Book review: Rework


It’s a rapidly changing world for small business, yet it seems that bookstores these days are loaded with books that are rote regurgitations of generation-old business fables. This is the more the case with business advice books written by corporate CEOs or turn-around specialists offering up their “expertise” for an audience of smaller scale entrepreneurs.

So, it’s refreshing when someone comes along and legitimately challenges some of the worn out wisdom. From its first few paragraphs it’s evident that the book Rework offers a refreshing alternative.  The book highlights new opportunities that exist for true innovators and acknowledges that recent economic upheavals and the emergence of online tools have produced a major shift for anyone who runs a business.

The rub is that we’re still using old rules to operate in a new world. Rework’s authors Jason Fried and David Hansson, use wisdom gathered from their company 37signals as the case study this no-nonsense, streamlined, and versatile business model. 37signals is the producer of the several highly successful business software programs (IE Basecamp) that do “just what you need and nothing you don’t”.

Written as a series of one to two page essays, Rework throws conventional business acumen under the bus and offers up instead cold (but in a refreshing way) new alternatives. I found myself agreeing with much of their cut-to-the-chase, minimalist philosophy to a point where I was amazed no one had challenged the entrenched status quo previously.

For example, entrepreneurial experts have for years preached the requirement that every successful business go through the rudimentary process of writing a business plan. Fried and Hansson say balderdash to this conventional wisdom, countering that business plans “put blinders on you” and are limiting enough that they “are inconsistent with improvisation”. In other words it’s a little ridiculous to “let the past drive the future”, letting the guesswork of forecasts dictate what important decisions we make within current reality

It may take awhile to get used to Fried and Hansson’s counterintuitive mindset, but their philosophy does set one’s creative forces in motion. “Rework” pounds on plenty of other small business assumptions that have been handed down without any questions to their relevance in today’s changing business landscape.

One essay attacks the subject of press releases (Press release are SPAM), citing that the tired, “generic” formula of a press release fails to accomplish its intention of getting one noticed. As an alternative Fried and Hansson urge their readers to “Instead, call someone. Write a personal note. Do something meaningful. Be remarkable. Stand out. Be unforgetable. That’s how you’ll get the best coverage.”

Want more to set your inner entrepreneur on its ear? Try these reframed sacred cows on for size:

  1. Mission statement impossible
  2. Why grow?
  3. Build half a product, not a half assed product
  4. Meetings are toxic
  5. Send people home at 5
  6. Drug dealers get is right
  7. You don’t need to create a culture

With roughly 70 short topical essays Rework delivers its own take on a variety of business topics encapsulating the change-on-a-dime structure today’s “micro-businesses” need to succeed. When I say micro-business I’m not referring to the traditional definition of five or less employees, but a more nimble business that can enter and exit the marketplace quickly and be run more within parameters set by the owner’s lifestyle and interests.

Overall, Fried and Hansson are successful using their model to demonstrate how even a small, thought out start-up business can compete as a niche marketer globally in quick order, with a minimal investment (compared the traditional model).

Rework’s only weakness is its limited scope of reference. Yes, it has worked for 37signals, but those lessons learned may not be applicable to everyone else or proven out (yet) with a broad sample group. Fried’s and Hansson’s candid writing style does contain some mild obscenities that might wake up and upset some readers, but that could also be their intent.

Regardless, Fried’s and Hansson’s accumulated knowledge pokes holes in accepted staples that have been rolling along for oh so long. It would be one thing to say that these virtues are no longer relevant, but the co-authors of Rework also offer viable replacements that make sense and bring new perspective to those of us who thought we had heard it all before.

Chris Wendel is the Regional Director for Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) in Traverse City. The SBTDC assists businesses with one-on-one business consulting, market research information, and entrepreneurial training.

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