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.