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What You Do Is Who You Are
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Learn the key ideas of the book by Ben Horowitz

What You Do Is Who You Are

Building a company culture that starts with us

In his book, Ben Horowitz takes us on a journey to both past and present, tracing connections between great characters, both in history and in business, who have made a difference in the world. To help us understand the importance of having a strong business culture, he hasn’t consulted with the Harvard elite or the Silicon Valley gurus. Horowitz has gone into the depths of history, and travelled the globe: in Siberia we get a glimpse of the lives of the ancient Japanese samurai, after which we head to Caribbean, and he even takes us to a Michigan prison. The result is clear from the moment we read the words of the title: what you do is who you are.

What You Do Is Who You Are
Read in 13 min.
Listen in 16 min.

A company’s culture reflects the values of everyone who works in it, and it is expressed through daily conduct

Company culture, first and foremost, is about the way in which a company identifies itself and its most important values. We could define it as the way a company’s employees behave when no one is watching. What do our employees get up to when no one sees, when there are no bosses or managers around? Their actions, decisions and problem solving methods, the way they handle criticism and raise doubts: these are all the aspects that make up a company’s culture; a series of norms that are the foundation from which your employees work to solve the problems they have to deal with every day.

Identifying the culture we want is not easy: not only do we need to know exactly where we want to take our company, but we need to be very clear about how we plan to get there. Company culture is not a list of rules and laws that are set in stone, we need to keep an eye on it, adjust it, and renew our cultural code, adapting it to the continuous changes that life imposes on us.

There is no such thing as a perfect business culture, nor is there an ideal one, there is however, a useful and functional culture for every scenario, tailor made for us, which reflects the entrepreneur’s personality and the values the company wants to live by, and communicate to the outside world.

Apple’s business culture could never work at Amazon and vice versa. If the aesthetics of the products are of utmost importance, immediately next on the list of priorities is the need to offer products at the lowest possible price. It follows that Apple invests billions in setting up workplaces bursting with beauty and creativity, while Amazon saves on employees’ frugal workstations. There is no right or wrong culture, both of these work, and are in-keeping with their company’s values.


The key ideas of "What You Do Is Who You Are"

A company’s culture reflects the values of everyone who works in it, and it is expressed through daily conduct
To create a new business culture, it is important to focus on everything that already works well
We need to set rules that disrupt the ordinary way of thinking and mesmerise
Knowing how to make decisions that show what our priorities are
The way of the warrior: the samurai can teach us the difference between values and virtue
Building a culture in prison based on the idea that we should embody our principles
Genghis Khan: a Mongolian leader from whom we can learn the importance of inclusion, meritocracy and loyalty
Inclusion means learning to understand people and seeing them for who they are
The establishment of our company culture must start with us
Take-home message
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