Ben Horowitz - Culture and Revolution


Culture is a hard thing for most people to grasp. It is a word that can mean so many things and often is not fully understood, especially in the context of business organizations.

I love these two slides from Netflix’s Culture presentation (found here) which highlights how most people and organizations view culture:


Culture is not simply those value statements. Anybody can say them, but what does the company actually value? Actions and behaviors of the leaders and their followers could prove a different story:


Ian and I agree that the Horowitz presentation is one of the better ones on the topic of culture. We decided to add each of the keys that Ben Horowitz mentions into the culture section of our forum. There are many examples of these cultural keys being found in intelligent fanatic led organizations which we will be adding.

Culture & Revolution Presentation Highlights
  • [1:34] - Dogs at work, yoga, organic food... they are perks, not culture.
  • [3:03] - What is culture?
  • [3:30] - Admiral Richardson: Culture starts with who comes into the organization.
  • [3:56] - Richardson can predict with 95% certainty who will fail to become a Navy Seal based on the psychology exam before they go in.
  • [4:25] - One thing that shapes culture is the decisions that you make. Example, if a guy comes in and steals one of my guys toothpaste (in prison), what I do there what decision I make is going to matter a lot. It is to determine if I can kill you, rape you, hurt you or anybody associated with you. How I react determines the safety of all of my guys.
  • [5:35] - What is culture? It's the collective behavior of everyone in your organization.
  • [6:00] - It's what your people do when no one is looking.
  • [6:42] - Some Examples
  • [7:30] - How do you change culture late in the game?
  • [7:45] - Historical example - Toussaint L'Ouverture (only successful slave revolution)
  • [12:00] - Two previous attempts - Francois Makandal (1758), Vincent Oge (1790)
  • How Toussaint Won
  • [15:33] - Keeping what works - used slave song to their advantage in communicating sensitive information over long distances.
  • [16:52] - Created shocking rules - officers cannot cheat on their wives. Keeping your word.
  • [18:18] - Incorporate other cultures - read complete works from Cesar. Learned that as Cesar built the roman empire he wouldn't kill the people he conquered. When he went in he left them in place. He needed someone who knew that culture running that region.
  • [19:52] - Make decisions that demonstrate priorities - kept plantation owners for the economy, told them to charge labor wages and would lower their taxes.
  • [22:18] - Results - successful slave revolution, booming economy, more export income (Haiti) than the U.S., defeated Spanish, British and French under Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • [23:00] - How does this apply to my Company?
  • [23:08] - Steve Jobs kept what works at Apple when he came back. The company was three weeks away from bankruptcy. Everyone saying you "should be more like Microsoft" get clone makers to make Mac systems and split Mac OS from hardware. That wasn't what Apple was. They are good at integration. Great at design. Jobs focused on Apples strengths.
  • [24:20] - "Move fast and break things." - Mark Zuckerberg
  • [25:49] - Google apps five years before Office 365. No enterprise culture in Google. Google went and got Diane Green, best person in enterprise.
  • [26:42] - Reed Hastings started out in DVD to streaming. It was interesting DVD network, high bandwidth with high latency. Didn't know when streaming would happen. Wanted to be first class streaming company. It all happened one day. DVD was 100% revenue, but told those people running that business they couldn't go to staff meeting. You've got to make it clear that it is future of the company.

If you enjoyed this article, you should become an Intelligent Fanatics member. As a member, you get our current and future Intelligent Fanatics books and case studies for free, as well as the ability to participate here on our community. Join Us.


I am a big fan of Horowitz. His book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” is fantastic.

Regarding culture, in my early career days I most definitely thought that signs on the walls, cool vending machines, and food truck Fridays was how you define culture. Boy was I wrong. The “a-ha” moment for me was when we figured out how to build purpose into what we do, and for each and every employee to feel that purpose and to work their ass off everyday to ultimately push the company forward in achieving its vision. By keeping the “purpose” tank full, your employees miraculously keep going, and going, and going. It’s awesome to be a part of.

No doubt all the little stuff helps, but without purpose, there is no possible way for a company to reach their desired results without a whole lotta luck.