I read a lot. Lately I've been reading a lot of books about start-ups and how to market small businesses. Many of them say the same few things in a lot of different ways. One book that does not do this is Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 signals. I have been a fan of theirs for awhile now. A lot of what they talked about in their first book, Getting Real had to do with what I do for my day job. I found their philosophy honest and straightforward, and I appreciated that it flew in the face of conventional wisdom.
Rework goes beyond the realm of web app development and talks about starting and running a business. The book is a series of simple, short essays that are really a collection of rules that could apply to any business from a corporation to a small indie craft business. What appealed to me most is that they succinctly articulate everything I’ve intuitively felt about work and business, and their success with products like Basecamp gives them the street-cred to back up what they’re saying.
The book is short, I inhaled it in about 3 hours. I like that it was originally twice as long, but they stripped it down to it’s essence and stripped it of fat. This typifies what the 37 signals crew is all about: simplicity, elegance, efficiency. However, what strikes me most about their approach is it’s humanity. Fried and Hansson cut through all of the noise and nonsense that is a standard part of corporate ‘culture’ and get down to what matters. Some of their ideas that especially resonated with me:
Why Grow? - They challenge the accepted wisdom that growth is always good, this is in line with Jim Collins’ thinking in Good to Great (another wonderful business book)
Scratch your own itch - The best business ideas are ones that you create in order to solve a problem/meet a need you are struggling with yourself.
Launch Now - I constantly find people saying this and it is reassuring. Your site/product/business will NEVER be as perfect as you imagine it to be - just get it out the door and you can fine tune it as you go. Seth Godin says this in Linchpin (‘Ship Often’)
Don’t be a hero - I loved this one, especially considering my corporate consulting background. In most companies there is a dysfunctional pride in working insane hours and ‘taking one for the team’. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get when emails go out congratulating teams for consistently working late hours and weekends to get projects over the line. All this tells me is that the project was poorly sold or they can’t plan or effectively communicate with their clients and/or don’t work efficiently. The unspoken expectation that people should sacrifice a holistic and well-balanced life to be team heroes makes me seethe with resentment. Why should anyone do this? For the glory? For the paycheck? Why? The anti-workaholism sentiment in the book is brilliant, especially the way the authors make a direct connection between being balanced and rested as a means to producing quality, valuable and meaningful work.
Don’t write it down - Any problems your customers have will be so repetitive and constant that you won’t be able to forget what they are. If you have to write it down to remember it, it really isn’t a priority.
Welcome obscurity - I’ve been welcoming this for awhile now. The idea that not having a massive audience is a perfect time to experiment and make mistakes. This factor alone has helped me be relatively fearless when it comes to launching products or posting on my blog. No one wants to be watched when you’re still riding around with training wheels on. Of course I hope I won’t be obscure for too long, but for now it’s a comfort.
If you have a small business or are getting something started, this book is worth it’s weight in gold.