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Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things


Dan Cowens, another Maryland EMBA Alumnus and CEO and Founder of Snag-a-slip, recommended The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Dan described it as essential reading for any entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur.

The book absolutely lived up to its billing. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a combination memoir and practical advice from someone who has experienced tremendous successes (Netscape browser) and very real setbacks (Loudcloud surviving the tech bubble burst).

While I am not currently an entrepreneur currently, nor an aspiring one, I have taken on several professional roles of an “intrapreneur”, or someone that is starting up new functions within an existing company. When I took over as Executive Director of Operations for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, the entity was only 2 years old. It was floundering and required a speedy turnaround. Our leadership team had to stand up a viable infrastructure while not only keeping operations going, but improving them as well.

For our leadership team, the expression, “building the plane while flying it” was very real. In other words, we knew we had to improve short term results without sacrificing the longer-term sustainability of the organization.

My current role is also brand-new and intrapreneurial: Aligning, coordinating, and overseeing Adventist HealthCare’s system for delivering a world-class patient and family experience. As it stands now, the department is new and small from both an employee and revenue standpoint.

Horowitz gives expert advice rooted in many different experiences about how to produce short term results while building an organization for the long-haul. The book contains advice about how to lead through difficult times, how to build a sustainable organization, advanced leadership skills, and organizational growth.

The most practical part of the book is Chapter 6: “Concerning the Going Concern” as I believe these lessons carry across all businesses. In this chapter, he gets to the important information on how to develop people, develop culture, and develop foundational business practices.

My favorite part of this chapter involves his definition of “process”. Horowitz writes, “The purpose of process is communication” (p.190). From this definition, which is clear and compelling, he illustrates how to go about creating a viable process for a given function. The steps greatly simplify the purpose and work required to develop a process that accomplishes its intended result.

Horowitz’s lessons in The Hard Thing About Hard Things are important for all business people, but especially those who don’t mind (or enjoy) building something new and building it right.

KEY TAKEAWAY: All business leaders can learn from the lessons of entrepreneurs, particularly those looking to create change, either within an existing company or starting a brand new one. One important lesson is to create processes that align to communicating for an intended purpose.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is available for purchase on Amazon for $29.99 (does not include Prime discount)

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