My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rework (2010) by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier is a motivational guide by the founders of 37signals (a software company @ http://37signals.com). [Update: Please note that 37signals has decided to stop its “Backpack” program in 2014 and focus on “Basecamp” which can be found here: https://basecamp.com ~ you can also read more about the changes in “Backpack: What Tools Work Instead Now It’s Closed?” at https://blogging.com/reviews/backpack ~ Thanks to Tom Howard for pointing out the update.]
Rework is plastered with down-to-earth advice for anyone wanting to start a business, follow and realize a dream, or for those who desire to reinvigorate his/her company in a modern world fueled by fast-paced changes in technology, customer service and innovative thinking.
A few of 37signals’ products (which may or may not still be working) include Basecamp (basecamp.com), Highrise (www.highrisehq.com), Backpack (www.backpackit.com), Campfire (www.campfirenow.com), Ta-da List (www.tadalist.com), Writeboard (www.writeboard.com), Getting Real (www.gettingreal.37signals.com), and Ruby on Rails (www.rubyonrails.org).
I recommend Writeboard for those writers and companies out there seeking a new collaborative writing tool, and also Getting Real for anyone, amateurs and professionals alike, who seek a faster and easier method for producing Web-based applications.
Rework is an easy yet inspiring read and can be finished in a few short evenings or one long afternoon. What is especially appealing is how the easy-going, no bullshit tone of the authors matches the large typeface, bold lettering, and corresponding images for each section. Readers will find themselves zipping through the book which seeks to empower, motivate and guide in an honest, casual manner.
In the section “Go to Sleep” the authors offer a few reasons why more sleep is beneficial to productivity and creativity. Many university students will be glad to read about this.
Some detrimental side-effects created by a lack of sleep among workers, the authors argue, are: Stubbornness, Lack of Creativity, Diminished Morale, and Irritability.
“These are just some of the costs you incur when not getting enough sleep. Yet some people still develop a masochistic sense of honor about sleep deprivation. They even brag about how tired they are. Don’t be impressed. It’ll come back to bite them in the ass” (p 121-122).
The advice is spot on. When I was in college, many-many years ago, I lived by Leonardo da Vinci’s work ethic: I’ll sleep when I’m dead. What I learned as I matured was that the less sleep I got the more I produced sloppier work and the less creative I became. Back then, I was demoralized because of shitty work, fewer new ideas, and the exhaustion that drenched my bones. The fact is the more sleep one gets the more the rested mind will be able to produce more efficient work. But as the axiom goes: Moderation in all things is necessary.
Meanwhile: “What do you call a generic pitch sent out to hundreds of strangers hoping that one will bite?” ask the authors, opening the section “Press Releases are Spam.”
“Spam. That’s what press releases are too: generic pitches for coverage sent out to hundreds of journalists you don’t know, hoping that one will write about you” (p 185).
What follows is some practical advice that should be a memo sent out to every writer attempting to be discovered (much like I am) or to every small business owner seeking to gain exposure through online platforms:
“Instead, call someone. Write a personal note. If you read a story about a similar company or product, contact the journalist who wrote it. Pitch her with some passion, some interest, some life. Do something meaningful. Be remarkable. Stand out. Be unforgettable. That’s how you’ll get the best coverage” (p 186).
Let’s face it. More people than ever are clamoring to get noticed, to rise to the top, to realize their dreams, and to be heard above all others in a sea of screaming voices. Not only is that hard to do, life is hard along the way as you are doing it.
“Make a Dent in the Universe” is one of the best sections in Rework. “To do great work,” write the authors, “you need to feel that you’re making a difference. That you’re putting a meaningful dent in the universe. That you’re part of something important” (p 31).
Most people I know want to do something important, to belong to something remarkable and share in the extraordinary. But most of the same people don’t know how to do just that and they go through life with their heads down, mouths shut and spirits dead.
Well, faced with such insurmountable and frightening odds, what can any of us do then?
“What you do is your legacy,” answer Jason and David. “Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to make the change you want to see. And don’t think it takes a huge team to make that difference either.
“Look at Craigslist, which demolished the traditional classified-ad business. With just a few dozen employees, the company generates tens of millions in revenue, has one of the most popular sites on the Internet, and disrupted the entire newspaper business” (p 31). If Craigslist can do it, so can you!
But let’s be honest with ourselves. Becoming a “unicorn” (a true-blue success story) in these saturated social-media conditions is enormously difficult. Not impossible. But extremely difficult. Especially if you’re like me and you don’t have a great body to flash your salivating followers. What is left is what my Granddaddy and my Father taught me: old-fashioned hard work.
In “The Myth of the Overnight Sensation” the writers tell it as it is: “You will not be a big hit right away. You will not get rich quick. You are not so special that everyone else will instantly pay attention. No one cares about you. At least not yet. Get used to it” (p 196).
Ouch! I know truth hurts but who ever thought it could ever hurt that much? And here I thought I was King of the World.
But wait! There’s more from Jason and David:
“Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It’s hard, but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice” (p 196).
I’ve been writing and publishing on my own for the past ten years. So where are these “people” anyway? I know I’m a turtle, and turtles like me do have a sense of patience and methodical habits of trudging up an endless mountain, but how much patience can one have before mastering “patience” and after one realizes that one cannot do anything without the help of others?
Regardless, decisions are not forever and one can learn to grow, “evolve” if you will.
“The decisions you make today don’t need to last forever…At this stage, it’s silly to worry about whether or not your concept will scale from five to five thousand people (or from a hundred thousand to 100 million people)…The ability to change course is one of the big advantages of being small” (p 251).
That’s all fine and dandy, you might be saying right about here. So where do we begin?
“Start making smaller to-do lists,” advise Jason and David. “Long lists collect dust….Long lists are guilt trips. The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it…There’s a better way. Break that long list down into a bunch of smaller lists…Whenever you can, divide problems into smaller and smaller pieces until you’re able to deal with them completely and quickly…[and] prioritize visually. Put the most important thing at the top. When you’re done with that, the next thing on the list becomes the next most important thing. That way you’ll only have a single next most important thing to do at a time. And that’s enough” (p 128).
But the best advice, especially for corporations that treat people like insects or indentured servants (which for most Americans that is exactly what they are now), is the section called “They’re not Thirteen.” Jason and David, with their in-your-face, real-world commentary explain it as simple as possible, and yet no simpler:
“When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies and managers treat their employees. Employees need to ask permission before they can do anything. They need to get approval for every tiny expenditure. It’s surprising they don’t have to get a hall pass to go take a shit.
“When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of non-thinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, ‘I don’t trust you’” (p 255).
Without a doubt Rework will get you to Rethink what corporate culture (which is failing among the American public and becoming demonized) has done and needs to do to be successful in an era where an alternate, parallel universe exists online and where a company can be successful and empower its employees to be the same. Rework is a strong recommend.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy). He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 320,000+ followers