Summary of the book Rework: This bestseller, published in 2010, provides a clear and comprehensive vision of entrepreneurship, far removed from the razzmatazz of some startups: with the use of some well-edited chapters, the authors give us their practical approach to business, and it’s difficult not to be enthusiastic about them once you have read it!
By Jason Fried and David Heinemeir, 2010, 273 pages.
Note: This is a guest column written by Laurent Hausermann from the blog: On the road to innovation
Chronicle and summary of “Rework“
If you prefer video to text, I have prepared an illustrated video chronicle of the book:
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are the bosses of the company 37signals. They are successful entrepreneurs and over the last 12 years have built up a small empire that provides business software for people who are self-employed, along with small and medium-sized businesses. They have a famous and very successful mentor in Jeff Bezos, who is an investor and advisor to their company. And they are the authors of the successful blog Signal vs Noise.
Jason is the co-founder and President of 37 Signals. He is a staunch supporter of a simple and pragmatic approach to business initiatives. He has co-authored all 37signals’ books. Jason is a speaker on entrepreneurship as well as design and management and software. Jason writes a column in the monthly magazine Inc.
David Heinemeier Hansson is J.Fried’s main partner. He started his Internet career in 1996 within marketing, project management, design and software development. In July 2004 he developed and published the open-source software Ruby on Rails online. This is the software that is used to build all 37-signal applications and thousands of other popular sites.
- ASAP is poisonous
- Do LESS than your competitors
- Meetings are harmful
- Fire the workaholics!
- Act like drug dealers
- Choose your battles
- If you plan, you guess
- Inspiration can disappear
What do those words on the back cover of the book mean? Are they written by a very depressed executive who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital? Are they the thoughts of some kind of new style of boss, someone with a love of failure or an inclination to break the law? Or that of a guru who wants to recruit new victims? (for the record, my circle of friends asked me if it was a book that was tied in with some sort of cult!)
I reassure you Rework is none of these things. There is no risk that you will slip into depression or addiction! So, in that case, what is it?
It’s a small book (270 pages, but full of beautiful comic book type illustrations). I tore through it in one weekend over two beautiful spring days. It’s made up of a collection of radical ideas that aim to change your approach to work and how you would start a business. Based on the principle that, like great cooks, you have to share your recipes, Rework will help you to do less in order to create more, to be more efficient and to be more successful.
Within a week of its release, the book was critically acclaimed and went straight to number one in the New York Times’ prestigious “Business Books” ranking.
It also received rave reviews from its peers:
Seth Godin, Author, “Ignore this book at your own peril.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder/CEO Amazon.com, “Jason and David started from scratch and rewrote the company rules. Their approach has proven to be as successful as it is counterintuitive“.
Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com, “The wisdom in these pages is simple, straightforward, and proven. Read this book over and over again to give you the courage you need to think outside of the box and do something great.”
Now let’s go through it in detail and examine the key ideas in this incredible book for ourselves!
Chapter One – FIRST
The book opens with an observation. The business world has changed and there is a new reality. A reality where you can still be a small business and yet have millions of customers. A reality where you are able to work with only twenty employees worldwide, without the need for meetings, investment funds, PR agencies or sales staff. It is possible to develop your business with no huge financial backing and with no need to sell to large companies.
You can remain a small company without the threat to be wiped out. Not everyone believes in this. There are many who don’t believe that this is achievable. They believe that you have to work 100 hours a week. They say that you need offices, high fixed costs, to advertise or hire recruiters. In Rework, the authors prove just the opposite: if you can remain small and lean, this can be the key to success.
The book is aimed at everyone:
- the born entrepreneur, the one who has always wanted to create launch and operate their own business,
- the self-employed, the artisan who manages their small business every day
- and even the employee, who is fed up with the daily routine of work, the boss, and dreams to take a step forward and launch a new career.
Chapter 2 – TAKEDOWNS
In order to make the proper changes, the first thing you need to do is to eliminate things that are not useful and to break free from the ideas that you currently believe in.
Ignore “in real life”, is one of the tips in the book. In reality “real life” is the place where all your ideas are impossible and unrealistic… for others. The story of 37 signals shows that “real life” is not a real place. It’s an excuse not to try… Don’t forget this!
For Jason and David, the idea that you learn from your mistakes is overstated. The Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurial culture places a high value on failure. To fail is to have tried and that is positive in the eyes of society. But failure is not a precondition for success… Mainly because failure does not tell you what you should do next, the next steps. When you start a new venture, the most important thing is to move forward and not to look back….
Therefore, if you Plan, you guess.
A recurrent myth in modern management is the long-term plan (even employees demand it!). When you put together a business plan – a chart that usually shows that in 3 years’ time you will become the master of the world – is delusional. The market, changes in technology, clients are all details that are impossible to anticipate. Therefore, if you create your business plan, all it really is, is an estimation.
To be able estimate what the company’s revenues will be, what competitors’ will do, or how quickly your employees will be able to develop the next new version of the product. That’s why if you plan you always anticipate, you try to predict the future. In contrast, the book‘s advice is for you to decide what you will do next week, next month because that’s much more realistic. The decisions you make must be more aligned with the present situation.
And does you company expand if you operate in this way?
But ultimately, why grow? Directors want to expand their business to conform to how things are done. Because there is a belief that encourages to always have more employees, more customers and more revenue. However, be careful, this pursuit of growth is not necessarily healthy and once you start, you can’t turn back!
The moment that your company has more than 100 employees, it is impossible to turn back the clock. And in order to achieve that, you turn yourself into a workaholic. You lose track of the time spent to smooth out all your company’s and customers’ problems. Is this a good thing? The authors remind us that the more you work there is… even more work! And the end result is that you try to become the hero that you were regularly told about by adults, when you were a child.
The myth of the hero is Embedded within entrepreneurs. Not counting their hours, they owe their success only to their determination and hard work: Enough with “entrepreneurs”, each of us can start a business, there is no need to have an MBA or to work 15 hours a day!
Chapter 3 – GO
Dig beneath the surface, that’s the first bit of advice in chapter 3. In order to start a business, you need to have a sense of urgency and look at problems from a fresh and original point of view. Start with problems that you experience yourself, in essence, become your own first client! With the initial design of your first product, it had might as well be you that is able to quickly judge whether it works properly or not. This means that you can Start to make something, immediately, without the need of a large team to achieve your objectives.
My personal experience supports this advice: when I write for the blog “On The Road to Innovation”, generally the most difficult thing is to begin an article, to put some ideas on paper. Lack of time is no excuse, everyone always has better things to do and often it’s not something worthwhile, for instance, hours in front of the TV! The authors take it even further: they say that people protect their own ego and use the lack of time as an excuse, as their fear of failure is often too strong.
The easiest way to get started is to draw a line in the sand. This line represents what you will or won’t do. Why is it in the sand? Because you have to be nimble and allow yourself the freedom to change this line. So, if, from the start, you are aware of what you don’t want, it’s beneficial and allows you to structure yourself.
Rework takes us far away from the world of startups:
- Don’t draft a “Mission statement“. Such documents are intended to be a declaration of professional intent. If you adhere to those people who believe in them, you will predict all the things you want to achieve in the future and give details of the type of business you want to build. But this will mean that you forget the most important thing: no one asked you what you want to be, but rather who you are! Don’t write it down. You don’t have to.
- Other people’s money is Plan Z. Don’t plan to get money from an investor or a business angel. If you have to invest in the business, do it with your own money. Otherwise, you will make very different decisions.
- You need less than you think. All you really need to get started is a paper, pen and computer!
- Start a business, not a start-up. When you start a business, it’s to see it grow for years, not to sell it after 4 years!
- Besides, if you build to flip, you build to flop. On the topic of the famous “exit strategy”, the authors remind us that you don’t start a relationship with the thought of a break-up!
- Less capital, fewer employees, fewer uses for your products or services… Basically, the less bulk, the better it is… It has always been difficult to diet, and this also rings true for companies!
Chapter 4 – PROGRESS
When you take drama classes, one exercise is to act out a scene whilst you have to fulfil a forfeit (don’t move an arm, don’t look to the right). This exercise teaches you to follow a set instruction over a given time. Yes, limitations are good! And when you start your new business, you should embrace these limitations. If you can’t have everything that you want you have to be inventive. It also means that you can’t do too much, in an effort to want to do too well.
So build half of something, rather than a half-assed something. Focus on the essentials, but don’t get sloppy! It’s better to build half the product, but make sure it’s not a poor-quality product! And it is essential to start with the basic features of your product. This should be a basic product, which people want. Start with the important points and Ignore the small details to begin with.
If you can make a decision it’s progress, that’s definitely one of the tips in the book that gave me the most food for thought. It’s true that we all tend to keep lists of things to think about or take into consideration. Shouldn’t we rather decide what not to do, or rather plan it? Either way, a decision can be reconsidered, but if you actually make the decision, it allows you to go forward and share your progress… Counter-intuitive, don’t you think?
Rework can also offer some good advice, that relates to some of the principles involved in our lives, but in a rather opinionated manner!
To progress, you’ll need to stay focused. You will almost assume the role of a museum curator and remove any non-essential elements. A good curator puts their soul into their collections. Their choices are based on the pieces they love and that they now recommend to others.
You can progress cautiously; you’ll spend less time focused on the issues and you’ll rise to the occasion when you need to. Rather focus your attention on what won’t change, so you won’t lose track of what goes on around you. In the words of the masters: “If you focus on the permanent functions of the products, you will end up with things that will never go out of style”.
The tone is controlled by your fingers… and not by the instrument. This is the adage that good musicians use to remind bad musicians when they attribute false notes to their guitars or pianos! There are some people who are attracted to tools. They believe in the miracle tool, the one that solves everything. Forget it!
Rework, encourages you to start now! Don’t wait for the perfect product, one that we aren’t embarrassed to be associated with. Don’t wait for it, start as quickly as you can and gather as much feedback as possible! And remember to sell your by-products.
Chapter 5 – PRODUCTIVITY
The book is also full of tips and insights on productivity and teaches you how to be more efficient. It stresses the fact that we often suffer from the misconception that we have to make of deal: that we believe we have to perform and deliver to a potential client, when the client is not ready to make a commitment nor – unfortunately – to pay for our work.
People all too often start something based on tenuous information, when they should make decisions based on tangible facts (a minimum requirement). Remember that there are also many reasons to give up, and that you should always consider them and think about another alternative to the one you have chosen.
When it comes to productivity, everyone knows that disruption is the enemy of productivity… but the authors go further and take a radical stance on one of the key issues faced by companies these days. They claim that meetings are toxic. That a meeting is a waste of money given the number of people involved and the preparation time. This is an extreme point of view; I will come back to it in my final comments.
The book also teaches us that “Good enough is fine”, that is to say that your preference should be for a simple solution that works and that solves your current problem, rather than a “perfect” solution that would take time to develop… Especially as you should give priority to small victories: with each one, your motivation will be reinforced and your journey will continue.
Enthusiasm can quickly fade away.
The more tempo you have, the sooner you will have the opportunity to recharge your batteries and build your confidence. Particularly as none of us is a hero. Throughout our childhood and education, we are encouraged to excel, to be David in the face of Goliath. These qualities make us blind and make us work too hard and divert us from the answer. So take into consideration that you may need help with this, to share with others and to get enough sleep to stay in shape!
Mankind, as a whole, is very bad with predictions. Our predictions are all wrong! So it is better to take small steps, to predict small things and not get bogged down with long-range forecasts and business plans for the next three years. As we know, long lists never get completed. Everyone has experienced this: people feel overwhelmed by their workload, they write a “TO-DO List”… that is never completed.
What’s worse is that we feel guilty when we don’t complete it. So, in order not to become despondent, just make little decisions. The book’s example of this is Ben Sauders, who reached the North Pole single-handedly and he walked the whole way (72 days of solitude). Ben tells us that the only decision he made was to reach “the mound of ice in front of him” and then repeat it the next day.
Chapter 6 – COMPETITORS
Competition is a good thing. It creates rivalry and prevents the market leaders to be able to just sit there and rely on their pension schemes. But you must stand up to it and make sure that you stand out from it. To do this, the authors offer a few words of wisdom:
- Don’t copy: if you copy others it’s just a lazy approach that creates no value. Sooner or later, consumers get bored and choose other alternatives.
- “De-commoditize” your product: in our globalized society, everyone does the same thing… well, not quite! So rather than buy into this banal approach, you need to identify your product’s unique attributes and show that it is more than just a commodity.
- Pick a fight: As long as you have a strong personality you will possess the ability to say no or oppose things that you don’t want to do. To express your true thoughts about a competitor or a current issue isn’t expected as it goes against what we have been taught to do. But people love a fight and this clear kind of attitude often makes you more visible and gives an indication of your position!
However, people also occasionally swim against the tide and advise you to Under-perform the competition and disregard what they (the competitors) do? (Who cares what they do?) Indeed, rather than constantly seek to do more or be more efficient, if you perform at a lower level, compared to your competitors, it helps to keep it simple, streamlined and removes complexity from your business model.
Chapter 7 – EVOLUTION
The authors recommend “No” as the default answer. Yet again, they warn us about uncontrolled growth. If you don’t increase sales of your product or expand your company needlessly, you should be in a stronger position to say no to a potential client who wants to have their say on what your product needs to do to help them. Rather than say “yes, we can”, you consider it carefully and don’t panic.
At this point, some of your clients might grow quicker than you do, but don’t worry about it: if a client’s business has rapidly evolved, they will probably have greater demands, they will require more specialized functions. Rework stresses that you shouldn’t always try to keep pace with all of your current clients. When you think about it in detail, it makes sense: the more the product serves a medium/large company that has certain specialized needs, the more complex the product becomes, and therefore the more complicated it becomes, and consequently, it will migrate away from the more ordinary needs of the majority of the company’s current customers.
So, when you plan your products and services, don’t confuse enthusiasm with prioritization: sometimes you can get carried away with details and focus on the small things. You can overlook the important things that add value to the product once it’s delivered to someone’s home. Ergonomics or the practical aspect of the product are two of the many things that should be considered, and they should be endorsed by customer feedback, which praises your product, as you go along.
Chapter 7 closes with an excellent remark “Don’t write it down”.
On a professional level, and even in the day-to-day administration of the On the Road to Innovation blog, I never write down all the suggestions for improvements, all the comments made by customers. For a while now, I have kept databases, ideas lists, reviews from followers, etc. But when the time came to be decisive about which direction to take, I never used these lists, only my knowledge, my instincts. Decisions are often driven by money or people, and the best way to move forward is to take one step at a time.
Chapter 8 – PROMOTION
Welcome to obscurity, this is the mildly provocative assertion used at the start of chapter 8 of Rework. The idea is quite simple, one has the advantages of its disadvantages. When you start a new business, nobody knows you, nobody looks out for you, so you have the opportunity to experiment and make mistakes with no harm caused to your business! Get yourself started!
But from there onwards you need to build a client base, one that is loyal to your products and ideas. For a long time now, Jason Fried has had a blog that attracts tens of thousands of people. Over the last 10 years, he has built loyalty with his readers thanks to high quality content. His readers are potential customers and they can also help to broaden the public scope of his messages.
Another rule he applies is that he must outperform his competitors with what he teaches.
Provide more advice, more tips and hints to his readers, educate them with new ideas or technological advances. First give and then receive (orders!), once trust is established with his followers. It is a technique often used by chefs; they share their recipes in numerous cookbooks.
These books not only provide an income in their own right – a by-product – but also help to build an image and reputation. Rework suggests that you should do even more than that and let the visitors go behind the scenes. Show how things are built, allow your clients to meet the people who make the product or service, it helps to personalize the company and make it more attractive.
We know that nobody likes plastic flowers, everyone prefers things that are authentic. So rather than try to make everything look ultra-professional, the authors suggest that you hang on to the little imperfections that reflect your personality. How do you make your potential customers sample the unique character of your products and make them appreciate how unique they are?
Rework gives a clear answer: drug dealers have got it bang on, they give a small amount free of charge and entice people to become customers (drugs are poison!). They use techniques that are similar to those of the best salespeople.
In fact, various aspects of the business world and the media are strongly criticized in Rework:
- Press releases are spam: nobody wants to read a press release that is just a facade… make your announcements in a sincere way… as an example, copy Google’s blog.
- Forget about the Wall Street Journal or any other serious business newspaper!
- Marketing doesn’t mean a single department, it’s everyone. Marketing is when you know how to explain what to do with the product, where it can be useful, what fantastic stories can be told about the product. In short, everyone who is connected with the product can be part of it and enrich the marketing that is involved with it.
- The myth of the overnight sensation: this is the Western media’s best feel-good kind of story, the one where a random person comes out of nowhere and conquers the world almost overnight! The story is great to listen to, but it implies that all those who don’t make it are losers. Forget about it!
Chapter 9 – HIRING
A key activity in the development of your company is who you employ. It is often said that you can kill your company through poor recruitment. Well aware of these dangers, the authors of Rework, advise you to start off and do the job in question yourself, especially if it’s related to customer relationships (telephone support, sales, etc.). With practice, you understand the ins and outs of the job and when it’s too much for you to handle alone, that’s the time you employ someone else to do the job. When you say it like that, it seems obvious, but this certainly isn’t what most people do. When you’re an entrepreneur, you can behave like Steve Jobs, the charismatic founder of Apple.
Jobs only wanted to work with exceptional people and made almost on-the-spot employment offers to those who met with his expectations. Rework does not follow this approach. It recommends that you turn down even the most exceptional people. But, on the other hand, don’t become like some sort of insincere and fake character who you meet at cocktail parties: with a drink in hand, amongst strangers, where everyone is very polite and avoids arguments. A company must be made up of different personalities with strong personal beliefs.
I agree with the authors’ opinion that it is important to look for personalities and skills. Too often, to judge an applicant based purely upon traditional criteria is utterly stupid (CV’s are ridiculous); number of years of experience with no means to judge the relevance to what you need leads to nothing. Rather than focus on the amount of time a candidate has worked in a given occupation, it is far more pertinent to understand exactly what they did and the results they obtained.
Rework drives the nail home:
- Forget about degrees and diplomas which basically only demonstrate past and frequently excessively formulaic skills.
- Everybody works, because in a small team what counts, is to be productive.
- Hire managers who can look after themselves or, in other words, try to recruit people who can think independently.
- The best are to be found where ever you look. With the Internet you can get someone who lives on the other side of the world to work for you. So why not take advantage of it?
There are two bits of advice that I find particularly relevant:
- Hire the best story tellers: generally, with job interviews, employers are indecisive and find it very difficult to judge between two or three candidates. Rework urges you to hire the person who tells you the best story, whether written or verbal. It’s a way to identify a person’s ability to blend in, communicate and understand a situation. I have never regretted someone I hired based on this principle!
- Put your future employees to the test: it is not enough to read a CV or conduct an interview. You must put the candidates in a real-life situation with some tests that will relate to what they may experience at work. If you want to employ a photographer, you would look at their photos. So if you need to employ a business hotline phone agent, why don’t you get them to answer the phone and see how they deal with it?
Chapter 10 – DAMAGE CONTROL
Sometimes when you are the boss of a company things go wrong and it’s your responsibility to solve these problems. Whether you are the boss of a multinational oil company, or a small neighborhood business, you have to be able to deal with these tricky situations.
You should be the one who announces any bad news. If you are able to remain humble and sincere, you will epitomize the care and concern of the company in the eyes of the customers. Do it quickly and focus on the essentials. The faster you react, the more credible you appear to your customers.
And be careful how you say you’re sorry:
- use the first person (“I’m sorry” and not “We apologize”)
- don’t use empty or disingenuous phrases like “we’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause”
- unconditionally (“how you would have felt”)
In any case, the book suggests that you put everyone on the frontline. Of course, sales or customer support will help customers. But everyone, that includes the engineers or technicians who make your products, must also be aware of what your customers have to say! This is essential if you don’t want clients to spread bad reviews of your company’s products and services.
Rework offers one last piece of advice: Breathe deeply when you get the first critical feedback on a new product or innovation. Stay calm and separate the wheat from the chaff!
Chapter 11 – CULTURE
Corporate culture is a strange concept for many people. Rework points out that you don’t create a culture, it is the result of everyday behavior. In a small business, decisions are made for the short-term and it’s pointless to plan too far into the future (“what if…?”).
Discuss these ideas with your employees, don’t try to employ rock stars and treat them like adults, because they’re not thirteen. Tell them to go home at 5:00 p.m. … it’s a very different approach compared to that of a tyrannical boss, but it’s an obvious rule of thumb: in a creative and competitive economy, you need a clear and sharp mind.
Lastly, Rework deliberately separates itself from the generally expected culture that exists within companies, it recommends that:
- you don’t create a yes or no rule. (Don’t leave a scar with your first cut).
- you be yourself and not the idealistic, artificial, robotic boss you could picture.
- you ban four-letter words: need, can’t, easy.
- and you reject the sacrosanct words As-Soon-As-Possible as if they were poison.
Chapter 12 – CONCLUSION
Inspiration can vanish into the air. You don’t think so? Then think: how many times have you been in a place that you don’t expect to find yourself or at an unusual time of day and thought of a new idea? An inspirational idea. And you’ve let that moment go by and poof… you totally forget about it.
We are not robots and our ideas or a moment of inspiration fades quickly. So when it’s there, grab it and then do whatever is necessary to hold on to that idea and pursue what it can lead to. More importantly, if you want to work at home, in the office or on the road, do it!
Jason Fried elaborated on this idea in a remarkable presentation at a TED conference.
CONCLUSION on Rework by Laurent Hausermann from the blog On The Road to Innovation
Rework is a book that stands out on its own. It is both an enjoyable book to read over a weekend and a reference book that you can return to for answers to any questions you may have.
It made me aware of a very basic and important approach: to believe in your ideas, your convictions. Before, I tended to listen too much to feedback from the market, clients or competitors. Of course, you have to take them into account, but more importantly; you have to know who you are and act with conviction.
Rework has made me change how I think too. Like any good engineer, I have an immense love of numbers. From now on, I try to think in both quantitative and qualitative terms. To figure out what is behind the data is critical. So Rework pushes us to think about the why of things. It forces you to remain alert, not to let your surroundings overwhelm you. Not to listen to all those people who know better than you about the things you should do. For all these reasons, the book is refreshingly healthy. It is an excellent antidote to all forms of work-related insomnia. It constantly forces you to question things!
Of course, it has its flaws. Some people may consider it a little too Anglo-Saxon.
Indeed, it is perfectly adapted to the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture. Certain aspects of the Latin culture, more emotional and less stoic compared to the Anglo-Saxon culture; mean that the same principles can’t be applied. But the younger generations are increasingly less reluctant to approach life in the same way. In particular, I refer to the statement related to meetings: they should definitely be banned and remote work would be the standard way to work. Latinos need to feel, touch and see each other. They find it more difficult to interact via online media. Regardless, I think we have all understood what we can learn from these tools.
The book can also seem a little like a written mantra from Yoda, a kind of little master who delivers his lessons but doesn’t explain them. Some of them contradict each other: for example, you are told not to become addicted to work, but in the conclusion of the book, you are encouraged to work for as long as you feel inspired. My opinion is that you shouldn’t take every recommendation at face value, but take inspiration from the spirit of the book and try to change your behavior every day.
As you can see, I loved this book, I even gave my boss a copy of it so that he could implement some of the concepts. When you read Rework, you regain your self-confidence and belief in your ideas. It also means you stay alert to your surroundings, which is vital for you.
- Enjoyable to read
- Great as a quick reference guide
- Gives you self-confidence and belief in your ideas!
- Too opinionated
- Mainly aimed at the Anglo-Saxon culture
My rating :
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