Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rework by Jason Fried

Finding myself without reading material on a recent flight from Chicago to DFW, I purchased Rework by the founders of 37signals. (How many books have I bought at that bookstore at O'Hare over the years?) Think of Rework as mythbusting for business based on the authors' personal experiences. And for what it's worth, I was able to finish the book on the flight and have probably spent more time writing this review than it took to read the book.

So a two-hour book can't be too dense and Rework isn't. The entire book consists of various nuggets of wisdom with brief explanations. I documented 87 nuggets in total. Were the authors trying to be contrarian or controversial with nuggets like "Pick a fight with your competitors" and "Drug dealers get it right" or is that simply their opinion? I think it's the latter: honest, unvarnished opinion based on personal experience.

Therefore, you can imagine that not everyone's experience matches theirs and that doesn't mean it's wrong just that your mileage may vary.

Things I Agree With

"Hire great writers." Couldn't agree more. This doesn't mean that all your staff should be able to write the next great novel but communication with customers and coworkers is so valuable that excellent communication skills are indispensable.

"Illusions of agreement" addresses the matter of creating abstract documents that create an illusion of agreement because while everyone agrees to the document they each have a different mental vision of what the document says. I have seen this in practice and believe it can be alleviated in-part by the previous nugget. The authors promote the use of tangible articles that are less ambiguous than a document.

"Do something that makes your customers' lives better." This probably falls into the "Duh" category because otherwise why the hell are you in business? What value could you possibly be delivering? I'd go further: make heroes out of your customers.

"Start at the epicenter." This reflects the message Geoff Moore recently delivered at the Business of Software conference: focus on your core because that's what differentiates you from your competition. Don't get distracted by the frills. And as happens throughout Rework, several other nuggets repeat this theme (for example, "Focus on substance over fashion.")

"Out-teach your competition." This is very true but easier said than done. Teaching is a true differentiator and reflects other of Rework's nuggets such as "Have a point of view." As the old adage says, you don't really understand something until you can teach it.

Things I Disagree With

"Let's retire the word entrepreneur." The authors have issue with this word to which they've attached all sorts of negative baggage. And that's my problem; the baggage is theirs, not the word's. Get over it. They repeat this anti-entrepreneur theme with "Start a business, not a start-up."

"Long lists don't get done." This is a problem of time management and organization. I suggest anyone suffering from this problem look into David Allen's Getting Things Done.

"How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't." The authors' opinion is that the truly important customer needs will be repeated over and over again so frequently that you can't forget them. If customers could effectively communicate their true needs this recommendation might be true. But due to no fault of their own, customer requests sometimes don't drill down to the core issue. By tracking all these requests and reviewing them, patterns will emerge that let you drill down to what's really important.

"Meetings are toxic." I'd refine this to say poorly run meetings are toxic. Well run meetings are a valuable tool for managing progress and ensuring that everyone's on the same page.


This is a nice book for someone thinking about starting their own business or anyone who currently has a business. If you're looking for actionable business tasks, this book isn't it. But if you are looking for food for thought that will focus your own ideas about having a business, this is a good place to start.

Full disclosure: I am a satisfied user of a 37signals product.


Jim said...

(Crap, just lost the well-crafted comment... let's try again.)

"Pick a fight with your competitors" - this is something I miss from my days at Tivoli. Frank Moss (the CEO then) provided the spark to rally the company around taking on companies much larger than us (in areas we felt we could win, of course).

"make heroes out of your customers" resonates well with me as it's been one of the rewarding aspects of my current employer. FWIW, I saw numerous examples of this at the UGM last week.

John said...

"Pick a fight with your competitors" reeks of too much machismo for my taste. I guess I equate it with mudslinging.

The real issue is how you're going to win over prospective customers and that involves only you and the prospect.

Setting a goal of being the true market share leader is different than just picking a fight. (I realize, of course, that they're trying to play off another of their ideas which is "stand for something".) I can't remember where I read it, but someone else wrote that you can't differentiate yourself with euphemisms. Who's not going to claim they're better, nicer, etc?

Also note that one of Reworks nuggets is "underdo" the competition as opposed to outdo them, the idea being that you should let them solve all the big hairy problems.

Jim said...

"Pick a fight with your competitors" reeks of too much machismo for my taste. I guess I equate it with mudslinging.

While there was some (internal) machismo, the exercise was most useful in focusing us on solving a specific and pervasive market problem well enough to win over prospects whose integrated system didn't quite meet their needs.

I agree the euphemisms are no way to differentiate a company. That's what makes so funny. (I believe it was Barbara at Pragmatic Marketing who introduced me to the overused "bull" words: flexible, extensible, ...)