My Super Cool Weekly Review Column (This Week: ReWork)
Being as that I’m hoping to inject a little life into the blog and get some readers back (I have cake!) I thought the review column was ready for a come back. So, check back every week or so – or more accurately, whenever I happen to finish something I either like or dislike enough to write a review – and learn what I’m reading as a writer, freelancer or just plain geek.
I picked up ReWork in September after many months of telling myself I needed to read more about how to run the business I was starting to build. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know what I was doing – we do pretty well overall – as much as that things were changing rapidly and I wanted some context.
A friend of mine knew that I used Basecamp for my project management and Highrise for CRM and suggested I check out the book written by both sites’ creators, the founders of 37Signals – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Let’s start with the basic concept of the book – that more or less everything we know or think we know about business is wrong, or at least severely misguided. As far as book concepts go, it’s not that surprising. Business publishers are always looking for the next “what you’re doing is completely wrong” approach. The real metric of success is whether said book has good alternatives.
In this case, it is.
ReWork is a very short book. I read it in about three hours. The page count is pretty standard but when you toss in the chapter title pages, the doodles and the massive font you have a very short book – something like 27,000 words.
I don’t tell you this because I think word count somehow correlates to the quality of a book, but because it shows the philosophy of 37Signals in brilliant technicolor. These guys are minimalists – the epitome of the modern startup. Fewer employees, less office space, fewer features in your product and (hopefully) much larger profit margins.
If you’ve used any of the 37Signals products you know what I’m talking about. Basecamp rose to prominence for doing away with about 80% of the features that clutter most project management tasks, making it a perfect fit for small businesses like my own that had less than five employees and only a handful of projects to manage.
ReWork is broken down into micro chapters – each between 2-3 pages long and containing a single tip designed to show how these guys have bucked convention and created a business model that anyone can emulate by asking “why” before they jump head first into a project.
They skewer traditional ideas like meetings, business planning, taking loans to build a business, perfecting a product before releasing it and trying to produce a better, more feature packed product than your competitors.
It’s almost impossible to read a book like this without saying to yourself as you read “this is a good idea” or “this is a bad idea”. I won’t say that I did otherwise. There were a few times while reading that I found myself shaking my head, either dumbfounded at the simplicity of the explanation provided by the authors, such as their chapter on “quitting” or letting customers out grow your products.
For me, as a service provider, these don’t work. Had I taken the advice laid out in the chapter on quitting I would have failed. The same idea in “don’t be a hero” basically tells you that persistence is a fool’s trait when a task grows beyond what you originally expected of it, that persistence turns into stubbornness too easily. I disagree. Persistence in tasks that I underestimated or projects that I probably should have quit has often paid off in big ways.
But, these are small quibbles. In many industries, this advice would be spot on – just not in mine. And then there are the sparks of genius such as selling by-products, or throwing less at a problem or skipping details and getting a product on the shelf. While the latter definitely applies mostly toward software and products that can be updated and improved over time, in it are lessons about customer expectations and PR that I would recommend for almost any startup CEO that I know.
The Bottom Line
ReWork is one of the better business books I have read in the last three years. While the authors try to be shocking at turns and lack a lot of necessary context at other points, the point of the book is clear.
Like all components of this economy, things are changing rapidly. You can’t use the old rules for a business model that is almost completely foreign to how things used to work. If you have a young business, an online business or plan on starting a new business any time in the next few years, I highly recommend ReWork before, during and after you get started.
Four out of five stars.