Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Works about Rework

Books on business strategy are usually packed with vague abstractions and useless buzzwords. That’s why I enjoyed Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s book Rework so much. It’s a no-nonsense collection of business wisdom from the two founders of 37signals, a wildly successful software company. Like any provocative book, I found plenty to disagree with, but I also found a lot of smart advice.

For instance, Fried and Heinemeier Hannson advise business leaders to “Ignore the Real World.” This is their reply to all those pessimists who insist that a new idea could never work in the “real world.” The authors get it exactly right when they explain that “the real world isn’t a place; it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying.”

Or, as I like to put it, be a radical optimist. Saatchi & Saatchi is guided by a single core belief: Nothing is Impossible. If this isn’t your philosophy, then you’re letting winning ideas slip through your fingers. Unleashing creativity means seeing the world as a place without any limits or rules.

Another of Rework’s more insightful pieces of wisdom is “Decisions are Progress.” According to Heinemeier Hansson, “You want to get into the rhythm of making choices . . . Each one you make is a brick in your foundation. You can’t build on top of ‘We’ll decide later,’ but you can build on top of ‘Done.’” I am a decision freak, have a decent tolerance for making wrong ones (once!), and believe in action over looking at your navel.

You’d be amazed at how many business leaders avoid difficult decisions and instead fill their days with busy work. It’s not enough to simply “get things done.” You need to “make things happen.” You need to take your business in new directions, implement radical new ideas, take chances, aggressively pursue new clients and challenge conventional wisdom. All of this requires the courage to make tough decisions.

Here’s a taste of Fried and Heinemeier Hansson on Hiring:
  • Do it yourself first
  • Hire when it hurts
  • Pass on great people
  • Resumes are ridiculous
  • Years of irrelevance
  • Forget about formal education
  • Hire managers of one
  • Hire great writers
  • The best are everywhere
  • Test-drive employees

Of course, there are a number of instances where I took issue with Rework. I found myself scribbling furiously in the margin when I read the authors’ claim that “learning from mistakes is overrated.” “What do you really learn from mistakes?” the authors ask. “You might learn what not to do again, but how valuable is that?”

Even though they ask this question rhetorically, I’ll go ahead and answer it anyway. How valuable? Incredibly. If you’re genuinely taking chances, if you’re committed to pushing the limits of what’s possible, you will fail. Learning from that failure is the way to fortify your business, to accumulate wisdom and to know what to avoid next time. In fact, it’s safe to say that Fried and Heinemeier Hansson wouldn’t be the successful entrepreneurs they are today if they hadn’t developed the ability to fail fast, learn fast and fix fast.


Rav Roberts said...

Hurrah for that! Other than learning from failure, it's important for people to not be scared of failure - this is more difficult to teach though!

Susan P. said...

Could someone put my number on Fried and Heinemeier Hansson's speed-dials please?

Ian Sanders said...

I loved 'REWORK', especially as Jason and David share my thoughts on business planning. Their chapter 'Planning Is Guessing' says it all.

A couple more take-aways from the book to add to Kevin's here:
- You don't need an MBA or a fancy suit. Just an idea, a touch of confidence and a push to get started.
- You're better off with a kick-ass half, than a half-assed hole

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear you enjoyed REWORK, Kevin. Thanks for checking it out. And special thanks for the post and spreading the word - we really appreciate it.

-Jason Fried