BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Yes, a non-boring book on business ...

A couple of months back, I was at an event down at OfficePort where Jason Fried was one of the presenters. His (with David Heinemeier Hansson and illustrations by Mike Rohde) Rework had just come out, and he was doing a talk largely based on the book, with graphics in the same style. I'd been intending on picking up a copy, especially as so many of the bloggers, tweeters, and other on-line commentators were so enthusiastic about it, but due to its popularity, copies were not shaking out into the used market at any significant discount (and, being now in the 15th month of my current job search, “significant discounts” are the only situations in which I'm comfortable shelling out any of the rapidly dwindling resources I have). Fortunately, Amazon came up with this at nearly half off, and I pulled the trigger on it a few weeks back.

Rework is an odd book on a lot of levels. For one, its copyright page, usually appearing on the verso of the title page or a few sheets back from there, is here on page 280, the last thing in the book. No explanation or commentary about this appears … it's just that way. Plus there is no title page, the book starts with two pages of laudatory blurbs and then launches into a table of contents. Again, “odd”. I had also not anticipated that it was going to be as “heavily illustrated” as it was, with poster-like (or marker-on-whiteboard like) full-page graphics accompanying each 1-3 page section here. I guess I hadn't flipped through this when it came in, as this came as a surprise when I decided to take this with me on a jaunt up to Daughter #1's new school, which (due to a “communication breakdown”) involved my having to wait for 3 hours, during which I managed to pretty much complete the entire book!

This is almost more of a “revolutionary pamphlet” addressing the business world than a book. It is split up into a dozen “chapters” each having one to twelve sections. The chapters include “Go”, “Progress”, “Productivity”, “Competitors”, “Evolution”, “Promotion”, “Hiring”, “Damage Control”, and “Culture”, with various lessons that Fried has learned from his years of running the very successful 37Signals software company. One might argue what Fried and his associates have managed there might not be applicable everywhere, but in Rework he at least provides something of a conceptual blueprint for putting a new paradigm of business into play.

One telling point appears in the “Build half a product, not a half-assed product” section of the “Progress” chapter: “We cut this book in half between the next-to-last and final drafts. From 57,000 words to about 27,000 words. Trust us, it's better for it.” … later in that chapter, in the “Sell your by-products” segment, they note that this book is a by-product, and one wonders where the other half of this that was dropped will end up!

Fried certainly sounds like he's “walking his talk”, but his talk isn't necessarily something that is easy to take (I recall that I found the presentation I heard him give quite aggravating in parts), and I doubt that many can read through this without having some of their “sacred cows” gored. I know that I bristled at some of my “standard operating procedures” being shot down in the interest of various points here (as a life-long PR guy, having press releases being categorically called “spam” was an irritation, and the suggestion that “foregoing sleep is a bad idea” prompted me to wonder how he got the luxury of 36-hour days!).

Of course, for every one segment that I disagreed with on some level, there were two which I was thrilled to see, from “Planning is guessing” (take that MBA's!) to the charming “Don't scar on the first cut” section, which reads:
          Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.
          This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy – one scar – at a time.
And, needless to say, for a guy who has occasionally taken flak for the “conversational” tone of these reviews and my other blogging efforts, the “Sound like you” section in the “Culture” chapter comes across as a ringing endorsement.

Given that Rework is new, and very popular, it is likely to be available pretty much everywhere you can find books. I am hardly alone in my hearty recommendation of this, as it's a breath of fresh air in the world of “business books”. As noted, Amazon is featuring this at a 42% discount, which puts it in the same price-point zone as even the used copies, which means that you pretty much don't have a good excuse for not picking up a copy!

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Tags: book review
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