What You Do Is Who You Are

Early in his career, Ben Horowitz was often told culture was the most important thing. And yet, no one could tell him what it was or how to build it. Reflecting on his own experience he realized he didn’t remember every quarterly goal or critical calculation, but he did remember how the essence of what they were doing made him feel. What they did defined his memory of who they were. That was culture – actions over time.
He says, “One of the key insights from Bushido is that a culture is not a set of beliefs, it’s a set of actions.” It’s not just backward-looking either, culture is what we do and it defines who we are. Using examples from Samurai to prisoners (and Haitian slave revolts, and…), Horowitz breaks down what it means to understand, study, and build cultures in the real world. Given his long career in venture investing, he’s also had a lot of practice.
If we think about culture as a driver of business value, we can connect how our values are a part of how others value us. If we want to help, a good place to start is by being helpful. A less-than-good place to start is to claim to be helpful without actually helping. These are both forms of culture, they just have different implications for how they’ll be valued over time
Culture is the compound returns of our actions. This is why it’s the most important thing – it has the power to create or destroy value. Once we know what we and others value, we know what to do.

Check out Ben Horowitz’s new book, “What You Do Is Who You Are,” out now.

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