lives of Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan. Their lives may be exceptional, no doubt about it. But having read ...more
Andrew Tollemache
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really strong follow up by Horowitz to his 2014 book, "The Hard ThingAbout Hard Things" in which he tries to explain how companies can build the ever desireable "strong culture" by using a series of historical analogies such as Toussaint Overture, Genghis Khan and Shaka Sendor (prison gang leader).
Horowitz does a great job using these historical examples coupled with modern business case studies to illustrate his points. He also couples this analysis with a strong emphasis that quality
Vinayak Hegde
Let me start my review by saying that this book is not like "The hard thing about hard things". So it felt quite disappointing. Maybe my expectations were quite high. The book looks at historical figures and then analyses how they fostered cultures. I felt that most of the examples that were taken were from people from violent or military backgrounds whether it was the prison inmate gang leader Shaka Senghor or Genghis Khan or Japan's military elite - the Samurai or Haiti's slave rebellion. I ...more
Stefan Bruun
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
Having read The Hars Thing About Hard Things multiple times, I had such high hopes for this book.i must say I was disappointed.

The book is much more descriptive than prescriptive and action oriented (as I would have expected from an entrepreneur and VC). Also, it is close to become a cliche of a classic "airport business book" in its use of examples from historical figures.

Disappointed. This could have been so much better and useful.
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
Great inspiration for how to build culture. Without being prescriptive, Ben Horowitz talks through historical and recent examples of how armies, empires and global companies achieved big goals because of cultural strengths and how cultural flaws have broken many a mission by not being amended soon enough.
Seth Davis
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this as a thought-provoking book on organizational culture. I thought the examples including war and prison were engrossing and the concepts were well connected to more current-day business contexts.
Jason Provonsha
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read about how to think critically about culture and how it can impact your business when properly designed. Lots of thought provoking content here and a nice quick read.
Vaidotas Juknys
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read
An inspired take on building company culture.

Unlike Hard Things About Hard Things Horowitz relies not only on his own managerial experience but also draws parallels with significant historical events. It is entertaining to read how he manages to find similarities between Genghis Khan, Haitian revolutionaries of the late 18th century, prison gangs & building a company in 21st century. At best, this approach helps to paint a vivid picture of most universal human nature elements. At worst,
Jonathan Lu
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worthy followup to "the hard thing about hard things" that still is one of the 5 best leadership books I've ever read. Where Ben Horowitz dug deeply into the challenge of management, leadership, and decision making in his last book, he digs deeply into what comprises a company culture in this one. Featuring examples of Touissant Louverture converting slave culture to military culture in the only successful slave revolt; Samurai Bushido culture and its lasting impact on Japanese culture across 10 ...more
Tõnu Vahtra
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The good thing about this book are the direct intriguing questions that Horowitz makes you ask, in that matter the book is similar to his other book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

Moving forward: "If you cannot get a decision from lower levels come directly to me and I'll promise to get back to you within a week" ->things immediately started moving in the organization.

“I hear you and, quite frankly, I agree with you, but I was overruled by the powers that be.” This is absolutely toxic to
Sourabh Ghorpade
What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture

The Good:
* The author points out great points about how culture can have unintended consequences (Uber’s “win at all costs” leading to uneithical practices.
* He also raises the interesting points on the difficulty in following things like being honest to employees(a la Yudishtir from Mahabharat). And an interesting point on how tacky situations by putting out a cause / meaning for something like layoff before other people. This is
Dec 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The sequel is never as good as the original. "What you do is who you are compared to The hard things about hard things" Ben defines his own culture from people in history who have dared to defy culture. His editors gave ben a lot of latitude with this book it's got his fingerprints all over it.

"My ear picked up on"
Is winning more important then ethics?
If you see something below standard and do nothing then you just set a new standard
The target is always moving
Hip hop is premised on candor
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookshout
Five stars for the premise that culture is "what you do" more than "what you say".
Three stars for what felt like adapting historical narrative to exemplify his points.

The premise fits somewhat comfortably into the culture ideas of Schein, in that cultural artifacts (the way your culture manifests itself every day) can belie underlying conflict when what you say is not what you do. An interesting quote...

A value is merely a belief, but a virtue is a belief that you actively pursue or embody. The
Barry Clark
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much like Ben’s other book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, this book is 1/2 story telling and 1/2 advice on running a company.

What’s different is the story telling 1/2 in What You Do Is Who You Are focuses on leaders outside of the business realm. This includes deep dives into how Toussaint Louverture, Shaka Senghor and Genghis Khan built cultures with their actions. These sections felt like dragged out history lessons with tenuous connections to the purpose of the book. I struggled for
Brian Sachetta
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It's just chock-full of great wisdom about building and sustaining a winning company culture. Where I think this one stands out from others in the genre is that it unapologetically covers the gray areas of culture and the difficult decisions in business without losing its moral and honest standing.

Horowitz makes his points shine with the backing of several stories from companies he's worked in, invested in, or advised. One example I really loved was when he advised a
Arya P B
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Title : What You Do Is Who You Are - How to create Your Business Culture
Author : Ben Horowitz

QOTD : If you own a business what it would be?

Are you willing to be an entrepreneur, then I think this is the best book to take a look. The best selling Author Ben Horowitz had done a wonderful job by teaching us with the business leaders and how they started and succeeded in developing their company.

I have always wondered with history of these companies. Infact when I was small my wish was to
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Ben Horowitz is the cofounder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs building the next generation of leading technology companies. The firm's investments include Airbnb, GitHub, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Previously, he was cofounder and CEO of Opsware, formerly Loudcloud, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard ...more
“Culture is not like a mission statement; you can’t just set it up and have it last forever. There’s a saying in the military that if you see something below standard and do nothing, then you’ve set a new standard. This is also true of culture—if you see something off-culture and ignore it, you’ve created a new culture.” 3 likes
“Because your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there. It’s the set of assumptions your employees use to resolve the problems they face every day. It’s how they behave when no one is looking. If you don’t methodically set your culture, then two-thirds of it will end up being accidental, and the rest will be a mistake.” 2 likes
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