Rework: A book review by Bob Morris

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Crown Business (2010)

The benefits of having “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector”

If Joseph Schumpeter were to design what could be called “creative destroyers,” he would probably come up with a business thinker who bears a striking resemblance to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. To me, they seem to be iconoclasts who are impatient to build something much better rather than anarchists whose objective is chaos. They quickly indicate a healthy respect for the nature and extent of difficulty when challenging the status quo. But they are not deterred by that difficult, as their success with 37signals clearly indicates, and they probably have more confidence in their readers’ (as yet) unfulfilled potentialities than many (most?) of those readers do.

Consider this passage in Chapter FIRST: “There’s a new reality. Today anyone can be in business. Tools that used to be out of reach are now easily accessible. Technology that cost thousands is now just a few bucks or free. One person can do the job of two or three or, in some cases, an entire department. Stuff that was impossible just a few years ago is simple today.” That said, Fried and Hansson realize that many people who read that passage will heartily endorse its spirit but decline to embrace and leverage the opportunities that the new reality offers. For them, the “real world” is defined by what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes in his book, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

This so-called “real world” has advocates who, Fried and Hansson observe, “are filled with pessimism and despair. They expect fresh concepts to fail. They assume society isn’t ready for or capable of change. Even worse, they want to drag others down into their tomb.

If you’re hopeful and ambitious, they’ll try to convince you your ideas are impossible. They’ll say you’re wasting your time. Don’t believe them. That world may be real for them, but it doesn’t mean you have to live in it.” By now you have at least a sense of the thrust and flavor of Fried and Hansson’s perspectives on how (literally) anyone can rework what she or he does…and rework how she or he does it…to achieve and then sustain success in all dimensions and domains of one’s life. First, they must rework their mindset, adding what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” Indeed, one of the most important insights shared in the book is that the most valuable business lessons are also the most valuable life lessons.

For example, here are ten of several dozen problematics and imposters that Fried and Hansson confront:

o Learning from mistakes is overrated
o Planning is guessing
o Scratch your own itch
o Not having enough of [fill in the blank] is a cop-out
o Embrace constraints
o Be a curator, not a custodian
o [Have good] reasons to quit […and not to quit]

Note: The material in this chapter is wholly consistent with the gambler’s adage, “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em” as well as with Seth Godin’s observations in The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick).

o Long lists don’t get done
o Emulate great chefs
o ASAP is “poison”

The tone of Fried and Hansson’s narrative is sometimes confrontational, in-your-face, but I think that is necessary because their separate but related purposes are to challenge their reader to “rework” or, in some instances, “blow up” assumptions and premises about business success that are no longer true (if they ever were), and, to encourage their reader adopt a new mindset, then formulate and execute new strategies and tactics that will achieve sustainable business success.

If you need some fresh perspectives on how to get more done with less, and do so with less stress and more joy, look no further.

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