Book Review: Rework

Rework is written by the founders of 37Signals, the company that specializes in software and brought us Ruby on Rails (a programming API). The book is written as a ‘rules of thumb’ book, categorized into several sections by topical area. These include:

  • Takedowns
  • Go
  • Progress
  • Productivity
  • Competitors
  • Evolution
  • Promotion
  • Hiring
  • Damage Control
  • Culture

As far as rule of thumb books go, I would put this one somewhere in the top half of the pack, but definitely not the best (one of my favourites, for personal reference, is Swim With The Sharks Without Getting Eaten Alive, by Harvey Mackay). I don’t think a detailed review is really worth your or my time, but what I will do is share my favourite rule from each section, so you can get a flavour for the book.

Takedowns: Why Grow? This rule outlines that many companies grow much too fast. Indeed, growing slow and seeing what feels right is the thing to do – premature hiring is the death of many companies. The key is to remember that once you get really big, its very hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.

Go: ‘Building to Flip is Building to Flop’. A lot of companies start with thinking about their exit strategy; “we will sell to company X”, “we will go public in 2 years”, etc. You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy. You don’t want to be the guy that gave up a good company to see it become great, and you will lose the joy it brings you. If you do manage to get a good thing going, keep it going.

Progress: ‘Be a Curator’. The example is a museum curator, and the art of leaving stuff out. It’s the stuff you leave out that matters – there’s more stuff off the walls then on them in a museum. There’s an editing process. With all the products these days that have way too many features, perhaps they need their own curator.

Productivity: ‘Meetings are Toxic’. This is so true, and I have seen it everywhere I have worked – very little gets done in a meeting, and people underestimate the cost. If you have a one hour meeting with 10 people, it’s not one hour of labour lost, its ten hours. Software has people booking meetings that take too long because of the way the software is designed (30 minute blocks), no one books a 4 minute meeting, even if that is all it will take. Finally, meetings procreate. One leads to another, which leads to another, etc.

Competitors: ‘Pick a Fight’. It’s a great way to get others who agree with you to rally to your side. Dunkin’ Donuts does this against Starbucks. Its ads mock the yuppie lifestyle that is Starbucks, they even have a site that shows Dunkin’ beat Starbucks in a taste test, and users can send friends cards that say things like “friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks”

Evolution: ‘Say No by Default’. We need to learn to say no more. Most people happen to say yes to everything, as we like to avoid confrontation, and please everyone – a potentially dangerous path to follow. Learn to say no, be polite, and explain why. It will save you time and headaches.

Promotion: ‘Forget about the Wall Street Journal’. Go for the more niche publications – publications that your audience/customer/industry actually takes the time to read and digest. Big time publications are nice, but they don’t result in the same level of direct, instant activity.

Hiring: ‘Test Drive Employees’. Interviews are a broken process. You need to see what employees act like in real life scenarios – BMW has a fake plant, Cessna simulates a day in the life of an executive. By test driving, you get to see how they actually perform in the workplace.

Damage Control: ‘Own your Bad News’. When something goes wrong, you need to own it, or else someone else will leak it, and it will own you. The apology needs to come from the top, and should be spread far and wide. Also, apologize like a real person, no legal speak – say it like you mean it. Then follow through, show your customers you care and are taking action on the issue.

Culture: ‘Four-letter Words’. No, this isn’t referring to swearing. This is referring to words that create a black and white situation, they include; need, must, can’t, just, only, fast and easy. Of all of these, I think easy is the most toxic. There is nothing like someone telling you your job must be ‘easy’ to really get on your nerves – don’t do it, its belittling and naive.


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