Chris Berkhout's Reviews > Rework

Rework by Jason Fried
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's review
Jun 27, 2010

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bookshelves: pmba, business


Rework has a lot of great ideas, and is easy to read. It's said that it is bringing these ideas to a new audience, and I think that's great if it is the case.

The previous book "Getting Real" was more a bit more web focused, but also more practical. This book takes away some concrete stuff and adds new things that are sometimes good, sometimes fluff. The individual essays aren't linked, even where a linked discussion would help clarify or reinforce subtle points. After the first quarter, the repetition within individual essays starts to stand out.

Definitely worth a read for the ideas, and brief new real world examples. In terms of form it would be more impressive as a first book than a second.



Rework is about creating a business that is small and lean, and uses that to its advantage. It is a business that can stay focussed on priorities and cuts lower priorities to increase quality and reduce waste. It makes investments at the right times, not sooner, and has the ability to quickly adapt as required. The book is also about having direct and good relationships with customers and the media, and having a pleasant and productive work environment within the company.


37signals is a successful web company that does things differently than big business.

You can have a successful business without being a born entrepreneur or killing yourself with work, so this book has a broad audience.

People confuse what they know with what is possible. A lot of things thought to not work in 'the real world' are actually possible and better, just new. Successes (even small ones) are a better opportunity for learning than failures. Planning is guessing. Up to a few pages is a good size for a plan. It's good to look towards and think about the future, but planning can easily consume too much time, give you a false sense of security and make you less flexible during execution. Different businesses have different optimal sizes. Don't fall into the trap of growing your business beyond its optimal size. Workaholism is inefficient and unpleasant. It's more quantity of work time, but less quality, and overall results will suffer. A lot of people think they are not or can't be entrepreneurs. Maybe 'starter' is a better work, that covers more types of people doing more types of business.

Do something worthwhile and don't think a small player can't have a big impact. Make products that solve your own problems. Start producing as soon as possible. It's the best way to learn and the only way to get something done. Start now because there is no perfect time to start, and a lot of businesses can be created on the side, by redirecting small amounts of time you regularly spend on less important activities. Be clear about what spearates you from others. Don't bother writing a mission statement, just know what values are important and live by them. Avoid taking external investment because it comes with a bunch of string attached. Minimise activity and overheads initially doing less and doing it on a smaller scale. Start a business straight away, not a startup that may (but may well not) become a business in the future. Start a business to run it, not to sell it. You'll do it better if you're in for the long haul, and you'll enjoy it, so don't give it up at the first opportunity. Keep financial and other overheads low. You'll be more agile and able to make the right changes at the right times. That's a major advantage over bigger businesses.

Constraints and limitations can help you to have the right priorities and avoid waste, so embrace them. Build half a product, not a half-arsed product. You can raise quality by cutting anything unnecessary. Start at the epicenter. That's the essence of your idea; the smallest one thing defines your business. It's better to initially ignore details, because you'll be in a better position to efficiently fill them in later. Make decisions makes progress and if you find you made a bad one you can always revise it later. Be a curator by choosing a small selection of the best things to include. That's more valuable than including everything. Do less because it lets you be more focused and keeps you on what truly matters. Focus on enduring needs, not fashions. Don't be obsessed with getting the best equipment. Focus instead on your skills and what you produce. Sell your by-products. You can probably launch sooner than you think. That's the best way to learn and verify.

Agree on concrete things because abstractions increase the potential for differing interpretations. It's sometimes better to stop something that isn't working out. Reexamine your work constantly give up if your original aims become unreachable or less important. Interruption is bad for productivity. Structure your work so that you have periods of uninterrupted time. Meetings are bad. Minimise meetings and make them focused and concrete. Go for simple solutions if they are okay, even if they aren't the best. You can always come back later. Have a stead stream of small successes because they increase motivation and reduce waste. If something is taking to long, get a fresh opinion on it and give it up if appropriate. Make sure you get enough sleep. It's hard to estimate, so try to estimate things that are smaller and sooner. Have short and simply prioritised lists by breaking them up and avoiding complexity. Try to make small decisions that reliably lead to successes and keep you as flexible as possible in the future.

Be influenced but don't copy, because you'll always be behind and you won't get the important invisible parts of what you're copying. Decommoditise your product, and everything around it: sales, support, marketing, delivery. Pick a fight with a company/product you are challenging. It attracts attention and helps you differentiate yourself. Underdo your competition, because less can be more, and you can be more focused if you're doing less. Don't waste time worrying about competitors, it's more important to focus on what you're doing.

Saying no by default makes it easier to say yes to the highest priorities. Let your customers outgrow you. Focusing on an entry-level offering may be better and losing focus is bad. Enthusiasm is great but don't mistake it for priority. Make use your products actually better than it seems when buying them. The most important feedback will come again and again. Don't get bogged down with the feedback of vocal minorities.

Obscurity has the benefit of letting you take greater risks. Develop an audience rather than just customers, and be prepared to do it over time. Teaching is an excellent way to market your products and differentiate yourself from competitors. It's something smaller companies can do better. Like celebrity chefs, let people know how you do what you do and don't be worried that that will cost you your edge. People are interested in what happens behind the scenes, and will appreciate you better if you show them. Be open and informal. It may seem less professional, but being genuine is more important. Press releases are too generic. You can get better media coverage by reaching out in a more targeted way. It's easier to get into smaller publications, the direct benefits are often better and and if you've got something good it will bubble up to the bigger ones anyway. Give people something for free to help them get a taste for your product. Marketing can't be separated. It is part of everything you do that is or has interaction with the outside world. Overnight successes are a myth. Be prepared to put in a few years of organic growth before reaching the heights.

Do a job yourself before you hire somebody for it because you'll be better able to hire and manage your new employee. Hire to kill pain: the right time to hire is when you have more work than you can handle for a sustained period of time. Pass on great people: don't hire somebody at the wrong time or for the wrong job just because the person is great. Hiring slowly will make it easier for people to be comfortable and frank with each other. Resumes are not a very good indicator of a good applicant. Cover letters are better. You want people who want to work at your company specifically. Prioritise how people are working, rather than how long they have been working. Other factors are more important once you have 6 months to one year of experience. Formal education isn't the best indicator of a good applicant. Make sure everybody works. Avoid people who want to delegate, because they introduce waste too easily. Hire managers of one: people who can look after themselves. When deciding between similar candidates, go for the best writer, because that skill is valuable in so many ways. Don't restrict yourself geographically. Test-drive employees with a small (even 20-40 hour, even make up) project.

Own your bad news so you can positively shape how it is presented to the public. When something goes wrong it's important to act quickly. Say you're sorry properly, don't give fake apologies. Put everyone on the front lines so that they can stay in touch those who only work there, and with the needs of customers. Take a deep breath rather than getting off track by jumping on initial responses to a change.

Company culture is the by product of consistent behavior. It takes time to develop. Decisions are temporary. Don't worry about whether it will be the right decision forever. You can change it later. Don't expect people to make the environment. The environment will get the best out of the people by giving them respect, trust, autonomy and responsibility, and the privacy workspace and tools they deserve. Don't treat employees like they are children. Trying too hard to get 8 hours of uninterrupted productivity out of each person will cost more than taking what you get naturally. Send people home at five. They will work better and stick around longer if they have something other than work in their lives. Make a policy the first time something comes up is overkill. Don't sound too formal, just sound like you and you'll make better connections. Don't use language that sneaks in lots of assumptions and make it hard for people to give input. Words like: need, can't, easy, everyone, no one, always, never. Saying ASAP leads to priority inflation. Reserve emergency language for true emergencies.

Inspiration is perishable so act on it when you have it.

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