The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Ben Horowitz is a successful figure in tech industry, I was curious to read what he had to say without even knowing what his book was about. Turns out, it’s meant to be a guide for CEOs. Nevertheless, it helped me understand why certain things are the way they are in my current company. It contains lessons he learned from his time at Netscape and Opsware. Here are some highlights:

  • Do you know what’s cheap? Flowers. But do you know what’s expensive? Divorce
  • In top dojos, in order to achieve the next level, you must defeat an opponent in combat at that level. This guarantees that a new black belt is never a worse fighter than the worst current black belt.
  • When someone learns to drive a race car, one of the first lessons taught is that when you are going around a curve at 200 mph, do not focus on the wall; focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will drive right into it. Focus on where you are going rather than on what you hope to avoid.
  • In high school football, being able to handle fear is 75% of the game.
  • I follow the principle of the Bushido — the way of the warrior: keep death in mind at all times. If a warrior keeps death in mind at all time and lives as though each day might be his last, he will conduct himself properly in all his actions.
  • If you survive long enough to see tomorrow, it may bring you the answer that seems so impossible today.
  • Startup CEOs should not play the odds. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.
  • Whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.
  • In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust.
  • Every manager must lay off his own people.
  • Hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.
  • After putting economics aside, I found that there were two primary reasons why people quit: (1) They hated their manager; generally the employees were appalled by the lack of guidance, career development, and feedback they were receiving. (2) They weren’t learning anything: The company wasn’t investing resources in helping employees develop new skills.
  • Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company.
  • The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least ten times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing.
  • People open up to feedback far more if you start by complimenting them, then give them the difficult message, then wrap up by reminding them how much you value their strengths.
  • If you are very early on in a very large market and you have good chance of being number one in that market, then you should remain stand-alone.
  • Build a culture that rewards – not punishes – people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.

If you’re in a leadership position or CEO of a company, this book is for you. Otherwise, you won’t get much signal from it …

March 12, 2014


I first learned about Positive Psychology when a class on this subject became the most popular course among undergraduate students at Harvard University seven years ago. Since then, this subject gained popularity in the media and there have been many books written about it due to its appeal to a wide audience.  I’ve been reading and learning more on this subject through the years because my goal in life is to be happy.  I found it interesting that this field in psychology only started 15 years ago, before then psychology focused on mental illnesses instead of finding ways to make normal life more fulfilling.

I came across a great journal article recently that summarizes research findings and gives actionable advice we can follow. I highly recommend reading the full article titled “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right“. These were the highlights for me:

Buy experiences instead of things
“Experiences are good; but why are they better than things? One reason is that we adapt to things so quickly … Another reason why people seem to get more happiness from experiences than things is that they anticipate and remember the former more often than the latter.”

Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones
“If we inevitably adapt to the greatest delights that money can buy, then it may be better to indulge in a variety of frequent, small pleasures — double lattes, uptown pedicures, high thread-count socks — rather than pouring money into large purchases such as sports cars, dream vacations and front-row concert tickets. One reason why small frequent pleasures beat infrequent large ones is that we are less likely to adapt to the former. Happiness is more frequently associated with frequency than the intensity of people’s positive affective experiences. Eating two 6 oz cookies on different days may be better than eating a 12 oz cookie at a single sitting.”

Buy less insurance
“If the bad news is that we adapt to good things, the good news is that we adapt to bad things as well. Buying expensive extended warranties to guard against the loss of consumer goods may be unnecessary emotional protection.”

Pay now and consume later
“The shift toward immediate enjoyment and delayed payment eliminates anticipation and anticipation is a source of “free” happiness … Compared to those in the certainty condition, participants who were uncertain about which gifts they would receive spent more time looking at pictures of the gifts and experienced a more lasting boost in mood during the experiment session … Research shows that thinking about future events triggers stronger emotions than thinking about the same events in the past.”

Beware of comparison shopping
“When asked directly, first-year students in our study reported that the physical features of the houses would be less important for their happiness than the social features (sense of community, relationships with roommates etc.) But when students were asked to predict how happy they would be living in each of the houses, their attention gravitated to the features that differed most between the houses: their predictions were driven largely by the physical characteristics of each house. Comparison shopping may focus consumers’ attention on differences between available options, leading them to overestimate the hedonic impact of selecting a more versus less desirable option.”

Follow the heard instead of your head
“Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it.”


January 10, 2014

Humans of New York


Humans of New York  is a project by Brandon Stanton to capture New Yorkers and tell their stories, apparently this book is the result of 3 years of work for that project.

In the beginning of the book, Brandon briefly tells his story. When he was fired from his job as a bond trader, he decided to try being a photographer. “I had enjoyed my time as a trader, but the end goal was always money. Two years of my life were spent obsessing over money, in the end I had nothing to show for it. I wanted to spend the next phase of my life doing work that I valued as much as the reward.” So he starts visiting different cities, taking photos and sharing them on Facebook.

When he finds out that his most compelling pictures were of people, he pivots like a startup and focuses only on those. He starts stopping strangers on the street and taking photos of them. When he arrives to New York, he says  “The buildings were impressive, but what struck me most were the people”. It was interesting to learn that his photos initially didn’t include captions or stories, since that seems to be the most compelling part of the book. He’s able to capture something deep about each person with his captions.

It’s a fun book that shows the diversity of people living in New York. There’s too much content on the website to digest all at once, so buying the book is an easy way to surface and enjoy the best content.


January 1, 2014

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sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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