a16z Podcast

The Stories and Code of Culture Change

Ben Horowitz and Sonal Chokshi

Posted December 7, 2019

There are some common tropes that can kill your company culture — whether it’s that corporate values can be weaponized; “fake it til you make it”; the “reality distortion fields” of visionaries vs. liars; and so on. All of this just reveals the confusing, sometimes blurry line between the yellow zones and red zones of behavior, because the very things that are strengths can also become weaknesses (and vice versa!). The fact is, in any complex adaptive system (which is what a company is), even the seemingly smallest behaviors will move the culture where the loudest proclamations do not.

That’s why so much of culture — whether building and setting it or fixing and changing it — comes down to the difference between actions and words, to the tacit vs. the explicit, to the difference between what you do vs. what you say (and what employees see vs. what they hear). So in this episode of the a16z Podcast, based on a conversation that recently took place at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, Sonal Chokshi interviews Ben Horowitz about his new book, What You Do Is Who You Are, probing on all the tricky nuances of the themes covered in it — and also how to practically apply principles from it to the tech industry and beyond.

Are mistakes of omission more important than mistakes of commission, when it comes to ethical lines? What can employees, not just leaders, do when it comes to culture? Where does the idea of “culture fit” come in? What happens when startups go from being the pirates to being the navy? Drawing on examples of culture as code from a thousand years ago to today — spanning empires, wars, revolutions, prisons, and even hip-hop — Horowitz shares the power of song and story. Including even violent, “shocking” ones that reset cultures… because they make you ask, WHY?!

100% of the proceeds from the book will go to anti-recidivism, and to making Haiti great again.