Three management mantras that Ben Horowitz says are stupid

A world-class team is just the beginning.
A world-class team is just the beginning.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Before becoming one of the founding partners of venture capital behemoth Andreessen Horowitz, Ben Horowitz co-founded and was CEO of Opsware, a software company. His recently published book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, is a chronicle of the company’s series of near deaths, eventual sale to Hewlett-Packard, and the management lessons learned on the way.

In an interview with Quartz, Horowitz broke down three of the persistent management phrases that need to be removed from leaders’ vocabularies.

Don’t bring me a problem without a solution

“It’s a fine self help thing and a very bad management tool. The reason it’s fine self help is because it says, ‘let me see if I can figure this out before asking someone else.’ If I’m in my position at a company, I may not have the knowledge of the CEO, I may not know what’s possible, or I may not have the creativity, but if I can identify a problem, that’s a valuable thing.

“So why would you want to get rid of that value? It’s the most classical MBA thing, don’t bring me a problem unless you have a solution. There’s something to it, but its a dangerous thing to have at a company because the message is stop bringing problems. You want the bad news.”

You need a cult-like culture

“Another piece of bad advice that was running rampant in 1999 came out of Jim Collins’ book Built to Last, and it’s that you need a cult-like culture. It says that it doesn’t really matter what’s in your culture just as long as its hyper pronounced. There’s definitely some truth to it but it’s another dangerous one.

“You want to have shocking things in your culture, but they need a very sharp purpose. Like Jeff Bezos thinking that we’ve got to be super frugal, so we’re going to shock people by building desks out of doors. That wakes people up, they think ‘I can’t spend a lot of money because Jeff won’t even buy me a desk.’ That’s a very clear cultural signal. That’s programming your culture.”

The most important thing is building a world-class team

“People say the most important thing is building a world-class team. ‘OK good, I was going to build a terrible team, I was going to get the dumbest people I have and bring them all together and that’s how I’m going to build my company.’ It’s such an obvious statement to the point where it’s useless.

“It gives you overconfidence if you’re doing it because you think that once have great people, it’ll work. But no, it’s not. They might end up killing each other if you don’t put them together the right way, if you don’t make sure people are communicating and on the same page.”