Culture and Revolution [Horowitz]


A short talk by Ben Horowitz on what culture is and how do you go about changing it:

Culture and Revolution

Ben’s simple definition of culture:

  • The collective behavior of everyone in the organization
  • What people do when left to their own devices
  • The organization’s way of doing things

Ben offers 4 keys to changing culture, drawing parallels between Toussaint L’Ouverture , the leader of the only successful slave revolution in human history (Haiti, 1791), and modern Silicone Valley leaders:

1. Keep what works

  • Toussaint: use music (a strength of slave culture) as a communication technology.
  • Steve Jobs @ Apple: when coming back to Apple, did not copy Microsoft’s strategy (saparte OS from device, let clone manufacturers deal with the hardware), and instead double-down on Apple’s strength building integrated systems. Severed connection with clone manufacturers, made it even more vertical and build even more hardware.

2. Create shocking rules

  • Toussaint: officers cannot cheat on their wives (rape and pillage being an expected benefit of the “winning” side). Break away from low-trust/loyalty attributes of slave culture.
  • Mark Zuckerberg @ Facebook: “Move fast and break things”, completely opposed to the software engineering mindset of fixing things rather than breaking them…

3. Incorporate people from other cultures and insert them at high levels within the organization

  • Toussaint: Incorporated soldiers from French and Spanish armies that he defeated as officers in his army.
  • Larry Page @ Google: bringing in Diane Greene, who was the CEO of VMWare and on the Google board at the time, to run Google Apps (G-Suite) to infuse Google with the enterprise culture that it desperately needed in order to be successful selling that product suite to enterprise customers.

4. Make decisions that demonstrate priorities 

  • Toussaint: after abolishing slavery, decided not to kill the slave masters, and instead let them continue to run their estate, while lowering their taxes so they can pay their workers.
  • Reed Hastings @ Netflix: forbidding the members of the DVD business unit to come to executive staff meetings (in order to drive the culture shift towards streaming).
Culture and Revolution [Horowitz]

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