“Rework” by 37signals Founders Reimagines How Business Should Be

“It is time to rework work. Let’s get started,” declares the authors of the new business book Rework by 37signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

They want to change how businesses are run, and to borrow a segment title, “Make a dent in the universe.” They are definitely knocking on the universe’s door.

I read a review copy, and was inspired to rework my own thoughts on entrepreneurship and business strategy.

What Worked Well in Rework

Rework by 37signals FoundersThis is a book you don’t want to judge too quickly. On first blush the short content seems gimmicky for a book claiming to have a revolutionary outlook.  The chapters cover an arc of business growth with intriguing names:  Takedowns (addressing the barriers to starting a business), Go (Getting started in business), Progress, Productivity, Competitors, Evolution, Promotion, Hiring, Damage Control, and Culture. Within each chapter is a bold statement, a short page or two of explanation, and a memorable image, all with a ready-for-e-book feel.

Ah, but what seems lacking on the surface can be fulfilling when examined.  Rework will pleasantly surprise you once you delve in.  This book offers simple been-there-done-that advice  — and it is anything but shallow.

It distills the typical business subjects to essentials, then offers inspired suggestions with a sharp imaginative eye. Here’s one piece of realistic advice that rings true:   entrepreneurs should seek alternative means to get their business  exposure besides major media publications.  In the “Forget about the Wall Street Journal” segment they write:

“Pitching a reporter at one of these place is practically impossible… you’re better off focusing on getting your story in a trade publication or picked up in a niche blog.”

The Takedown segments get the ball rolling, with sharp headlines throughout the other chapters.  Hansson and Fried explain why Meetings are Toxic and Press Releases are Spam.  Especially powerful was the segment on the “Myth of the Overnight Sensation”:

“It’s not the whole story.  Dig deeper and you’ll usually find people who busted their asses for years to get into a position where things take off…. Trade the dream for overnight success for slow, measured growth…. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice.”

I loved the musings on “Learning from Mistakes is Overrated”:

“You might learn what not to do again, but how valuable is that?  You still don’t know what you should do next…. Evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building upon what worked.  So should you.”

Every idea proposed shows imaginative ways to spur you to intriguing decisions.  Example:  letting your customers outgrow you:

“When you let customers outgrow you, you’ll most likely wind out up with a product that’s basic….  Small simple needs are constant. There’s an endless supply of customers who need exactly that.”

Steps in the growth process are turned on their head without being dumbed down.  Tips such as “Hire managers of one” will re-imagine the hiring process for leaders.  “Resumes are ridiculous” says resumes are “filled with action verbs that don’t mean anything.”

Rework relies on the authors’ perspective, who deliberately set about creating a small business and avoided being bogged down by external factors such as venture capital or extensive research.  That’s the perspective of this book.

References to outside sources to support their views do appear, like in the overrated mistake learning example (it mentions a Harvard study on entrepreneurship and failure).

Readers are cautioned to de-emphasize traditional tools for early efforts — “Your Estimates Suck” dovetails into the concept that not having a plan is okay. It is based on the authors’ experience.  These ideas are valuable for startups or small businesses with a few employees.

What Might Have Worked Better

In a few instances subjects contradict or need more explanation than a page or two.  A tip to “Pick A Fight” – calling out your competitors – seems to contradict a later query “Who cares what they’re doing?”  which is about ignoring your competitors.  Moreover, the Audi example in the “Pick A Fight” segment breaks a marketing rule to never mention your competition (doing so can remind your customers of the competition’s advantage over your product).

Miscues are rare, though.  In a brisk and comfortable pace Rework experiments well in reframing business.  It offers  practical steps for establishing culture, strategy, and productivity.

Who Should Read Rework

The advice in Rework fits small service firms with simplicity at their operational core.  Refreshingly the authors own up to their perspective, offering no apologies for its honest language, or for the fact that it is written mostly from the 10-year experience of running a 16-employee software firm.

Rework may not fully appeal to firms with engineered products or joint ad-hoc projects that want more detail regarding processes.  Managing a joint project between businesses can require coordination to make a profit.   Such joint collaboration is not deeply covered, a particular point given the increased tendency to coordinate small businesses remotely together.

Rework is right for entrepreneurs and small businesses that offer services and are intent on steady solid growth and profitability.   If you have a services type of business, this book will be ideal for you. The flexibility to scale advice, coupled with clear explanations, is what makes Rework a rousing success in its mission.  In its originality Rework has found a clever way to stir the entrepreneur in everybody.

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Pierre DeBois - Associate Book Editor


Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

10 Reactions

  1. TJ McCue

    Pierre, I’ve left this post open on my desktop since you published it. I’ve reread it several times and appreciate this review immensely. It comes at a time when many small biz owners are still struggling, despite the talk of “we’re out of the recession…” The ideas and concepts that ReWork shares are powerful and I’m working on changing how I do things because of it. Thank you.

  2. Personally I would jump at the chance of switching my work roles during my regular week. I think that the health of the nation would be greatly improved if its population could be allowed a certain amount of cerebral work and also some creative and physical work. We would be healthier, more satisfied and I bet more able to perform our paid work.

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