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It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work: A book review by Bob Morris

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
HarperBusiness (October 2018)

How smarter choices can avoid or eliminate chaos in the workplace

This is Jason Fried and David Heinemeier’s fourth collaboration on a book after co-founding a software company, Basecamp.  Each of the four books has a core thesis. For the latest: “A business is a collection of choices. Every day is a new chance to make a new choice, a different choice…no matter where you live in an organization, you can start making better choices. Choices that chip away at crazy and get closer to calm. A calm company is a choice. Make it yours.”

That is the WHAT of this book.

Fried and Hansson consider the WHY self-evident, although for many — if not most — people it probably isn’t. They wrote their book to explain HOW to avoid or eliminate craziness. “Your company is a product. Yes, the things you make are products (or services) but your company is the thing that makes those things. That’s why your company should be your best product…progress is  achieved through iteration. If you want to make a product better, you have to keep tweaking, revising, and iterating. The same thing is true with the company.”

Check out the list on the dust cover. The insane dozen include 80-hour weeks, endless meetings, overflowing inboxes, unrealistic deadlines, and no time to think. All of them and others, Fried and Hansson insist, are symptoms of organizational craziness with which most of us can identity. Iteration of crazy polices and procedures can undermine and eventually destroy a company.

Years ago, I came across the results of a contest conducted by a magazine that solicited “Dilbert Quotations”: comments by real-life Dilbert-type managers.

These were among the finalists:

o “What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter.” (executive at Lykes Lines Shipping)

o “E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.” (Accounting manager, Electric Boat Company)

o “Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.” (Marketing executive, Citrix Corporation)

o “We all know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.” (Switching supervisor, AT&T Long Lines Division)

And here’s the winner: “As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.” (Fred Dales at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, WA)

In his book Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that the greatest resistance to change tends to be cultural in nature, the result of what he characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” That’s true but never underestimate how much damage lazy and ignorant managers can do at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.

Near the end of the book, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson share these thoughts about having a calm workplace. Running Basecamp, “we’ve always kept our costs in check and never made a move that would push us back from black to red. Why? Because crazy’s in the red. Calm’s in the black.”

Also, “revenue is no defense because revenue without a profit margin isn’t going to save you. You can easily go broke generating revenue — many companies have. But you can’t go broke generating a profit.

“Profit means time to think, space to explore. It means being in control of your own destiny  and schedule.

“Without profit, something is always on fire. When companies talk about burn rates, two things are burning: money and people. One you’re burning up, one you’re burning out.”

These brief excerpts suggest a practical, pragmatic mindset that can guide and inform the decision-making process by leaders of almost all organizations, whatever their size and nature may be.

Organizational craziness really can be avoided or eliminated by common sense.  Moreover, more and better work really can be completed at work by getting rid of distractions and interruptions, most of which are generated internally rather than externally.  HOW to accomplish these separate but interdependent objectives?

The mindset needed is thoroughly explained in this book.

 

 

 

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