What You Do Is Who You Are

How to Create Your Business Culture

Ben Horowitz


Introduction: What You Do Is Who You Are

"It turns out that's easy to build an app or a website that meets the specification of some initial idea, but far more difficult to build something that will scale, evolve, handle edge cases gracefully, etc."

Chapter 1 – Culture and Revolution – The Story of Toussaint Louverture

Who was Toussaint Louverture

Louverture's Rise

How Louverture Reprogrammed Slave Culture

  • Keep What Works
  • Create Shocking Rules
  • Dress For Success
  • Incorporate Outside Leadership
  • Make Decisions That Demonstrate Cultural Priorities
  • Walk The Talk
  • Make Ethics Explicit

What Happened to Louverture

Historical Impact

Chapter 2 – Toussaint Louverture Applied

Keep What Works – Apple

Create Shocking Rules – Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo

  • it must be memorable
  • it must raise the question "Why?"
  • its cultural impact must be straightforward
  • people must encounter the rule almost daily

Dress for Success

Incorporate Outside Leadership – Hey, Motherfucker!

Make Decisions the Demonstrate Priorities – Netflix

Walk the Talk – Hilary Clinton's emails

Make Ethics Explicit – Uber, Huawei

Chapter 3 – The Way of the Warrior

What Did Culture Mean to the Samurai

"What you DO is who you are"

The Importance of Death

Defining the Virtues – rectitude or justice, courage, honor, loyalty, benevolence, politeness, self-control, and veracity or sincerity

"A culture is not the sum of its outrage; it's a set of actions."

Applying the Method – a16z

Making the Culture Last - providing detailed case studies

Stories – Cisco & expenses, Netscape & snakes

Chapter 4 – The Warrior of a Different Way: The Story of Shaka Senghor

Cultural Orientation

White's Rise

"First I had to learn there was a different way, then I had to master those skills, then I had to decide that was truly how I wanted to live my life."

The Turning Point: Unintended Consequences

Changing the Culture and Himself

Who is Shaka Senghor Now?

Chapter 5 – Shaka Senghor Applied

  • Your view or your executive team's view of your culture is rarely what your employees experience
  • You must start from first principles. Blindly adopting a culture without understanding its underlying principles cannot work.

Culture Changes People

"When you ask your managers, "What is our culture like?" they're likely to give you a managed answer that tell you what they think you want to hear and doesn't hint at what they think you absolutely do not want to hear. That's why they're called managers."

-> Ask new joiners what made them wary and uncomfortable, what they would change.

New-employee Cultural orientation.

Living the Code

Culture is Universal

When the Code gets Weaponized

When You Have to Change Yourself to Change Your Culture

Change Culture Through Constant Contact

Chapter 6 – Genghis Khan, Master of Inclusion

How Culture Affected Military Strategy

Meritocracy (and rule of law)


"Unique among conquerors, Genghis never punished any of his generals, which explains why, across six decades, none of them deserted or betrayed him. Using a technique later employed by Shaka Senghor, Genghis demanded his army's ethics apply to outsiders as well." Executing betrayers of his enemies even when they helped him, while promoting enemies that were doing their duty in trying to harm him.


Chapter 7 – Inclusion in the Modern World

From Cabrini-Green to CEO – McDonald's Don Thompson

"Don't attend pity parties. And definitely don't host them."

Loyalty and Meritocracy Today – Frontier's Maggie Wilderotter

Mastering Inclusion – Seeing People

  • deeply involved in the strategy and its implementation
  • starting from the job description required
  • loyalty through equality

Chapter 8 – Be Yourself, Design Your Culture

Be You

But Know Which Parts of You Need to Work

Apply Who You Are

Culture and Strategy. Did Somebody Say Breakfast?

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast" - Peter Drucker


"Buyers are liars" – In sales, if you take what you're told at face value, you won't last.

"Great salespeople are more like boxers. They may enjoy what they do, but nobody sells software on the weekend for fun. Like prizefighting, selling is done for the money and the competition – no prize, no fight. So sales organizations focus on commissions, sales contest, president's clubs, and other prize-oriented forms of compensation. Salespeople represent the company to the outside world, so they need to dress accordingly and show up early, when their customers punch in. Great sales cultures are competitive, aggressive, and highly compensated - but only for results."

A Specification for Employees

Slack's standards: smart, humble, hard-working & collaborative

Amazon's pure cultural interviews (not from the hiring team)

A Universal Element of Strong Cultures – What You Do Must Matter

Attributes that Make Cultural Virtues Effective

  • Actionability
  • Distinguishability
  • Self-Application

Chapter 9 – Edge Cases and Object Lessons

When Customer Obsession Leads to Recession - BlackBerry

Breaking Your Own Rules – a16z

When Culture Conflicts with the Board of Directors

Telltale Signs that Your Culture is Messed Up

  • the wrong people are quitting too often
  • you're failing at your top priorities
  • and employee does something that truly shocks you

Object Lessons

Dealing with Culture Breakers

The Culture of Decisions

  • my way or the high way
  • everyone has a say
  • everyone has input, then I decide



Cons of low-level decision-making

  • it can break communication across product groups
  • it can break communication between divisions
  • you can lose input from your very best minds

Chapter 10 – Final Thoughts

Universal cultural virtues

  • trust – get to know about bad news in any way possible
  • loyalty

Your cultural checklist

  • Cultural Design
  • Cultural Orientation
  • Shocking Rules
  • Incorporate outside leadership
  • Object lessons
  • Make ethics explicit
  • Give cultural tenets deep meaning
  • Walk the talk
  • Make decisions that demonstrate priorities