Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Rework: A Book Review
"Policies are organisational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual"
With excerpts like that, you can be sure that Rework by founders of 37Signals Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson isn't an ordinary book on entrepreneurship. Divided into 12 short chapters on various aspects of business - from progress to productivity and competitors to culture - Rework is a compelling read.
Armed with amusing aphorisms and anecdotes, the easily read volume challenges management conventions and norms. In the chapter on "Promotion", we're taught that we should "out-teach" rather than out spend our competitiors, welcome obscurity so that we can test ideas on a smaller scale first, and to emulate celebrity chefs in sharing everything that we know.
We're also encouraged in "Damage Control" to own our bad news and be open, honest and responsive during a crisis. Be like Ashland Oil - a company that was open and immediate in handling an oil spillage incident in Pittsburgh - as opposed to Exxon of the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster. Or more recently BP.
I love the section teaching us how to say we're sorry, with a blow by blow account of why a statement like "We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused" is a complete no-no. (The trick is to be focused on what the real problem is, resolve it as soon as you can, and keep your customer alerted on what you're precisely doing.)
Perhaps the most radical chapter in the book was the one on hiring. Demolishing age-old HR wisdom, the authors encourage us to embrace the following tenets (see how many are an exact opposite to what your organisation is doing now):
- Never hire anyone to do a job until you've tried to do it yourself first.
- Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain. In other words, see how long you can get by without replacing a position and only recruit when you're really hurting. Ouch!
- Pass on great talent if you don't have specific roles for them.
- Understand that resumes are exaggerations filled with action verbs that don't mean anything. Cover letters are far better ways to assess a candidate as they reflect the person's actual voice and interest in your company.
- Delegators are dead weight, everybody should learn to manage themselves, and the best writers should be hired.
Written as a "by product" to their own entrepreneurial journey as software developers of products such as Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire, Rework is unabashedly radical. Admittedly, some of its mantras are more suited to start-ups than established companies. Its absolute tone of voice may also appear overly condescending at times.
Having said that, I believe that the book holds useful lessons for those in a management or leadership position. By getting rid of organisational bullsh*t, we're able to build a better workplace. By speaking humanly, we can cut the crap of corporate speak, and inspire our colleagues, customers and stakeholders.
Let me end by attaching the back cover of the book. I'm sure you can figure out what their core lessons are.