I’m slow reading What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz, and writing a series of posts to capture some key points from each major section. This post is about Genghis Khan’s rise to power and what it has to teach us about establishing culture.

Genghis used a decentralized management and speed as his secret weapon against clans much largers than his own army. He also ensured best practices of the places he was conquering were brought into the fold in his army - enabling a culture of continuous learning. There were three principles that helped him create a stable culture: meritocracy, loyalty, and inclusion.

Metitocracy was about destroying the hierarchical and sexist structures of the military in the past. He changed his military structure to operate as concentric circles vs. hierarchies with a consistent chain of command. This allowed him to get rid of those that were there just for status, and promote soliders to leaders if they demonstrated that ability.

Loyalty was a “bilateral relationship”, almost synonymous with trust. It was about having the option to punish someone for not obeying orders, but also not always exercising that option. Genghis wanted to preserve Mongol life even as he was conquering the country, so this was applied universally not just within his army.

Inclusion was about getting rid of the aristocrats and helping soliders rise up from the bottoms up, thereby building trust and loyalty. This applied to the enemies he conquered too. He also created inclusion by creating new ethical boundaries - he outlawed crimes against women and children - something that was commonly accepted during those times.

His decentralized approach to creating culture was a revolutionary approach, and although it fell apart because of succession issues, the change he was able to create was remarkable.