Ben Horowitz on adding value and not following your passion

As I’ve written here, I don’t generally watch videos of talks as I think they’re largely a waste of time. However, Ben Horowitz is an exception. Every bit of content I’ve read or watched from him has been incredibly high quality. His blog is fantastic and his book, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, is the closest I’ve seen a book come to an entrepreneur’s bible. So, I did what a fan would and jumped on watching this 16 minute video during breakfast yesterday as I just expected it to be really good. And, it was.

These are my three lessons from his talk.

1. Think for yourself because you add value to the world when you bring to life a belief that no one believes to be true. This was the story of Brian Chesky at AirBnB. He believed that we would rent a mattress in our home to strangers. While most people thought this was absurd as you could be housing a serial killer, he did 2 things. First, he ran an experiment at home and it turned out to be just fine. Next, he dug into why hotel chains exist. He soon realized that hotel chains are a fairly recent invention. In the old days, people stayed at inns. However, these inns had too much variability as you could have some very bad experiences at some inns. He realized that, with the internet, information and reviews could make this transparent and enable people to choose well. It is that insight that’s led to a company valued over a billion dollars.

2. Don’t follow your passion. You don’t know what you are passionate about. And, besides, passions change. Start with what you are good at – you’ll get to passion. (More on this thanks to Cal Newport’s excellent book on the subject here)

3. A period of great opportunities. Yes, there’s global warming, terrorism and many bad things happening all over the world. But, there’s also the following facts (a few of the many he cited) –
– the number of people in extreme poverty today is the lowest it has ever been and one-fifth of what it was in 1900
– child labor is in steep decline and fell 1/3rd between 2011 and 2012
– expenditure of food as a % of income fallen in half since 1960
– Life expectancy has increased and we have grown taller (a measure of nutrition) oin the last 100 years
– Worldwide battlefield deaths are down, violent crime and global supply of nuclear weapons, also, are down
– In 2014, carbon emissions were flat for the first time in the last decade

There are still issues but you have technology available to you as a tool for change. But, if you contribute and think for yourself, you will be the generation that unlocks human potential.

Fantastic, as always. Thanks Ben.

0 thoughts on “Ben Horowitz on adding value and not following your passion

  1. great speech, there is also a decade study about students who blindly followed their passions, without rational analysis, have been more unhappy than students who coupled passion with rationality. http://www.amazon.com/Good-They-Cant-Ignore-You/dp/1455509124/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433176137&sr=1-1&keywords=so+good+they+can%27t+ignore+you

    This relates to me as well, after I graduated with a CS degree I didn’t have passion for programming and it took me many years and trying different analysts jobs and getting an MBA to actually discover that software engineering is something that I’m good at, and I developed a passion for it. So yea mistake is to think if you are not good at something you cannot develop passion for it. I think passion comes with success and hard work and it could be in anything.

    Thanks for the post, I’ll have to check out Ben’s book.

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