📚 Book Notes: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Here are my notes from The Hard Thing About Hard Things:

  1. There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience.
  2. Leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity.
  3. When you fired the person, how did you know with certainty that the employee both understood the expectations of the job and was still missing them?
  4. Every really good, really experienced CEO I know shares one important characteristic: They tend to opt for the hard answer to organizational issues. If faced with giving everyone the same bonus to make things easy or with sharply rewarding performance and ruffling many feathers, they’ll ruffle the feathers. If given the choice of cutting a popular project today, because it’s not in the long-term plans or you’re keeping it around for morale purposes and to appear consistent, they’ll cut it today. Why? Because they’ve paid the price of management debt, and they would rather not do that again.
  5. The basics seem obvious, so why does almost every company eventually make serious mistakes regarding titles? If you have ever worked in a company, you have probably thought to yourself about some overly promoted executive: “How did he get to be a vice president? I wouldn’t let him manage a lemonade stand.”
    One challenge is the Peter Principle. Coined by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book of that name, the Peter Principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain being unable to earn further promotions. As Andy Grove points out in his management classic High Output Management, the Peter Principle is unavoidable, because there is no way to know a priori at what level in the hierarchy a manager will be incompetent.
    Another challenge is a phenomenon that I call the Law of Crappy People. The Law of Crappy People states: For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title.
    The rationale behind the law is that the other employees in the company with lower titles will naturally benchmark themselves against the crappiest person at the next level. For example, if Jasper is the worst vice president in the company, then all of the directors will benchmark themselves against Jasper and demand promotions as soon as they reach his low level of competency.
    The best way to mitigate both the Peter Principle and the Law of Crappy People is with a properly constructed and highly disciplined promotion process. Ideally, the promotion process should yield a result similar to the very best karate dojos. In top dojos, in order to achieve the next level (for example, being promoted from a brown belt to a black belt), 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.
  6. As CEO, you can do very little employee development. One of the most depressing lessons of my career when I became CEO was that I could not develop the people who reported to me. The demands of the job made it such that the people who reported to me had to be 99 percent ready to perform. Unlike when I ran a function or was a general manager, there was no time to develop raw talent. That can and must be done elsewhere in the company, but not at the executive level. If someone needs lots of training, she is below standard.

If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯

Software Developer at Day | Aspiring Writer at Night